The West Indies victory over England transcends sport, writes SA Cricket magazine editor RYAN VREDE.
It had to be the West Indies.
The victory was the most important in cricket’s modern era because of what it symbolised – the black excellence that underpins a quest for equality. Equality.
A team comprised of only black men beat one of the world’s great Test teams through a combination of their talent, temperament and fierce resolve, the latter evidenced by their recovery from 35-3.
In the past, nobody would predict a victory from this position, such has been the modern-day fragility of this once-great team. But there was something different about this time. Jermaine Blackwood’s refusal to surrender mimicked the spirit of defiance that defines this moment in our racial history. Physically he is knee high to a grasshopper. But on Sunday he was a giant.
It was equally fitting that England’s best bowler in the Test was a black man of West Indian descent. Jofra Archer spoke articulately about the meaning of this Test in the context of the movement for equality. And he supported those words by playing with the excellence that demands he is considered an equal … as a black man first, a cricketer second. This is a critical part of the narrative that those who continue to criticise the movement miss. It is largely a quest for the historically privileged to see humanity in the historically oppressed.
One couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the Windies 1976 tour of England, which began with Tony Greig declaring that they were going to make the tourists ‘grovel’. It ended with Sir Vivian Richards and his brilliant team doing just so to England.
There was no such veiled racism from any in this England team. Indeed they kneeled in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and, to a man, drove home it’s importance when asked about it.
The climate of racial tension was, however, a shared characteristic of the tours.
It was fitting that a key member of that 1976 team, Michael Holding, would open the tour with words that shook the world. Cricket is played in a handful of countries and doesn’t enjoy the global audience football or other popular codes do. Yet, Holding spoke of his lived experience with racism with such conviction, such vulnerability, such insight and such emotional intelligence that his speech became a historical document and manifesto in equal measure.
Holding’s Windies team won the series, which this team is a Test victory away from. Their capacity to do so will be revealed in time, but this shouldn’t diminish the deep meaning of Sunday’s victory.
The tourists were superior across five days. However, this victory’s significance was rooted in a quest for something far more significant than sporting superiority, that being racial equality.
Those supporting the Black Lives Matter movement needed this as much as those who deride it. All lives do matter. But all lives haven’t been subjected to the historical systemic prejudice, discrimination, marginalisation and oppression that black lives have.
To this end, the victory felt like a triumph of the human spirit more than it did a Test match victory.