Updated: Jun 7, 2021
Test Match Sabina Park
Proudly wearing the rosette of my skin
I strut into Sabina
England boycotting excitement bravely
something badly amiss.
Cricket. Not the game they play at Lords,
The crowd- whoever saw a crowd
At a cricket match? – are caged
vociferous partisans, quick to take offence.
England sixty eight for none at lunch.
‘What sort o battin dat man?
Dem kaaan play cricket again,
praps dem should-a-borrow Lawrence Rowe!’
And on it goes, the wicket slow
as the batting and the crowd restless.
‘Eh white bwoy, how you brudders dem
does sen we sleep so? Me pay me monies
fe watch dis foolishness? Cho!’
So I try to explain in my Hampshire drawl
about conditions in Kent,
about sticky wickets and muggy days
and the monsoon season in Manchester
but fail to convince even myself.
The crowd’s loud ‘busin drives me out
skulking behind a tarnished rosette
somewhat frayed now but unable, quite,
to conceal a blushing nationality.
The persona is an Englishman who comes to Sabina Park to watch a cricket match between his home team and the West Indies team. A proud man, he becomes uneasy once he realizes that something is wrong. His team appears to be abstaining from any exciting gameplay, and the pace of the match is slow. He notices the stark differences between cricket at Lords and here at Sabina Park. Here, there is a massive crowd unheard of in England. The crowd is rowdy, and is restless due to the slow and unimpressive gameplay of the English team. The persona, being essentially the only white man in the stadium apart from the team, is targeted by the restless spectators who want to know why the English team has so failed to produce a thrilling game. The persona, now feeling crestfallen and embarrassed for his nationality, his team and himself, leaves the park- the complete opposite of how he felt going in.
The mood here is tense and frustrated. The tone is one of frustration (from the West Indian attendees) and embarrassment (the British man).
"Proudly wearing the rosette of my skin I strut into Sabina"
This line serves to show the pride of the persona. His skin is a 'rosette,' a prize that distinguishes him as a privileged person simply due to his race. The diction of the poet in using "strut" here conveys the arrogance and sense of self-importance in his walk.
"England boycotting excitement bravely, something badly amiss."
These lines (3-4) are expressing multiple things. Firstly, it gives a sense of sarcasm, as the English team is said to be 'boycotting excitement bravely' as though they are valiant warriors of some sort, but really, they are performing very poorly and producing an unexciting game. 'Something badly amiss' suggests that this is very different from usually happens in England- maybe this poor performance is uncharacteristic of the national team.
Secondly, these lines are a pun. The poet skilfully incorporates a play on words here to ridicule the poor performance of the two English cricketers: Geoff Boycott and Dennis Amiss.
"Cricket. Not the game they play at Lords, the crowd- whoever saw a crowd at a cricket match? – are caged vociferous partisans, quick to take offence."
The persona notices a very big difference between the cricket here and the cricket at Lords. He uses a rhetorical question, to show that the crowd at Sabina is large, loud and rowdy, and definitely not like what he would usually see at a cricket match at Lords in England. The crowd, he says are 'caged vociferous partisans,' which gives the impression that the crowd is kept behind some form of iron bars or mesh to watch the match, unlike the unrestrained, free park at Lords. This line also lets us know that the crowd is very loud and unapologetically vocal in support of the West Indies team. It is also suggested that the crowd takes offence for anything that happens to their team or is said against their team, as shown in "quick to take offence."
"England sixty eight for none at lunch. ‘What sort o battin dat man? Dem kaaan play cricket again, praps dem should-a-borrow Lawrence Rowe!’ "
At lunch, the score is poor and the crowd is evidently frustrated with this unimpressive performance. One Jamaican speaker suggests that "praps dem should-a-borrow Lawrence Rowe," an allusion to a well-known prolific Caribbean batsman at the time, in a mocking manner. The dialect of the Jamaican speaker directly contrasts with the persona's standard English. His interjection shows a use of language that truncates words and omits letters- somewhat dismissing and ridiculing the Queen's English, much like he ridicules the British team.
"And on it goes, the wicket slow as the batting and the crowd restless. ‘Eh white bwoy, how you brudders dem does sen we sleep so? Me pay me monies fe watch dis foolishness? Cho!’ "
The game continues, and so does the ridicule of the crowd. The slow paced gameplay continues to drive the crowd to restlessness, so much so that one man speaks directly to the persona, saying that he feels his money was wasted on a match that is so boring. He refers to the persona as 'white bwoy' showing that the rosette of his skin commands no respect here. He is offhandedly placed in the family with his underperforming British countrymen who continue to abstain from exciting gameplay.
"So I try to explain in my Hampshire drawl about conditions in Kent, about sticky wickets and muggy days and the monsoon season in Manchester but fail to convince even myself. "
The persona now attempts to explain why the English team is performing so poorly. He tries to chalk it up to weather conditions that are different in England than in the Caribbean, and, quite hilariously, the 'monsoon season in Manchester.' There is, of course, no monsoon season in Manchester, England because monsoons are phenomena of South Asia and India. He probably assumes that they wouldn't know this and is grasping at straws to create some form of explanation.
However, all of this is pointless since the West Indian spectators are not convinced, and neither is he. He is, like the cricketers, facing a 'sticky wicket' (which is a difficult situation).
"The crowd’s loud ‘busin drives me out skulking behind a tarnished rosette somewhat frayed now but unable, quite, to conceal a blushing nationality."
This final stanza represents a large contrast from the start of the poem. Instead of being proud and overly arrogant, strutting around, he leaves 'skulking,' cowardly- "unable, quite, to conceal a blushing nationality." His use of the truncated word "'busin" suggests that he has acquiesced. Like the West Indian cricketers, the West Indian dialect has proven stronger than that of the English. His high and mighty attitude has vanished. The British cricketers' colossal flop is a national and racial embarrassment for the speaker. His white skin, his rosette, once his badge of honour and source of pride has lost its lustre, and is now red with embarrassment.