Jamaican cricket is in a dodgy situation – Jamaica, itself, is in a dodgy situation – but it is the cricket which interests us here. That much was agreed when cricket aficionado Eric McClymont, himself Jamaican, met with us for a news and opinion catch-up at the Phoenix pub/restaurant adjoining Denmark Hill railway station in south-east London. We had earlier received the news that the island, home of so many great and inspirational cricketers, has not been allocated a match in next year’s ICC T-20 World Cup competition – whereas the U.S.A., which has no significant tradition, has been award three locations. In view of the substantial number of fans in Jamaica the national motto should be changed to “Out of Many, No Venue”.
Eric, however, is optimistic – yes, they do exist (even for Jamaican cricket) – and he has obtained a copy of Jamaica at the Wicket – A study of Jamaican cricket and its role in shaping the Jamaican society” by Arnold Bertram which is, indeed, inspirational, even if rather pricey and difficult to obtain. The author is well-qualified to observe and comment. He is a noted historian, teacher, journalist, author and former minister of local government, youth and community development. In the 1970s he was also a director of the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation and National Sports Limited, and manager of the national track and field athletics team. Not the sort of man with whom anybody would feel confident in crossing opinions, which, thankfully in this case, didn’t apply as we were both of a mind with Mr Bertram.
In Jamaica cricket and politics have often gone hand-in-hand. We discussed the interest for the game and involvement of the Manley family (Norman and Michael) and paid tribute to the vital contribution of Noel “Crab” Nethersole, lawyer, politician, economist, and, of course, cricket player and administrator. He was in the forefront of raising the regional and international profile of Jamaican cricket, as well as being a founder of the People’s National Party (PNP). Nethersole fought almost single-handed for the appointment of George Headley as West Indies captain in the first post-war Test Match at Sabina Park. His early death aged 55 years in 1959, from a heart-attack sustained during routine eye-surgery, was as deeply lamented as it was unexpected.
It is no surprise, therefore, that Arnold Bertram holds that same George Headley, whose photograph adorns the cover of the book, to be the epitome of the Jamaican. Here was a cricketer – a man – who could inspire. That same ability to ran also through the blood of Frank Worrell, to whom we hope to turn next month. How long has it been since West Indies, let alone just Jamaica, have had a cricketer to raise spirits, enrich the character and demand emulation as Headley, Worrell, Learie Constantine, Garry Sobers, Viv Richards, and their contemporaries of the pioneer and invincible generations. Or, in the case of Jamaica particularly, a government that is seen to be fighting in cricket’s corner. No match in the 2024 ICC T-20 World Cup, no Test Match at Sabina Park since ……. time immemorial, it seems.
I am tempted to refer again to C.L.R. James’ much referred-to injunction “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” It is difficult not to do otherwise. Cricket and society do march hand-in-hand and both will prosper as long as there are people willing to fight for them. Meanwhile a cold breeze blows over the Jamaican playing-fields and aspirations ….
Thank you, Eric, for bringing this book to our attention and for the drink, even though the medics had limited me to something less strong than I would normally take. I hope you achieve your wish to meet Mr Arnold Bertram when you visit Jamaica again in a few months’ time.