How heavy is the combined weight of injustice and persecution, whether real or perceived?
I thought about that on Thursday night while listening to Charlie Griffith expound on his achievements as a fast bowler during a tribute to himself and fellow pacer Wes Hall at the Cricket Legends of Barbados compound, just across the road from Kensington Oval. While the former pacer was not alone in coming off the long run that evening, the substance and manner of his contribution betrayed the deep sense of hurt of a man who believes the cricketing world has, in the main, deliberately belittled or completely ignored his accomplishments.
By the way, what is it with us Caribbean people that every blimmin' public occasion, great or small, degenerates into a succession of tedious, long-winded diatribes by individuals so possessed of their own importance that they don't realise the audience has long since lost interest, yet soldier on in seeking to impress a—by now—semi-conscious gathering as to just how bright and articulate they are?
At least snacks and refreshments were available there to partially alleviate the discomfort. I don't think the hundreds (hopefully not thousands, that would be too cruel) of schoolchildren being dragged out for this afternoon's coronation of the new President of the Republic at the Hasely Crawford Stadium will be so fortunate. In any event, it will take more than a Kiss cake and a Chubby to properly compensate the young ones for having to endure these pompous, pretentious types who never miss an opportunity to outdo our former colonial masters in making great circumstance of the simple administrative matter of replacing one rubber stamp with another.
But back to Charlie, who had everyone wondering if he would be finished before sunrise as he pushed off from the sightscreen, going into great detail about his early life and his season-by-season statistics at club level before earning his first Test cap against England at the Queen's Park Oval in 1960. Whether or not he was given a subtle hint that he was going on too long (like everyone else before him), he barely had any sort of follow-through on his actual Test successes, other than to point out that the West Indies team of which he was a part were the unofficial world champions from 1963 to 1968.
"But nobody talks about that," he muttered regretfully. That "nobody" would have to include a number of outstanding former West Indies cricketers and all others involved in the production of the movie Fire in Babylon, which, as a by-product of the celebration of the all-conquering decade of the 1980's, shamelessly attempts to denigrate the feats of the Caribbean cricketers of previous eras.
Yet that wasn't his primary source of disappointment. It was, very obviously even though it was unspoken, that he has never been hailed and heralded like most of his contemporaries. And while there is obviously a strong, long-standing relationship between himself and Wes, it was difficult not to detect a mild envy that Hall is acknowledged as one of the greatest of all time, that Hall's stature as a cricketer of global prominence has given him more opportunities in life, politically and otherwise while he is relegated to an afterthought.
Even his half-joking reference to the fact that the fearsome fast-bowling tandem was always referred to as "Hall and Griffith" and not "Griffith and Hall" appeared to be another effort to show how he was always demoted to the role of supporting actor. Of course, despite a record of 94 wickets from 28 Tests (32 in the 1963 series in England) at an average of 28.54, much of the reluctance to mention Charlie Griffith among the pantheon of great West Indies fast bowlers has to do with suspicions about the legality of his bowling action.
To put it simply, many at the time were convinced that he chucked occasionally, especially the bouncer. He was indeed called twice, in a territorial match for Barbados against India—when visiting captain Nari Contractor ducked into a short ball from Griffith and needed emergency brain surgery to save his life—and against Lancashire on the 1966 England tour
In the context of the modern game, where there are now "degrees of straightening" allowed, the whole issue seems almost trivial. At the time though, the possessor of a suspected illegal bowling action was stigmatised as if he were a common criminal. And it is that stain, that weight of suspicion, that unwillingness to accord him a place in our gallery of greats that evidently pains the former fast bowler. He must therefore, it appears, take every opportunity to set the record straight, to let all and sundry out there know what he has achieved in the game because, at least in his eyes, there has been a calculated effort to play down his contribution to the West Indies success of the 1960's because of the asterisk of suspicion attached to his name.
At some point though, carrying all this baggage must take its toll on the well-being of a person. Which is why I hope that one day, sooner rather than later because he is now in his 75th year of life, he will be able to let go, to treat occasions like last Thursday's as times for humour and happy reminiscing, not as one more menacing over with the new ball.
To paraphrase a former prime minister, it is time to smile and just let the skeptics and critics bray.