In the late 1940s and early 50s, little boys of East Indian descent in Trinidad played cricket. Football was too “rough” and dangerous. It was the “boom kick” era or what my Siparia neighbor, “Daddy” Bholes described as, “You go with a crook stick, plant it in the ground, put your head on it like if you gone to an optician and then move it from side to side to follow the ball.” While I eventually played football and even coached it, cricket was ingrained. It was and continues to be my game.
A few nights ago, looking at Australia continue its domination of India and its new Captain, Steve Smith, make another century, I dipped into the scrapbook of reminiscence and opened the floodgates of recall.
I remember a big fund-raising function for Courtney Walsh in Jamaica about eleven years ago. I remember thinking at the time that, fortunately, it was not a “Singles” event. Had it been one, Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels and several of the West Indian top-order batsmen would not have been invited because they had and continue to have a serious problem with singles and resist any dealings with them. Worse, telling them at that time to “rotate the strike” seems to have been interpreted as turning the bat around in their hands so that the ball came off the back instead of the front.
On the plus side I remember hearing from a Jamaican friend and West Indies cricket fanatic who called me from Kingston after the event. He said that the only bright spot was the assertion by Ricky Ponting, the Australian Captain, that his team attended the Courtney Walsh event to see for themselves if Walsh had really retired from the game.
It was a great gesture by a team, and a people, whose reputation is built on tough, dour, uncompromising stubbornness and a love for beer. There was a rumour that David (Boonie) Boon, the Tasmanian who became one of Australia’s best-known and best-loved cricketers, drank an astonishing 47 beers on a flight between England and Australia. Merv Hughes, former Australian fast-bowler, and Steve Waugh’s favourite animal, denied that the Boon report was true. “Where did you get that story from?” Hughes demanded of Jim White of the British paper, “The Guardian”. “That’s an absolute fabrication of the truth,” he said stridently. “It was 53 cans.” This love of beer is what has prompted the Aussie riddle, “What’s the difference between Aussies and pigs?” Pigs don’t turn into Aussies when they’re drunk. Aussies, however, are credited with something called “The Beer Prayer”. It goes like this, “Our Lager, Which art in barrels, Hallowed be thy drink, Thy will be drunk, At home as if in tavern. Give us this day our foamy head, And forgive us our spillages, As we forgive those who spill against us. And lead us not to incarceration; But deliver us from hangovers; For thine is the beer, the bitter, the lager, For ever and ever, Barmen.”
Because Australia was first settled by convicts from England who were the original POHMs (Prisoners of Her Majesty), people still make jokes about the antecedents of Australians. A visitor was once stopped by an Immigration Officer as he was entering the Sydney International Airport. “Do you have a criminal record?” the Officer asked. The visitor replied, “I didn’t know you still needed one.” I am sure the Indians now being trounced by Australia would love this joke seeing that they cannot take their revenge with bat and ball.
Some people see the Aussie toughness as a virtue. John Philip Kemble (1757 – 1823) the famous British actor and theatrical manager was once in a conversation with a gentleman who had just returned from a visit to Sydney and who spoke about the growth of the theatre in Australia. “Yes,” remarked Kemble, “the performers ought to be all good, for they have been selected and sent to that situation by very excellent judges.” In fact, there are many people who believe that the “sledging” in which Australian cricketers indulge, and which generally goes unpunished, is part of that heritage.
However, they are not the only ones to sledge and there are times when we West Indians outsledge them. In an English county game, England fast-bowler Greg Thomas attempted to sledge Vivian Richards who had played at, and missed, several balls in a row. He sneered at Richards and taunted, “It’s red, round and weighs about five ounces, in case you were wondering.” Richards hammered the next delivery out of the cricket grounds and into a nearby river. Turning to the bowler, he commented, “Greg, you know what it looks like, now go and find it.
*Tony Deyal was last seen saying that we need fans like Mr. O’Connor who listening to cricket from Australia in at three in the morning said, “The only reason they beat we is because we not accustom to playing in the night.”
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