One of the best memories of my school days was when I switched on the television to catch the coverage of international cricket played in the Caribbean. The matches, which started at around 8 p.m in my country, were preceded by the remixed Funkstar De Luxe version of Bob Marley’s Sun is Shining with the video showing wonderful scenes of kids playing cricket on the beaches, the locals discussing the cricket over a drink at the bar and posters of erstwhile greats adorning the length and breadth of the Caribbean, as the song played along. Dare I say, the remixed version is much better than the original, and this particular song instantly sends me back in time by ten years, reviving memories of Brian Lara’s quadruple, Matthew Hoggard’s hat-trick and the world record chase at the ARG, to mention a few.
And then the cricket used to begin, with the historic venues of Queens Park Oval and Sabina Park filled with an atmosphere that only the Caribbean can offer. Soca and calypso galore, with bands and trumpets enhancing the air with a noisy yet pleasant cacophony. Songs would be composed in the stands itself, continuing a tradition of many great verses penned by the illustrious calypso singers of times gone by. In spite of the declining performances of the West Indies, the crowd would egg on the boys, at times blurting out uncomfortable advice to them as well (ask Mervyn Dillon!).
Agreed that ‘Sun is Shining’ is not a calypso, but the example given above was merely to drive home the point – the strong connection between cricket and music in the Caribbean. The same nostalgic feeling that I get by listening to that song would be felt by those who grew up hearing the likes of Lord Relator, Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner rendering unforgettable lines on the fortunes of the West Indies team. Hardly do we get such songs nowadays, songs which are not only great cricket songs, but also some of the best calypso songs ever to be written and sung. Leading the list are three evergreen songs – Lord Beginner’s ‘Victory Calypso’, Mighty Sparrow’s ‘Sir Garfield Sobers’ and Lord Relator’s ‘Gavaskar Calypso’.
The ‘Victory Calypso’ was Beginner’s tribute to West Indies’ historic maiden win at Lord’s in the second Test of the 1950 summer. The West Indies rode on a superb bowling display by the spin duo of Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine, who took 11 and 7 wickets respectively, to trounce England by 326 runs. Starting with the lines ‘Cricket lovely cricket, at Lord’s where I saw it’, the calypso has immortalised the two heroes with the chorus lines ‘With those two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine’. This song is known to have been composed right there on the spot, inspring Beginner to start a musical tribute to the landmark victory. Mighty Sparrow’s ‘Sir Garfield Sobers’ celebrates the great all-rounder, and was penned in the mid-1960’s. Sparrow, also known as the ‘Calypso King of the World’, paid tribute to the legendary Sobers with the lines ‘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, no joke! Three cheers for Captain Sobers!’.
But my vote for the best cricket song ever composed and sung goes to the Gavaskar Calypso, written and sung by the Trinidadian calypsonian Lord Relator (born Willard C Harris). Not only the vocals and the catchy beat throughout the song are glorious, but the lyrics are also delightfully rhymed and pleasing to the ear – not an easy task, but Relator has effortlessly used all the names of the 1970-71 touring side to the Caribbean to bring about a wonderful melody. The song is basically a tribute to the legend Sunil Gavaskar, then 22 years old, who scored a stunning 774 runs in the 5-Test series – his debut series – to help India win their first series in the West Indies by a margin of 1-0, courtesy of a win at the Queens Park Oval. The moment the song starts with ‘A lovely day for cricket’, it has the listener captivated for the next five minutes. The chorus goes ‘It was Gavaskar, the real master…just like a wall, we couldn’t out Gavaskar at all…not at all, you know the West Indies couldn’t out Gavaskar at all’. The tunes between the verses are tantalising, and it is Calypso music at its very best.
Besides Gavaskar, the calypso also mentions the names of all the remaining members of the Indian touring party, highlighting the tendency of the Caribbean people to appreciate the opposition’s performances. In the later part, Relator goes on to criticise the West Indies team, and picks on then captain Sobers with the lines ‘But Sobers as a captain, he want plenty coaching…before we cricket end up in a disgrace’. Little did he know that the West Indies would go on to rule world cricket in a few years time! This song has immortalised Gavaskar and the class of 1971 (captained by Ajit Wadekar) and serves a nostalgic reminder of that historic triumph achieved more than four decades ago. The song was voted at No.68 in a ‘Calypso of the Century’ poll, but it must probably be one of the very best, if not the very best, calypsos of all time.
Thus I have written about three great calypsos, each holding great significance for followers of the game during that period of time. Unfortunately the bond between cricket and calypso is fast dying, what with the thinning of crowds at matches in the Caribbean and a few recent rules that suggest bans on musical instruments inside the stadium. So for a modern-day fan like me, the song most related to cricket has to be ‘Sun is Shining’, although it may not be a calypso. And not the original, as you must have known by now. May the music at Caribbean grounds stay alive forever!