My earliest memories of cricket involve black and white images on the TV with my dad sitting in an armchair, a voice droning on, and the room being incredibly warm. At the time, I think I maybe associated the warmth and the droning voices with boredom. I paid no attention to the little men in white uniforms making unintelligent sounds and saying phrases like, “Silly mid-on,” “Leg bye,” and “Howzat.”
Leap forward to my late teens, the mighty West Indies were striding across cricket fields in the UK followed by men with afros, jackets, and pieces of iron, while chasing quite sexy looking men in white with incredibly bright smiles across fields of green. And then the West Indies won the first cricket World Cup. The noise my father and his friends made probably frightened the neighbours. Island pride was particularly high as two Antiguans, (Sir) Andy Roberts and (Sir) Vivian Richards, were being hailed as the best players in the world. Finally, our small island was on the map. Well, not literally… however, I could preface conversations about my parents’ land of birth with “Do you know that place that just won the World Cup…”
Cricket came to life for me in 1986, an emotional series with the West Indies rampaging against a beleaguered England. My cousin told me that I would have to meet him at 7:00 am at the Antigua Recreation Grounds (ARG). I duly arrived and was met by a wall of sound, people, hucksters, the smell of frying, and the sound of glass clinking. We found our seats – a long wooden bench in a rather rickety stand that continued to fill up as the morning wore on. Music cranked up and the biggest coolers and pots appeared in our row. After all these years, I still don’t know how they got there.
By the first ball, fully fed and watered, I found that the action off the field was far more interesting than what was happening on it. Every other person is an umpire/coach and expert, shouting advice and starting one way conversations within anyone within ear shot. As the game played on, the voices got louder, and arguments built up in defense of or against some player or the other. More rum, more food, louder music.
By day four, I had made friends with some English tourists who had brought a cooler full of champagne, which we duly drank as England’s captain uttered the phrase, “This ship has well and truly sunk,” an homage to a popular Calypso sung by David Rudder and blasted every time an English batsman got out.
And thus, a cricket baby was born. I was duly hooked. The experience of being there, that buzz whether we won, lost, or drew – everyone has an opinion, a reason, or theory as to why and how. The biggest lesson I have learnt is that cricket reflects our lives on this small island on Planet Earth – our swagger, playfulness, and full on pride with no fear of size. On the cricket field, we walk as though we own the world, even if no one can find us on the map.
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Have you attended an island cricket match?