My earliest memories of cricket involve black and white images on the TV, with my dad sitting in an armchair and a voice droning on and the room being incredibly warm or maybe I associated warmth, 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, 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 place was on the map, well, not literally, however, I could preface conversations about my parents’ land of birth with “Do you know that ….”, of course there would follow “Do you know …”.
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, still don’t know how they got there.
By the first ball, fully fed and watered, I find that action off the field is far more interesting than what was happening on it…every other person is an umpire/coach and expert – shouting advice, starting one way conversations within anyone within ear shot….The voices got louder, arguments built up in defence 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” – homage to a popular calypso sung by David Rudder and blasted every time an English batsman got out.
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 learnt was that cricket reflected our lives in this small space on planet earth – our swagger, playfulness and full on pride with no fear of size – we walked as though we owned the world, even if, no one could find us on the map.