West Indian fans: Divided they stand,together

It was among the loudest cheers heard around Sabina Park throughout what was a very noisy Sunday.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Published: July 3, 2013 1:47 am

It was among the loudest cheers heard around Sabina Park throughout what was a very noisy Sunday. Ironically they were reserved for the same man whom the Jamaican faithful had jeered,booed and called a ‘traitor’ just two years ago. Back in 2011,they had held Darren Sammy responsible for the selectors’ continued snub to their beloved Chris Gayle. Sammy had taken what they felt was rightfully theirs,the honour of having one of their own lead the West Indies.

This time around,Sammy was walking out as his team’s saviour. The match hung by the balance,and the hosts required the St. Lucian all-rounder to provide impetus to the chase. The intensity of the welcome was accentuated by the last two dismissals,of Kieron Pollard and Denesh Ramdin,both of whom had gotten out to loose and unnecessary shots.

Their nationality might have played a part,a significant one at that,for the collective scorn meted out to them. The derision was especially evident in the confines of the Kingston Cricket Club,which generally houses all the veteran cricketers and is a bastion of Jamaican nationalistic pride.

Jamaicans after all have never gotten along with Trinidadians. The one-upmanship between the two biggest islands in the Caribbean of course dates right back to colonial times. For most Jamaicans,Trinis are wannabes,copying whatever they do and making it their own.

Trinidadians,for their part,consider the Jamaican contempt to be a manifestation of their resentment towards their island’s healthier economy,the standard of living available in Port-of-Spain and other parts,and their possession of oil. Jamaicans however claim to have a richer culture; Trinidad’s,of course,has a massive East Indian influence —from national holidays for Hindu festivals to Chutney music.

This is not to say that the thousands who turned up at Sabina Park wouldn’t have wished for Pollard to fire in his maiden stint as skipper,or for Ramdin to make the most of his 100th ODI appearance. When the West Indies are in action — in the shorter formats anyway —they come in their droves under one garb and throw all their support behind every member of the team,regardless of which island he hails from.

The most fascinating aspect of cricket fans in the Caribbean,though,is how the strong undercurrents of inter-island rivalry come to the surface based on the ebb and flow of a match. And they generally flare up when the team is under the pump,as was the case when Pollard and Ramdin left in succession.

It was this rivalry between the two biggies that in a way brought an end to the dream of uniting all the islands in the Caribbean under the banner of the West Indies Federation (WIF) back in the 1950s. The proposed capital of the WIF was supposed to be Port-of-Spain,which didn’t go down too well with the Jamaicans. And in 1961,then prime minister Norman Manley had pulled his country out of the Federation claiming,‘If you take 1 out of 10,all you’re left with is 0’. Trinidad soon followed suit.

Sammy and fellow St. Lucian Johnson Charles entertained the crowd with their gung-ho batsmanship,striking sixes and fours despite the insignificant required run-rate. The only two international cricketers to have hailed from their picturesque island,the two seemed to enjoy their partnership equally,pumping fists and exchanging high-fives. Sammy’s dismissal then brought Barbados pacer Kemar Roach to the middle.

Challenge to big two

The rivalry between the Jamaicans and the Bajans has never been as passionate in terms of socio-economic issues. It did,however,gain an edge on the cricket field once Barbados began producing world-class cricketers in the 1950s and 1960s led by the three Ws and Garfield Sobers.

“Suddenly that tiny island had bragging rights and was aiming to stand toe-to-toe with the big two. But then the 80s belonged to us. My greatest memory is of seeing Holding,Patrick Patterson and Courtney Walsh blow them away for 45 in a regional match,” says Peter Rikard,a longstanding member of the Kingston Club.

Though Roach couldn’t escape the inevitable snide remarks from the crowd with the West Indies suddenly jittery,his defiance began arousing hopes again.

It was eventually him and Tino Best,both Bajans,who took the Windies home in the nailbiter. As they did so,stealing one single at a time,all differences in the Caribbean diaspora were abruptly forgotten at Sabina Park.

And thousands of Jamaicans cheered in one voice as skipper Pollard walked up to the presentation ceremony. For once it didn’t matter where he hailed from.

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