“A man hit a ball in Antigua,” we all remember Superblue singing in 1995, “and it end up in Trinidad on the Promenade, Lara Promenade.”
“The ball cross over rivers and seas,” he adds, “in the sky of the West Indies; the ball whistling through the trees like a joyful tropical breeze. It bounce in the neighbour yard, break two louvres in Fyzabad. Missing ball on the go, last seen in Tobago…”
Here, for the purposes of comparison, is an extract from One Hundred Years of Solitude. In it, Gabriel García Márquez details what occurs immediately after José Arcadio Buendía’s death. It is a fine example of what the literati call lo real maravilloso, magical realism.
A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta’s chair, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread.
See the resemblance? Is there perhaps some tenuous, certainly serendipitous, link between Buendía’s blood finding its eventual way home and Blue’s oft-repeated ‘We ent going home’?
And what if, magically, instead of ‘Ethel’ or ‘Rebecca’ in the early 80s, we had had ‘Ursula’?
Lo real maravilloso. Really marvellous stuff, isn’t it? If you’re talking Márquez, I concur. If it’s Brian Lara’s batting, amen to that too. But if you’re referring to ‘Signal to Lara’, I really have to demur. Blue’s tribute, if that’s what it’s intended to be, is really quite pathetic.
Lara played his first innings for the West Indies in Pakistan in 1990. It was full 17 years later when he said goodbye—prematurely!—to the international arena after an ordinary showing in the 2007 World Cup. That near two-decade odyssey was chequered with many highs and lows, from the capture and recapture of the world individual Test innings record to being removed and recalled as captain twice. And fabulous innings, some of which we revisited in Parts III and IV, that justifiably earned him the royal Prince of Port-of-Spain handle.
So what does it tell us that ‘Signal’ is virtually the only tribute to him which, it seems, survives in many memories. Without access to the calypso booklet titled Cricket Calypsos which a friend unearthed for me, I, for one, would have completely forgotten seven Lara efforts produced between 1994 and 2005.
The performers’ names include Allrounder, Contender, De Alberto and De Fosto (twice) as well as Montserrat’s Beckett. But still only ‘Signal’ and perhaps De Fosto’s ‘Four Lara Four’ earn a berth under the Noteworthy rubric.
“Four! Woop! Four! Whap!” the latter runs, “He hitting hard/He small and bad/Like magic in he hand/Oh, what a beauty!/Boundary after boundary/Lara, the Caribbean Man.”
See the reference to magic in there too? Intriguing.
Mere months old at the time, I am still to forget the magical moment in 1950 when Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine bowled the West Indies to their first ever win over England in England. That’s thanks to the fortuitous presence at Lord’s of Beginner and Kitchener, whose paean of praise to ‘those two little pals of mine’ remains a cherished treasure.
Two decades earlier, Beginner had already produced an eponymous tribute to Learie ‘Electric Heels’ Constantine, the all-rounder whose 1920s and 1930s exploits, old-timers would have us believe, were even more breathtaking than Dwayne Bravo’s and Andre ‘DreRuss’ Russell’s in the IPL and the CPL.
And a few years before Sobers’ birth and 35-plus years before Lara’s, Executor had hailed Don Bradman, ‘the guiding star of the Australian team’ as ‘the greatest batsman the world has seen’.
Sobers would later be lauded by Sparrow as ‘the greatest cricketer on Earth or Mars’. And both Kitchener (‘Crawford is the man’) and Maestro (‘Gold’) would join Birdie in memorable melodious celebration of Hasely Crawford’s blistering run to capture the nation’s first Olympic gold medal in Montreal in 1976.
Unlike Buendía’s blood, Birdie explained, Crawford had passed ‘through a shortcut’ to win 100m gold. Moruga magic maybe?
We, therefore, have this:
Crawford like a bullet.
He take off like a jet.
Who’s the greatest cricketer
On Earth or Mars?
Anyone can tell you
It’s the great Sir Garfield Sobers.
This handsome Barbadian lad
Really knows his work;
Batting or bowling,
He’s the cricket king,
From 1976, there’s this:
No bowler holds a terror for Vivian Richards,
Not Thompson, not Lillee, not Bedi nor Chandrasekhar.
Perfect co-ordination of body and mind,
That brother is really dynomite.
Pace or spin, he ent give a france what yuh bowling him;
Fast or slowly, yuh going back to the boundary.
Richards was not yet the cricketing titan he eventually became on Clive Lloyd’s world-beating WI team. Not waiting, however, for the promising power-hitter to blossom into the peerless performer of his prime, his compatriot, Short Shirt, marked out an early spot for the Master Blaster in Kaisodom:
Even without Short Shirt, Richards, like Lara, lays claim to the title of Greatest Batsman of all Time. But Blue’s salute to the Prince with its ad nauseam reduplication of ‘Lara, Lara, Lara, Lara’ simply cannot compete.
Iwer George has made clear that millenials find repetition ad infinitum of a key element satisfying; however, we should all hold calypsonians to a somewhat higher standard.
Here, on the occasion of Clive Lloyd’s West Indies beating Australia to win the 1975 World Cup, is Maestro, in my estimation, delivering:
We beat Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand.
Dem Australians play with zest
To best the champions from the West
Kallicharan, Richards, Lloyd, Roberts and Julien.
Australia say deh go kill West Indies;
Sobers eh dey, we go flop.
New Zealand say we getting licks like peas;
Deh eating we like a pork chop.
It was a fantasy to see
Tiny little Kalli
Hit Thommo and Lillee
Boundary after boundary.
Right on, right on top,
We end up with the World Cup.
Some 29 years later, Lara’s highly unfancied side defied fading light and huge odds to bring home the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy. At 147 for 8 with Lara gone and top-scorer Shivnarine Chanderpaul having fallen three short of his half-century, Michael Vaughn’s England were in their glee, certain of victory. But West Indies managed to, in Kamau Braithwaite’s words, find a man to hold up the side. Two men.
Ian Bradshaw and Courtney Browne, Barbadians like Braithwaite, re-wrote the script.
But not a T&Tian wrote a calypso.