JAMES, CYRIL LIONEL ROBERT, died on May 31, 1989, at the age of 88 in his tiny Brixton home in South London which, in his final years, had become a place of pilgrimage for admirers of both his cricket and his political writings. Born just outside Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, C. L. R. James was a scholarship boy who became deeply involved in politics with a strong Marxist flavour at a time when West Indian nationalism began to burgeon and black cricketers of the Caribbean looked for more acknowledgement of their place in society and in the sport.
James was a close friend of the great all-rounder, Learie Constantine, who invited him to Lancashire in 1932 when he was playing league cricket with Nelson. Neville Cardus helped make it possible for James to contribute to the Manchester Guardian, and his writing flourished; in addition to his own books on black radicalism, he helped Constantine to produce Cricket and I.
James returned to the United States, where he increasingly wrote and lectured, with great clarity of language and deep conviction, on social and political reform. It was perhaps inevitable he should be expelled in 1953 when America was gripped by Senator McCarthy's obsession with un-American activities, but this meant his efforts were channelled into West Indies politics, especially the move towards a Caribbean federation.
However, in 1963 he leapt from his considerable status in the world of radical politics to fame as a writer on cricket with Beyond a Boundary, widely regarded by many as the greatest book on the game yet written. Its argument that cricket was a delight, but must always be set in context against more significant matters, and written in near classic language, made it one of the few books on cricket qualified to rank as literature.
In 1986 a wide-ranging collection of his writings was published under the simple title, Cricket. This included letters to friends, ranging from George Headley to John Arlott, and a selection of newspaper and magazine articles. James's impact was such that the book was published in paperback in 1989, a fortnight before his death.