Flashback to December, 1984. The cricket is in majestic swing. It's the time of year when pop songs are blown off the dial by commentary disputes involving field placings, team selections and bowling changes. It's that early-summer-zone, when the sound of leather on willow is synonymous with all that is beautiful on a beautiful day. It's 1984 and we're at the M.C.G. The all-conquering West Indies are playing Australia in a Test match. For those who don't like cricket, here's a tip; we've come to the signpost in the universe when we know for certain that Henry V was referring to us:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers …
I'm sitting amidst my enclave of cricket-mad friends. There's Tony, Cathryn, Peter, Ross and Nik. Oh, and Nik's new girlfriend, Lauren. We're not sure about her. She seems nice. She's funny, likes Adam and the Ants, and quotes Emily Dickinson till the cows (or buzzing flies) come home. But there's something missing. We've discussed it, but no one can pinpoint the exact flaw. We've decided to submit her to the ultimate character challenge. We've brought her to the cricket. So far, so good. She's seemed interested and even laughed at our oft-trotted-out sporting witticisms.
It's a precarious moment in the match. The Windies have lost early wickets and we know who's in next. We draw forward, ready for his entrance. Then he appears; the master blaster, the man, Smokin' Joe. The great Viv Richards, all swagger, swash and undisputed buckle, walk-dances with his generic Caribbean inner beat to the crease. He chews gum, smiles at the bowler and takes his stance.
Then it happens. As a collective silence descends like a blanket of respect, Lauren speaks. “Who's that man?” she asks, the words ringing like a death knell through the Ponsford Stand, over the Olympic and down into the congested bar of the Members. We stare. The entire crowd stares. We half expect Richie Benaud to make an announcement; “Well folks, they've found the flaw. Lauren doesn't recognize Viv Richards. She's a cricket dud. She's without redemption. Back to you Bill.”
It was the 80s and the Windies were the dream team. With the likes of Lloyd, Richards, Haynes and Greenidge fulfilling the charter in the batting department, and Holding, Marshall and Garner bowling like tomorrow was a casual after thought, they were all that was bold on a bold day. The Calypso Kings were more than good. They altered the course of sporting history. They brought a liveliness to cricket which has never been replicated and trumpeted the change from class conscious, post-colonial stodge, to spontaneous, contemporary flair. Charismatic and convention flouting, they took a simple game, reinvented it and created a life-affirming performing art. For those who question their brilliance, here's a reminder. You missed momentous occasions. We were at a crossroad of the universe when we were certain that Henry V was a Windies fan:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here.
But to say this team was only about sport is an understatement. It was about statistics. From 83 to 85 the Windies achieved 11 consecutive Test wins, a feat only bettered by Steve Waugh's Australian outfit. It was about politics. Captain Clive Lloyd took the raw talents of the disparate Caribbean nations and forged a tight knit squad. The Big Cat led a group of antiestablishment sportsmen and put paid to the notion that cricket was a game played only by those reared on tea, crumpets and a public school education. And, despite the disgruntled mutterings of the purists, it was about sex. These men were glorious. These men were athletic and devil-may-care. These men, so removed from the archetypal beer-swilling bloke, were rhythmic, lyrical, poetry in motion.
Female fans knew it, loved it and watched it in their thousands. We understood that witnessing Michael Holding walk to his mark, turn and begin the long, slow run towards the batsman, involved more than knowledge of the rules. It required a study in grace. We understood that watching I.V.A Richards loft the ball to the boundary and turn arrogantly to the punters for recognition, involved more than appreciation of fine stroke play. It demanded a lesson in single-mindedness. We realised that cricket could be beautiful, elegant and sensual beyond measure. For those who dispute the effect, here's a gentle prod. We were at a turnpike in the universe when we knew for certain that Henry V was in touch with his feminine side:
He that outlives this day and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named.
Flash forward to January, 2003. The One Day circus is in overdrive. It's the time of year when the 'Go Aussie Go' theme song outdoes the best intentions of Britney's most sing-along-able hit; the moment when sporting prowess is judged by brewery sponsored sound bites. It's 2003 and I'm at the M.C.G. The Poms and Sri Lankans are here this season and I'm no longer amidst the friendly enclave. Tony, Cathryn, Peter, Ross and Nik have moved on, making lives, paying bills. I spend my summers in the press box now, writing about this game.
The Windies are no longer all-conquering. They haven't won an away series for eight years. The swagger and swash have buckled under the pressure of economics and social upheaval and a thousand other reasons that make sport a complex animal. Many doubt whether the Calypso Kings will ever regain ascendency. Many, who never saw them, doubt the ascendency itself. But for those of us who were there, here's a nudge. We witnessed magic. We were at a stepping stone in the universe when we were certain that Henry V understood the importance of sport:
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day.
And in case you were wondering, Nik broke up with Lauren. If a person doesn't recognize Viv Richards, what's the point?
Christine Davey is a sports writer and playwright. She has written for publications such as Inside Sport, Wisden.com and Cricketer International. Her plays have been performed by La Mama, Playbox and Griffin and she was the 2000 recipient of the Wal Cherry Play of the Year Award. She lives in country Victoria and plans to spend her declining years in Barbados, soaking up the sun, listening to steel drum bands and, of course, watching cricket. Image by Michael Farrell.