SATURDAY’S CHILD: Die hard WI fans
V.S. Naipaul had a character named “Hat” in his book Miguel Street. I had my Uncle “Jacket” in real life. He was called the “Jacket Man” because he always wore a coat – even to cut cane or milk the cattle. He loved cricket and used to take me and his eldest son Joe to watch cricket at the Queen’s Park Oval in far-away Port-of-Spain.
We usually reached long before the players came out for their warm-up drills and while eating our “doubles” (delicious and peppery curried chick peas between two fried patties), bought especially for breakfast, watched them closely.
I loved the cricket and the atmosphere in the grounds – people of all the different races that make up the rainbow country that is Trinidad, the noise, the smell of food, the sound of leather on willow, and most of all, the talk. “Talk like bush,” as we say.
During the years, I was around when bets were made like the one where someone bet that Vivian Richards, then in great form, would not make a hundred. Richards went on to make 123 (I think) and the man won his bet on a technicality. Richards did not make a hundred, he made 123. Bunnie Butler, Frank King, Walcott, Alexander, Collie Smith – I saw them all. Yet, what sticks in my memory was a shot played by Garry Sobers against Peter Philpott, a leg-spinner with a reasonably well disguised “googly”.
Philpott was doing extremely well in that 1965 tour and, like Amit Mishra in this series, was the scourge of West Indies batsmen.
He got 18 wickets in the series and he got hit by Sobers for a six that is the best shot that I have ever seen in cricket. Sobers was at the northern end facing the Queen’s Park pavilion, next to which was the Ladies’ Members Stand, with its prominent galvanized roof and overhang.
If Dhoni’s shot could be compared to a helicopter, Sobers’ was pure Concorde. His bat was a blur. I heard a muted thwack as the ball sped towards and hit the roof of the stands. I saw a cloud of dust come off the roof. Then I heard the sound of the ball hitting the roof. It was the first cricket shot that I’ve ever seen that may have broken the sound barrier.
Later I would hang out with Tony Becca, Tony Cozier and Tony Williams in the Press Box, where Mike Gibbs had to warn me that members of the media were expected to be impartial and that we were not supposed to behave either in an ungentlemanly or partisan fashion while seated there. It is why I left the Press Box for the more salubrious and noisy atmosphere of the stands, which even now I frequent when at a cricket match with other diehards watching the West Indies play.
This is where I found myself in Antigua over the weekend. The attendance was disappointing, but the people attending were even more disappointed. They were diehard fans but with a vengeance. Darren Sammy’s elevation to the captaincy seemed to enrage most of them.
The selectors, too, were the butt of many jokes. “The chairman of the selectors name Butts,” a slightly less than sober Guyanese man said. “He is my countryman, but he and the other selectors are living up to their chairman’s surname.”
“When you ask Butts any question he tell you to ask Hilaire. When you ask Hilaire he tell you to ask Hunte. And when you ask Hunte he tell you to ask Beckles.”
That was Saturday, and the West Indies lost the deciding match (No. 3) in the five-match series. On Monday, the fourth day, the series having already been lost, the fans came out with even more bitterness. “We don’t want any consolation victory,” one fan said. “We want to win. We want a real victory.”
Another said, “We can win a battle, but we already lost the war.” This is the truth. The WICB has lost the cricket war as well as the battle for public opinion, but that has never mattered. The WICB is a limited liability company responsible only to itself and represents less than .000001 of the West Indian population. That is the truth, and our diehard fans can talk all they want but nobody will listen except to laugh and take the next drink. Maybe it is time to get off our Butts.