Chris Gayle (2nd left) celebrates with his Jamaica Tallawahs teammates during last year's Caribbean Premier League.
The Editor, Sir:
"The greatest party in sports' - as the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) bills itself - is the greatest party in sports. As anyone who has been there can attest, there is no 'vibesier' experience than a Jamaica Tallawahs match at Sabina Park. It's a simply wonderful combination of music, laughter, conversation, and cricket lovely cricket."
Thus I wrote in a July 2015 article entitled 'CPL and the future of West Indies cricket'.
"Right now, the CPL is poised at a delicate stage, almost completely dependent on a few stars. Take out Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy, Sunil Narine, Marlon Samuels, and Andre Russell, and the league would collapse tomorrow.
In short, the CPL can only be as strong as the West Indies cricket. Hopefully, the owners realise this and start to work with Cricket West Indies (CWI) and invest in strengthening the game across the region from the grassroots up. To be sure, this will require a revamp of CWI, currently one of the world's worst-run and most dysfunctional entities. But unless we start producing more Gayles and Bravos and Pollards and Narines and Russells, the brilliant future the CPL promises will prove a false dawn."
Alas, the premonitions proved correct. We have not produced any more stars. Five years on it is the same big names being talked about. The CPL owners simply have not invested in grooming grassroots talent, and worse, seem to be disrespecting the stars we do have.
(As to Cricket West Indies, it grieves my heart to think how they ruined something that once meant so much to so many. West Indies cricket these days makes me feel like watching a girl you loved when she was young and beautiful become a drug addict streetwalker. It makes you want to cry.)
I don't know the inside story of the public disagreements between Gayle and Russell and the Jamaica Tallawahs. Nor do I know either gentleman except as a fan. What I do know is that both always give 100% on the cricket field and 150% in front of their hometown Sabina Park fans, and by their reports took pay cuts to play in Jamaica. Whatever else they may be, no-one could ever deny that Gayle and Russell are full-blooded, yardie-to-the-bone patriots.
I am a bit disappointed at Gayle's perhaps over the top criticisms of former teammate Ramnaresh Sarwan. Yet having read his autobiography Six Machine, you can understand where he’s coming from. Six Machine is unusually honest for a sportsbook, pulling no punches, and revealing Gayle as a thoughtful observer and analyser of life's journeys.
There is, of course, a healthy dose of self-regard, for no sportsman can achieve greatness without supreme confidence. But the 'boy from 1C S. James Road, Rollington Town' - as he never stops reminding us - has never forgotten where he came from or those who he grew up with. His proudest boast is 'I took everyone with me' - everyone meaning his whole family out of the ghetto.
Gayle is very frank about the racism and classism he faced. He got no special favours from anyone and everything he achieved was from his hard work and persistence. So it is very understandable that having had to put up with so much 'fighting down' and injustice to get where he is, he is not going to put up with any crap from anyone now.
In his recent video, you can feel his bitter disappointment at having been denied his dream to finish his career in front of his Jamaican fans at his home ground Sabina Park. As they say, Who feels it knows it.
The Tallawahs owners seem not to realise that the main value of their investment lies in cricketing excellence on the field married with the emotional excitement they can stir in the breasts of Jamaicans. Make us feel the Tallawahs on the field are playing quality cricket and representing us as a culture and nation, and we will fill the stands. But if we see substandard performances or no Jamaican stars, we will stay home.
Gayle and Russell are not only arguably the greatest T20 batsman and allrounder ever, but authentic Jamaican heroes. They are men who pulled themselves up from humble circumstances with their blood, sweat, and tears. And from the outside they seem pretty good role models, always standing up for their own, constantly giving back, and investing their money wisely and not squandering it.
That is why whenever they walk on the field at Sabina Park, the crowd erupts in ecstatic jubilation. They probably represent 80% at least of the value of the franchise. I don't know what went down, but sheer business logic says the owners should have done everything they could to keep them on the side.
The great shift in sports of the past 50 years was to take power from the owners and administrators and give it to the athletes, who after all are who the fans come to watch. When Lebron James and Tom Brady feel they have been treated unfairly, they just switch teams, and their fans see it as their right to do so. So anyone calling Gayle and Russell out of order for not kowtowing to the Tallawahs owners, please shut up. 'Bakra massa days ended a long time ago.
To quote again from my 2015 article. "I've been a diehard cricket fan from the days of Gary Sobers and Rohan Khanai and watched in despair as my beloved sport dwindled almost to the point of death. So the packed stands at Sabina for Tallawahs games bring joy to my heart. Moreover, there are as many women and children there as men. A new and wider generation of cricket lovers is being created.
Twenty20 is not Test cricket and will never create such lasting memories as Brian Lara's 153 not out at Kensington in 1999. Yet you either move with the times or the times leave you behind. In this fast-moving age, even life-long aficionados like myself can no longer spare five days to watch a game. My young children would quickly get restless at a Test match, but they had a ball watching the Tallawahs."
Well, that was then, this is now. If what Gayle and Russell say are true, and it’s hard to believe two such 'wear their hearts on their sleeves' guys are lying, the Tallawahs owners have not only disrespected our two biggest cricket stars but every cricket fan in Jamaica. If things remain as they are, Sabina Park will not be seeing me or my family for a long time.
Or in blunt Jamaican style, no Gayle, no Russell, no Tallawahs.
Kevin O'Brien Chang