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ICC World Cup 2019: A walk through Brixton - Cricket lies buried here

Cricket was once that common link between the many nationalities in the West Indies. I ask him if he is a fan of the other Jamaican, Chris Gayle, who, as we speak, is fielding for the West Indies against Pakistan in Nottingham.

cricket Updated: Jun 01, 2019 15:32 IST
Aditya Iyer (Chief cricket writer)
Aditya Iyer (Chief cricket writer)
Hindustan Times, London
ICC World Cup 2019,World Cup 2019,West Indies vs Pakistan
Electric Avenue

The boom box outside Brixton Station is playing ‘Sunday Morning’ by Gregory Isaacs, the late great reggae artist. The man standing behind the boom box and smiling through a mouth full of missing teeth is Peter, an independent musician.

To make ends meet Peter sells CDs of other local reggae artists, and those CDs are fanned out in his hands right now, psychedelic album covers slipped into plastic sleeves. I tell him that today I am not interested in music because today I have come to Brixton— London’s largest Caribbean neighbourhood—with only one purpose: to watch West Indies’ opening game of the World Cup with the local community.

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“Cricket?” says Peter, angry at first before the annoyance turns to laughter. “You in the wrong place, my fren’. Cricket be dead in Brixton a long time ago.”

The search

Over the next eight hours or so, as I made my way about the labyrinthian alleyways of the district of Brixton and also the narrow streets of the Jamaican outpost of Herne Hill, I would realise much to my melancholy that Peter was right; cricket is indeed dead in Brixton, a district that used to famously empty out during a West Indies Test match in the 70s and the 80s.

Today, most of the men I met were descendants of the people who used to flood the nearby Oval cricket ground, but the descendants weren’t aware of an ongoing cricket World Cup.

Like many of the old immigrant neighbourhoods in London, Brixton is in the throes of gentrification; so, for every barber shop and mom-and-pop confectionery store run by middle-aged Trinidadians, there are now gelato stalls and nail spas and microbreweries tending to London’s growing breed of hipsters. But Electric Avenue—a Brixton street made famous by the Guyanese-British singer Eddy Grant—could well be a marketplace straight out of Kingston, Jamaica.

Electric Avenue is fresh with the smell of starched clothes and cooked chicken and cannabis. Colly, who is selling tee-shirts in big piles in the middle of the cobbled street, is wearing a Wailers tee-shirt under a glorious rastacap. He tells me that his parents were originally from Jamaica, and when Jamaica’s Usain Bolt won the 100m at the London Olympics, he, like many thousand others, took to the streets of Brixton to celebrate.

“I was proud of my roots that day,” Colly says. “But it didn’t matter where in the Caribbean we were from. Jamaicans, Trinis, Bajans— we were all one that day.”

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The missing link

Cricket was once that common link between the many nationalities in the West Indies. I ask him if he is a fan of the other Jamaican, Chris Gayle, who, as we speak, is fielding for the West Indies against Pakistan in Nottingham.

“No,” says Colly. “But have you heard of Raheem Sterling (the Jamaican-born English footballer)?” Colly points me in the direction of a bar that could be showing the match. But when I get there, to the Prince of Wales pub, the Guyanese manager asks me to try the Prince Albert pub down the road.

En route to Prince Albert, I peek into the barber shops and printing stores along the way. None of them are watching cricket. And at Prince Albert too I am turned away and I make my way to Brixton Village—the indoor food court that almost exclusively feeds hipsters. Of all the places I do find cricket here, but cricket with a ‘K’. Kricket is a boutique restaurant and its Turkish manager hasn’t heard of the game.

“It isn’t a lack of passion as much as it is a generational shift,” says Daniel Gallan, a South African cricket writer who has been a resident of Brixton for some time now.

“When the first settlers came here from the Caribbean, cricket was one of the stronger cultural connections to the country. And Richards and Holding and the Blackwash (West Indies’ historic 5-0 drubbing of England, in England in 1984) only deepened their love for the game. This generation, already so far removed from Caribbean cricket, also had a weak West Indies team to put them off.”

Football rules

Gallan is of the belief that because Brixton is a strictly working-class neighbourhood, the game of football is far more accessible—to play and follow. “There is a sense here that cricket is a posh sport and Brixton prides itself in being the opposite of posh,” he says.

By the end of our conversation, West Indies have trounced Pakistan. But on the streets of Brixton, no one is celebrating.

I try and come up with suitable excuses—working day, morning start, fast finish—but I know these are just that, excuses. But then on Montego Close, a stone’s throw from Brixton, I see the writing, quite literally, on a wall. In yellow spray it says ‘One Love King James’, under a large mural of the basketball star LeBron.

First Published: Jun 01, 2019 15:26 IST