SATURDAY’S CHILD – Lovely day for cricket
In our case, despite what Relator the Calypsonian said, it was not Gavaskar. “Real master” he might be, but he was not the reason we went to the Queen’s Park Oval in Port-of-Spain on March 6, 1971.
It was a pilgrimage that I have embarked upon over a period of more than 50 years with sundry travelling companions, some even more weird that the Miller, Carpenter or Wife of Bath in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The attraction in this case was not a crypt but the game of cricket, played (with due deference to Carlise and Tino) not by the Bests but the best of the best.
The second match in the Home Series, West Indies versus India, was due to start at 10 a.m. at the Oval. Given the West Indies team for the match, we were expecting that India would be demolished. Playing for the Windies were Roy Fredericks, the short, powerful and aggressive Guyanese left-handed batsman who opened the innings with another Guyanese, Stephen Camacho, who pulled, hooked, swept and drove fearlessly. Following them in the batting order were Rohan Kanhai and Clive Lloyd, two more Guyanese batsmen, and after them came Charlie Davis, elegant and brilliant against spin, and the incomparable Garfield Sobers. More, Jack Noreiga, the Trinidad off-spinner was on the team and we wanted to support him.
If, as David Rudder sang in Calypso Music, there is music to make a politician cringe, this was cricket to make a cricket fanatic’s heart sing. We rallied around the West Indies long before Rudder asked us to. Forget the battle of Harfleur, we decided we would not remain abed in far-off, rural Siparia and hold ourselves accursed we were not there.
We knew we would go, but how? Taxis were expensive and buses few and far-between. I did not have a driver’s licence. We settled on a ploy. I would tackle my father for his car, a blue standard or manual-shift Viva, on the basis that my friend Des, who had just obtained his driver’s permit, would drive the vehicle. First I conquered Des. He was rightly reluctant to drive and made the poor excuse that he did not know the roads in Port-of-Spain.
“I know the road man, I will direct you,” I said, having spent some time at school there. The next and the biggest stumbling block was my father.
“He could drive?” my father asked. I made out that Des was the safest thing on four wheels and despite his glasses, his eyesight was 20-20 or better. I begged, pleaded, cajoled and used every I had and finally, reluctantly, certainly fearfully, my father eventually gave in and at four in the morning of March 6, 1971, Des arrived at our house to take possession of the car. Despite my mother’s opposition to the idea, she had already cooked and wrapped the rotis.
My father kept us until 4:30 a.m. with instructions, making us even more impatient to get out of the village and avoid the inevitable traffic jam.
By that time, Fox, Tony and Orland had arrived and we set off. The car bucked and cut off a few times as Des released the clutch too early. My father looked extremely sceptical and may have wanted to recall his property. I shouted, “Don’t worry – is just the clutch is a bit high. It will be all right.”
We survived many anxious moments and a lot of abuse from other drivers and pedestrians before we finally reached the Oval.
We found the doubles-vendor and entered the Oval, went past the ticket entrance and the police trailer parked close to the wall on the Western side, in time to see what one commentator described as “the sunlight scintillating on the hills.”
Eagerly we awaited the first ball. When it came it brought sheer tragedy. Fredericks went bowled by the innocuous Abid Ali for duck. Kanhai came in and Camacho left at 42 for 2. Then it was 62 for three as Kanhai got out. 62 for 4 with Lloyd out for 7. We had not poured the first Scotch as there was no reason for celebration and nobody wanted to leave the game for even a second to get the ice. 108 for five – Sobers gone. When Barret, Findlay and Holder went, the score was 161 for 8. Then a partnership between Charlie Davis and Grayson Shillingford brought a ray of hope. We smiled, laughed, started to chat and heckle the Indian fans. Tony got the ice and as I raised my glass to my lips to savour the first Scotch of the day, our hopes for a revival were scotched. Shillingford, caught Solkar, bowled Prassana.
Des and Fox had disappeared. I searched for them at the bar and near the Ladies Members’ Stand to see if they were perhaps scoping out the Ladies Members or the Ladies Members were checking out theirs. I am not sure what made me go to the back of the Police trailer. Maybe my subconscious was sending a signal that my obsession with coming to the cricket had caused me to suppress. There they were, smoking marijuana, the scent strong and sickly and not a policeman had responded even though the place was crawling with cops. I was caught between a rock and a hard place – none of us could drive so I could not take back the car from Des, but considering how badly he drove without any illegal substance in his bloodstream, I could only imagine what terrors we would face with a driver stoned out of his skull.
I was lucky to see the second day. The drive back was a nightmare. It was dark when we left the Oval and the tinted glasses Des wore made it even darker but not black enough to match my mood. I was lucky to see Jack Noreiga get his 9 for 95 but it was in a losing cause. The West Indies lost the match and the series and, for the first time with Des, I lost my temper but not as bad as my father who complained the next day, “He bun the clutch. You go have to pay for it.”
Tony Deyal was last seen saying that if you really want to get stoned, inhale wet cement.