Caribbean media was awash this week with reports of Chris Gayle, playing for the St Lucia Stars in the CPL, as opposed to the Talawahs, the side representing Jamaica in the national tournament, running into some concerted booing from the crowd at Sabina, purportedly because of his disloyalty, or rejection of his roots.
As some commentators, such as former West Indies cricket star Mike Findlay, pointed out however, it is likely that we are expecting too much maturity from our folks at cricket because it does indeed require a good degree of open mindedness to accept the formula of the “guest player” that is a feature of the CPL.
Indeed, it is the very nature of the CPL, where virtually every team in the tournament has players from diverse countries performing as a unit, so that we have a Trini leading the Barbados team, Jonathan Foo out on the field but playing against, Guyana, and the venerable Mister Watson captaining St Lucia with that country’s legendary favourite Darren Sammy being the person he replaced and with not even a ripple from the St Lucian fans. We don’t see that kind of mixing when countries are playing each other as a nation, but it is there in the CPL and, generally, not much uproar has resulted – until now.
Some commentators, former West Indies star Mike Findlay among them, have raised the point that given the absence of this practice in national competitions, we are assuming a level of acceptance for the strategy in our people that may not be there. As I mentioned in a note to several friends, I am in complete agreement with Mike Findlay’s assessment. To see one of your most famous national players, in any sport, turning out for another national team requires a mature, even sophisticated, population where people can hold the issue of country as important, but not be blind to other factors that may be very much involved in a player’s decision to play for the other side. Not that I expect it to come to pass, but it would be a bit of a wrench for me to see Shiv out there in some one of these international short-form tournaments batting against the Guyana side, and I suspect, although it hasn’t been publicly aired, that that emotion may very well be in play for the Trinis seeing Pollard playing against them for the same reason.
A second piece of this scenario may also be the traditional lack of unity we have in the region, so much so that the reaction from the various territories towards the West Indies team is often “how much o’ we boys get pick?” and I even recall a time when there was an uproar about “all dem Bajans” being selected to represent the region. Mind you, one has pause and notes that generally the “guest player” approach being used in the CPL has not raised any ripples anywhere previously in the tournament, even in its first year, and one suspects that there may be more in the mortar than just the pestle on this one.
One cannot be definitive on these matters where public sentiment is playing such an important role, but, as I said in the note mentioned earlier, it is possible that a factor in the booing could be that Chris Gayle has many detractors for his various questionable behaviours away from the cricket pitch, and some of the boos may well have been coming from that.
As effective a boundary machine as he is, the other side of Chris is sometimes a jolt, and as much as they cheer for him on the cricket pitch, I know enough about Jamaicans to know that they are put out by Chris’s behaviour on the international stage, and I believe many of them are embarrassed by his comments to the Caribbean broadcaster about “knowing her pitch”, and the furore over his “mekking a move”, as they would say, on an Australian lady interviewing him on television.
Chris has shown himself to be a free spirit, and while one can admire that trait in a person it often carries a price with it when the behaviours become offensive. Jamaicans are a very proud people – they show that quality more fiercely and more spontaneously than any people in the Caribbean – and I can tell you from personal experience that they will publicly criticise their own when behaviours go off the rail. Compare, for example, their total adulation of Usain Bolt who has been a paragon in the public eye.
I obviously wasn’t in the crowd to gauge whether this assessment is correct (people will hold their deeper feelings private anyway), but it could well be that that day in Sabina was an occasion for them to send a message to Chris that had to do with much more than cricket. As a fisherman in Ocho Rios once told me, squinting into the sun, “After all, young fella, if yuh wan people fuh respect yuh, yuh have fuh respect yuh self fus.’”