Politics, race, and class in West Indies cricket

The game of cricket was invented in England and exported by them to their colonies so that expatriates could continue to play it. But the game fascinated the locals who took to it with such enthusiasm that many of those countries now routinely field stronger teams than England. One of the first colonies where people of color became serious challengers was the West Indies, which is not a single country but a collection of many independent island nations in the Caribbean that banded together to field a single team. For a long time, the administration of the game was in the hands of English expatriates who retained control and appointed the captain of the team and made the selections, even as the dominant players were people of the islands.

This article describes how it took a lot of pressure from the local population for the English administrators to slowly cede control and that the writer and journalist C. L. R. James was one of the key people exerting that pressure.

Brought to the Caribbean by way of British colonialism, cricket was originally reserved for the leisure of white planters and colonial officials. But slaves were increasingly used to do the hard work of bowling at the sons of slave owners in the hot sun, and the sport soon established deep roots with black West Indians.

The planters and white middle classes formed cricket clubs that lasted after slavery was abolished on the islands. The first intercolonial tournament was held in 1891, between Barbados, Trinidad, and British Guiana. Black West Indians watched with envy from the sidelines. Eventually, black West Indians went on to form cricket clubs of their own that competed every Saturday in club competitions. Participation was initially restricted to the black middle class, but before long, the black working class threw itself into the sport too.

While, for many, the game of cricket may conjure up images of an aristocratic pursuit, in the West Indies, cricket became a primary expressive outlet for working people. “Individual players of the lower classes, most often black men, became popular national heroes in whom the masses of the people took great pride,” wrote James.

No matter the results on the field, the board chose captains that reflected its own social milieu. As former Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley explained in his book A History of West Indies Cricket, “the selectors acted to preserve opportunity for their own class.” For example, in 1939, R. S. Grant, the son of a wealthy Trinidadian family, was selected as captain. His vice-captain, Victor Stollmeyer, was the son of plantation owners. Everton Weekes summed up his view of the class-prejudiced board by saying, “The Board was in the hands of the rich and powerful in the region and saw players such as myself in a way that estate owners saw field hands.”

Finally Frank Worrell was named captain of the team for the entire tour of Australia in 1960/61 and that memorable series has gone down in history for its excitement and quality and the spirit in which both teams played. Half a million Australian fans lined the streets to gave the visitors a parade at the end of it.

West Indies went on to be a dominating team for decades before its recent decline.


  1. Shanti says

    Interesting article on how West Indies became such a formidable team in cricket.
    In Sri Lanka cricket was mostly by the elite and restricted to private schools but now most of the players are from rural schools and performing well and cricket very popular in every district

  2. says

    Cricket always wanted to be strictly an establishment sport; but the simple fact is, you only need to find a ball, something to hit it with and something to hope it doesn’t hit (preferrably something that can be knocked over and stood back up again; a valuable and fragile “wicket” is strictly for adventurous types, but one painted on a wall will suffice, faute de mieux), and you can improvise a game of cricket. You don’t even need two teams; anyone who is not in to bat can be out in the field until their turn comes to bowl an over, and keep their own tally of runs and wickets.

    And for all the artificial complexity in the official rules, cricket is actually fairly simple. The batting team are trying to keep the ball out of play for long enough to run from end of the pitch to the other. The bowling team are trying to knock down the wicket, catch the ball as it bounces off the bat but before it reaches the floor, or spot some technicality.


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