I have always loved cricket. I learned to play it at school, but graduated to umpiring and scoring after nearly losing my front teeth to a fumbled catch. As a young publisher of school textbooks in the Caribbean, I decided early on that the perfect icebreaker was cricket, so I set about revising and updating my knowledge. It was the golden era of WIndies cricket and soon I was following Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Malcolm Marshall, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Hayes, Big Bird Garner, Michael Holding et al. round the islands as they blackwashed all the teams in sight. While I was working, you understand.
The last time I was here we went to a World Cup match, and I introduced my hosts to the Barmy Army. This time it was a very local affair, a Caribbean Premier League match between the Barbados Tridents (strong home support) and St Kitts & Patriots, led by the big beast himself, Chris Gayle, holder of the record fastest 100 off 30 balls.
It had been raining so the covers were off late, but the steel band and vuvuzelas were in full voice as we grabbed our seats. Soon JP appeared with some welcome beers and we started chatting to our neighbours, 7 year-old Zak, and his Dad. He was simultaneously shy and thrilled to be there.
The Tridents started well, a few quick fours, and the place erupted. To our left of us there was a cloaked man, complete with his trident, which he waved vigorously at every opportunity. The girls in front had perfectly coiffed braids and wigs, large gold hoops, lashings of make-up, and plenty of blow-up batons to bang together in thunderous applause at a good shot.
But suddenly the wickets began to fall as the Patriots’ Pakistani spin-bowlers and Bajan Carlos Brathwaite, who took a magnificent 4 wickets for 15 runs, got the measure of the ‘local’ side. And while the background music played on it was all a bit muted. At the end of 20 overs they had only amassed a miserly 128 runs for 9 wickets!
So the bets were on at how many overs it would take Gayle and his young Trinidadian opening parter Evin Lewis to win the match. Well, we didn’t have to wait long: soon Lewis was skying sixes way over the stand – 11 in all – plus a couple of fours. Wow! Gayle seemed content to amble up and down on the rare occasion when he was forced to run. He hit 22 runs, but it was not about him last night.
JP’s guess was 10 overs, mine was eight, the dude-with-the-diamond-earring in front plumped for nine. He was interestingly supporting the Patriots as he had no time for (Trinidadian) Trident captain Pollard, who ‘put money in he friends pockets…is all about money this 20/20’. True – the players are recruited from professional cricketers the world-over, so the sides comprise all nationalities.
As we came to the last ball in the seventh over with Lewis on 97 (having already hit at least 2 sixes, if not more, in that over, and the Patriots needing one run to win), Dude-with-the-diamond-earring said, ‘Pollard goin’ to bowl a wide’. ‘No!’ says innocent little me, ‘why would he do that?’ Of course DWTDE was right: in a shocking display of bad sportsmanship, the ill-tempered Pollard, angered probably by being whacked around the ground and by his side’s dismal performance, bowled a no-ball on that last ball of the over, giving the Patriots the victory run and in so-doing denying Lewis the second quickest century EVER in 20/20. As it was he got 97 off 32 balls. The crowd sucked their teeth in disapproval.
But the rum kept flowing and the jokes abounded, despite the huge disappointment of the local crowd, as we watched the large buttocks of the cheer leaders sashaying round the Oval, ‘like two unfriendly dogs under a blanket,’ quipped one wag, as a particularly large ass, encased in white leggings, passed by.
I love cricket in the Caribbean. It’s full of good humour, wit and knowledge, all washed down with liberal amounts of rum and beer.