loading...

18 May 2020 04:31

The Untold Story of the Rebel West Indian Cricketers Who Toured Apartheid South Africa.

Jamaica Tallawahs will be in search of a match-winning wrist spinner in the upcoming Caribbean Premier League (CPL) draft. West Indies white-ball specialist, Rovman Powell, who is expected to lead the franchise in the August 19 to September 26 tournament, said while the squad already possessed good pace in its attack, there was a need for a quality slow bowler. A flash of déjà vu induced by the title The Unforgiven was explained soon. About 13 years ago, Cricinfo Magazine ran an article about the West Indies rebels who toured South Africa, by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, a reporter for ESPNcricinfo at the time, with that headline. Ashley Gray's book is Unforgiven 2.0, or to give it its full name, The Unforgiven: Missionaries or Mercenaries?

The Untold Story of the Rebel West Indian Cricketers Who Toured Apartheid South Africa. Gray revisits the lives of the 20 West Indians who travelled on the two rebel tours (1982-83 and 1983-84) and tells of what became of them once the headlines quietened down. ALSO READ: The unforgiven (2007) In the '70s and '80s, sporting contact with South Africa was a subject of perpetual argument, the first and third worlds divided in opinion, the issue of race omnipresent and prickly. India had no diplomatic relations with apartheid South Africa, Indian passport holders were banned from travelling to the country. In 1974, India forfeited their only chance at a Davis Cup title, refusing to travel to South Africa for the final.

News of debates about golf and rugby events in South Africa came as distant rumblings. There was an England rebel team tour starring Geoff Boycott and others. But when the West Indians turned up there in 1983, lured by the kruggerand, Mandela still in prison, there was disbelief in India because their powerful and popular team had always stood for black pride: they were a living negation of the apartheid regime's belief in their own racial supremacy. How could they, we asked of those West Indians as young fans. Now, nearly four decades later, Gray provides a wider context to those rebel tours. His book is divided into chapters about each of the 19 cricketers and manager-player Albert Padmore. In order to meet and interview as many of these 20 protagonists as he could, and create life sketches of each, Gray seems to have put in plenty of legwork, research and travel miles. He tells us where they came from, how they grew into cricket, and why they went to South Africa. ALSO READ: The dirty dozen (2009) The book begins with an introductory chapter about the intrigue, secrecy and drama around the creation and success of the tours, and then dives into each man's story. In the edition I read, there was no explanation offered for the sequence of the chapters. It started with the captain, Lawrence Rowe, but the rest followed in no particular order: not alphabetical by name of player or his country, nor batting order. The story of the "rebel curse" is a cricketing legend with plenty of legs. The Cricinfo Magazine article focuses on those cast aside, and Gray dives deeper. Two of the players died early, one from drugs (Richard Austin, the "right-handed Garry Sobers"), the other of a heart attack (Sylvester Clarke) after a successful first-class career. A third, Herbert Chang, had a nervous breakdown. David Murray pushed drugs on the beaches of Barbados, and Everton Mattis was shunned in Jamaica, spent time in prison in the US, and eventually shook a drug and alcohol habit. The rest have made their peace and found other careers, some having moved to the US or England. For some, their decision to travel to apartheid South Africa still haunts them. Rowe, who now runs a business in Miami, was almost welcomed back to the fold when it was proposed that the players' pavilion at Sabina Park be named after him, but that decision was rescinded within days. Were these players mercenaries or missionaries, as the book's subtitle asks? The question cannot be answered if we only look at it all through the eyes of the 20 who went. Most of them would like to believe their cricket changed the opinion of the white South African establishment about what black people could do. At a football match, a black South African said to one of the rebels, "You guys are black like us and they're paying good money, so take it." One of the players called the rebel tours Liberty Tours, and says, "We showed white people that black people could be more than miners and cleaners." ALSO READ: A rebel without a redemption song (2011) Themes emerge through the individual profiles: the conservatism of the West Indian cricket community and the random arrogance of its selectoral process, the enormous personality and influence of Clive Lloyd ("not father, godfather"), national bickerings, social fissures. The biggest names from the ranks of the West Indies' dominators of the '80s and '90s appear as figures in the background of the lives of the 20 rebels. There are times where The Unforgiven feels as if it is the first draft of something enormously insightful. Gray has spoken to dozens - the players themselves, their friends, families, adversaries, contemporaries both home and overseas. We hear from scholars, commentators like Tony Becca, and from the broadcaster Fazeer Mohammed, who, when talking of "the whole Caribbean macho man thing" delivers this zinger: "It is typical about the Caribbean male because they only want to hear the positives. They don't want introspection. They don't want knowledge of their own faults." The language is largely sparse and effective, but there are also many overworked verbs to deal with, that seem to have been collected by shaking dozens of wire-service match reports loose. Wickets ("scalps") are "gouged", "bulldozed", "collared", "snared"; runs are "muscled" and "battered"; line-ups are "mangled"; even jobs are "nabbed". Better editing could have infused real magic into a book that is rich with the most terrific back-room stories. ALSO READ: Stayin' alive (2006) The Unforgiven is riveting overall because of its depiction of an era of West Indies cricket and the world game when hypocrisies and inequalities were rarely spoken about. The voices of the rebels and those around them tell us that story. Many spoke freely to Gray, a few asked for money, others proved elusive in their replies. Only Colin Croft hung up, saying he wanted nothing do to "with you or your project". The Unforgiven also touches on the slow slide of West Indian cricket, the impact of which was felt late in the decade after the rebel tours. Two moments stick. Clive Lloyd, managing a late-1990s West Indies team, tells Hartley Alleyne, "Knowing you couldn't get into the team back then, that made me sad. Look at what I have to work with now. These guys are no good." The book ends with the words of Franklyn Stephenson, who now runs a coaching academy in Barbados, railing at the administration: "They don't pay the price for losing because they're sitting in administration. They say the players are no good. Imagine going from top to bottom and nobody's going to prison. Crazy." The Unforgiven by Ashley Gray Pitch Publishing Ltd, 2020 351 pages