Samuel Selvon’s short story, “The Cricket Match” explores the subtle racial tensions amongst West Indian immigrants living in England whilst working with English counterparts. Selvon sets his narrative in a tyre factory in Chiswick, England. Most likely, the timeline in which this story occurs is somewhere in the mid 1950’s when England were still colonists of most of the English speaking Caribbean islands.
The main idea behind Selvon’s tale lies with Algernon the protagonist, whose desire to fabricate his knowledge of cricket, so as to simultaneously impress but show disdain towards the Englishmen around him backfires because it is this self-proclaimed knowledge which places him into conflict. Selvon also generates additional incidents which arise from the focal conflict, throughout the course of his story. These incidents, in addition to the vernacular which Selvon utilizes, enhance the story and add a touch of comic relief for the readers.
The main conflict of this narrative is Algernon’s penchant for exaggerating his comprehension of, and ability at, the game: “That is the way to play the game… That is cricket, lovely cricket.” when actually, he did not like cricket. However Algernon becomes overjoyed that the West Indian cricket team are dominating England in some aspect, because, he displays slighted feelings towards the English people at the beginning of the story as seen in paragraph four, lines three – five: ‘…it have some tests that don’t like the game at all, and among them was Algernon. But he see a chance to give the Nordics tone…’
This serves to illustrate his apparent dislike for English people, as well as the fact that he wants to create a façade about himself. Interestingly though, the conflict begins to heighten when Charles, an Englishman and a cricketer, approaches Algernon and invites him to play in a ‘friendly’ cricket match. Algernon is suddenly facing a dilemma. Either he accepts Charles’ challenge and plays in the match, or he declines and backs out of the challenge. However in Algernon’s mind, whichever choice he makes, he realizes that he could be exposed as a fraud.
Selvon ingeniously crafts the resolution, though with slight absurdity, through a somewhat amusing and likable manner very similar to that of a picaresque novel. Algernon manages to compose an unenthusiastic team to play against the English team. Still, even more amusingly, the English players are equally afraid of Algernon’s team and vice-versa. The match commences with the West Indian eleven batting first, and displaying a commendable though fortuitous performance. Conversely, and perhaps conveniently though, rain begins to fall, hence bringing the match to an abrupt end.
This resolution allows Algernon to save his ‘credibility’ and further taunt his English co-workers: ‘“If my bat didn’t fly out my hand”… as if to say he would have lost the ball in the other county.’ and: “… next cricket season I will get a sharp eleven together… now if you want me to show you how I make that stroke…” This conclusion which Selvon employs gives Algernon a fairly roguish characteristic, and thus the picaresque similarity.
Selvon’s plot structure is basically simple and straightforward. The narrator introduces the story and highlights the major flaw of the protagonist, which then manifests itself as a central part of the conflict. While the rising action begins to escalate, minor episodes relating to the conflict begin to surface, thereby enhancing the dramatic effect of the climax. The plot’s falling action is apparent when Algernon resolves one of his personal demons, albeit, both temporarily and accidentally of course.
The denouement of the story quickly follows from the falling action, and is rather abrupt, which increases the rigidity of the conclusion. Yet this does not altogether lessen its plausibility. Algernon’s main character is relatively flat and does not develop nor show any depth throughout the narrative. His is also the only character that mainly has any form of characterization. The language variety which Selvon adopts for this story consists mainly of a form of Caribbean vernacular. The form of this vernacular seems to be Trinidadian Mesolect Creole. This is as a result of the main character originating from Trinidad and Tobago, and apparently residing there for a period of time.
An example of an incident which results from main conflict in this story transpires just after the initial meeting between Algernon and Charles. This occurs when Algernon and Roy are discussing their predicament: ‘Afterwards in the canteen having elevenses Roy tell Algernon: “You see what your big
mouth get us into.”’ At this juncture in the story, both Roy and Algernon appreciate the severity of their situation and are desperately trying to arrive at a solution: ‘They sit down there in the canteen cogitating on the problem.
…Roy say, “it look as if we will have to hustle an eleven somehow. We can’t back out of it now.”’ Hence, this example supports the focal conflict, while at the same time enlightens the readers to the fact that both Algernon and Roy are pretensive. Another instance in the story arises after Algernon gathers other West Indian immigrants in his apartment to make arrangements for the match. This focuses the readers’ attention to the fact that, amongst the group, Wilky is the only one who demonstrates an interest in the match: ‘“What about some practice?” Wilky say anxiously. Wilky was the only fellar who really serious about the game.’
Essentially, the story involves one West Indian man’s ineptitude at cricket but his inclination to convince his English equivalents otherwise. The protagonist saw an opportunity to rebel against, and ridicule a seemingly oppressive, colonial authority through the avenue of sport, once he was not directly involved. However due to his attitude, as well as the misconception of West Indians by English people, it was difficult for Algernon to remain only as a spectator, and thus his eventual involvement in the game became inevitable.
Additionally, playing in the match appeared to have a positive effect on Algernon’s attitude and fractionally, also on his character. At base level meaning however, the story could simply be interpreted as a cricket match played between West Indians and Englishmen because of a lack of discretion on one man’s part.