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Cup Match and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

In the spotlight: the recall of Oronde Bascome, seen here in action for St George’s during Cup Match 2014, was met with criticism

Emancipation. Jordan DeSilva. Oronde Bascome. Fiqre Crockwell. Not quite the parallel with Conquest, War, Famine and Death, but one of those should be a recurring theme whenever the Cup Match holiday period rolls around. The other three are talking points: two having to do with societal concerns that plague Bermuda and the other revolving around an unfortunate character who appears these days to be a lightning rod for controversy.

What is heartbreaking about repeating the true meaning of Cup Match ad nauseam is that Bermuda soaks it up only for a moment before reverting to the worst that a cut-throat society can provide, save for the suicide bombings, police officers killing and being killed, and the mentally disabled being stabbed to death in a delusional attempt to stave off a third world war.

No, we are not that bad. Aren’t we?

We have some wonderful people in this country, those who espouse the best of Bermuda. But around every corner, sometimes behind many a smiling face, lives contempt and distrust.

So we do practise hate, we do practise abuse — of the roads and of one another — and we do struggle with progress, travelling at such glacial pace so as to make the Titanic look like a wing-sailed, foiling catamaran by comparison. (“How did the America’s Cup get into even this conversation,” pleads Tiny the Tree Frog)

So it makes little sense repeating that Cup Match has been going on since 1902 as a result of the St George’s and Somerset branches of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows agreeing to stage a cricket game that celebrated the abolition of slavery in 1834. That period in history determined that all men are equal in the eyes of the law. And over time, after Cup Match was declared a two-day holiday in the wake of the Second World War, the event evolved from being a game that was contested only by black Bermudians to where whites and non-Bermudians have been made welcome.

It makes little sense repeating this if by August 1 we are back to where we started: contempt, distrust, widespread abuse.

The origins of Cup Match are clear for all to see, and back in those days, it was understandable for blacks to “own it”, per se. But if we were to be guided by such segregationist thinking to our dying days, there is no chance of race relations improving in this country. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

As the world and Cup Match have evolved, so, too, must Bermudians. The more blacks seek to distinguish themselves from whites during Cup Match, all the while accepting their custom, the harder it is to bemoan a dearth of collaboration or integration over the course of the other 363 days in the year. White Bermudians are a collector’s item at Somerset Cricket Club and Wellington Oval, with the majority steering well clear — they can be found on the many pleasure craft that dot this island’s beautiful waters, on the world-famous beaches or taking the opportunity to skip the country altogether.

Not to be mistaken for the European expatriates and the North American tourists — and, no, this is not a cue for the rather crude “they all look the same” gibe — those who do attend the match can be found usually under the Crown & Anchor tent, with only a passing interest in the cricket. There is no disgrace in that, for many black Bermudians are of the same mindset where the cricket is concerned.

The two days are more about fellowship and friends reconnecting, no matter the standard of the cricket, which has dropped precipitously in recent times.

Which brings us to Jordan DeSilva and the most unseemly pre-Cup Match dispute for some time. The colour of the Somerset Cup Match captain’s skin created such a stir on social media and on talk radio that to be Bermudian at that point was cause for acute embarrassment.

This young man has represented his club with distinction since being first chosen to play in the Annual Classic in 2008, having been around the team the previous three years as a reserve. You would have thought way back then that someone would have cottoned on to the notion that he possessed a “different” skin pigmentation.

Instead of being lauded as a shrewd selection to captain a team that is packed with experience and which has been so dominant against St George’s that it could be led by Stevie Wonder, DeSilva and his supporters have been forced to defend whether he is white, black or mixed race.

Who cares? Really? Who cares?

Questioning whether a “white man” should be captaining a Cup Match team jumps right to the top of the list of what holds us back in the seemingly fruitless quest to improve race relations.

It is because we have become so narrow-minded that our cricket has sunk without a trace in the first place. The xenophobia can be traced back to the exclusion of Barry DeCouto in the Seventies when he was comfortably the island’s best wicketkeeper to the more recent abuses suffered by Saleem Mukuddem, whose only “sins” were that he was South African — Cup Match has been graced by many not Bermudian-born — and that he wasn’t half-good.

For his “crimes”, apart from being verbally abused in front of thousands, Mukuddem has been virtually airbrushed out of the Cup Match records with nary a dissenting voice, owing to an unconvincing and rather convenient stipulation.

Cricket is crying out for inclusivity and has been for a good many years. We do not so much need a great white hope, but a hope that whites can feel welcomed to become great in what is essentially a foreign sport on local soil, to the extent that their sons’ and daughters’ cricketing experiences are not fated to live and die at the annual Hiscox youth festival. Something has to come of that so that Bermuda is equitably represented.

St George’s, after the disaster that was the 2015 match, were charged with spreading the net far and wide to find an XI worthy of challenging the cup-holders. It was always going to be an impossible task, given traditional short-sightedness, so there is no surprise that a few old stagers, including Lionel Cann as the oldest of them all, have been prised from their hammocks.

But in the wake of the murder of Fiqre Crockwell — shame on anyone, including us, for overlooking that horrible fact when St George’s announced their team on Saturday — we have given the challengers a pass on selection. Notwithstanding that, though, there was always going to be something out of the East End that would warrant a second glance.

Oronde Bascome just can’t catch a break. As it has been established over the years that St George’s would rather cut off their nose to spite their face by selecting as many club players as possible, regardless of their pedigree, the recall of the former captain does not appear out of the ordinary.

In an age of lacking accountability and questionable record-keeping that allows both Cup Match clubs to reinvent the wheel on selection, we know that Bascome has scored two fifties this season and made a few other notable contributions — in the second tier of domestic cricket. Playing elsewhere, that would be no résumé to command a place in an XI that is meant to include “the best of the best”. (With two centuries, a few fifties and a host of other “notable contributions” in the Premier Division, Western Stars’ Temiko Wilson must wonder what he has to do to gain equity.)

Bascome has company in that regard, though, for few from either side can say they have been ripping up any trees with their form. But when the unwritten rule that a player must appear in the final trial to be eligible for selection was exposed as a lie, the St George’s committee became a big target.

The modern international cricketer on tour expects to have provisions made so that they can be available for the birth of a child. It is the right thing to do and it is the human thing to do. Sod’s law that Oronde Bascome, who sought a year away from the spotlight by transferring to Southampton Rangers in 2015 before returning to play his club cricket in St George’s this year, would be dumped back into the glare again.

And now his performance on Thursday and Friday will come under greater scrutiny, which is a bit harsh when you consider that his is a Cup Match record that has never really hit the heights. So he needs a score to put this to bed once and for all. (Note to selectors: “a score” is not 20 or 30.)

We have already called for this to be the Black Armband Cup Match in honour of Fiqre Crockwell, and to our knowledge, St George’s will comply in remembering their departed colleague, who was the last of the blue-and-blue brigade to raise his bat at Somerset Cricket Club — for a second-innings fifty in an eight-wicket defeat in 2014.

His death and the manner of it should resonate over the two days as a reminder that however much the tunes of Beenie Man and Co may still be echoing in our ears when the toss is taken tomorrow morning, Who Am I should mean much more than a hit song; rather, it should pose a substantive question, searching deep into our souls as we determine what kind of Bermuda we want to leave to our children.