SATURDAY’S CHILD: A three-Test mashup
There is nothing like the first ball of the first Test of a series. There is no experience or feeling quite like it. Perhaps it is the many months of waiting and the rising excitement of the crowd that goes from murmur to expectant hush to the full-throated affirmation of not just being there, but being part of history in process, legends and myths in the making.
It is here at the Queen’s Park Oval as we applaud, first the Pakistanis and then, more loudly, the West Indies opening pair of Haynes and Simmons, we remember other first days – Roy Fredericks bowled first ball and the West Indies collapsing against Wadekar’s Indians, and Boycott bobbing, weaving, wilting, succumbing and capitulating to Holding’s thunderbolts and West Indian hostility.
I still recall that first Test in the Pakistan versus West Indies series in April 1993 as I thought about the second which took place at Kensington right after and, now, the third against England in 2015 which ended last week with a long-awaited West Indies victory. Phil Simmons is a common link to all three matches, then and now . . . .
This is the Queen’s Park Oval on April 16, 1992. Little did we know that the match would end in three days. There is a young man off to my right in a green Pakistani hat, waving a flag and blowing a whistle. He is surrounded by other Pakistani fans. There is no animosity towards them, only a kind of amused tolerance.
Someone tells him they hope he would blow his whistle the same way when the match ends and Pakistan loses. In front of the concrete stand near the commentary booth a lone Pakistani flagman sits waving his flag furiously. Dicky Bird moves towards the middle, frail and pale, making cricketing history.
I have been coming to this ground since I was five and while I have seen many great innings here, and great drama – the loss to the English and Indians, Sobers hitting Philpott, the Australian leg-spinner, for six – every new series has its own magic, its own appeal.
The Pakistanis are always our best opponents, asking and giving no quarter, temperamentally very much like West Indians. Wasim Akram prepares to bowl the first ball. Somehow the melody is still in my head. Rally! Rally! Rally round the West Indies. Someone in the crowd asks, “You think he smoke?”
Some spectators had wandered onto the grassed area in front of the stand and were being chased away by a security man. A wit in the crowd says, “Is not them they should be telling keep off the grass, is the Pakistanis.” The new name for a marijuana joint in Trinidad is an “akram”.
The second day is ours, totally, completely and overwhelmingly. Those who had hoped that there would be some kind of tail-end recovery or Pakistani partnership to build a big lead saw their hopes and stumps shattered by Bishop and Ambrose.
Lunchtime and the group called the “Concrete Stand Posse” headed by comedian Tommy Joseph serves “Lara Pelau and Gary Sobers Flying Fish” in a luncheon honouring Donna Symmonds. I am told that Tommy had done a brilliant imitation of Ms Symmonds in South Africa. Among the gems, “Phil Simmons is only medium pace but he is quite stiff. Quite stiff!” and “Patterson did very badly in the first Test. No balls! No balls!”
Still in Port-of-Spain, the end is nigh. Bishop gets Javed. Four for 42 and almost all over. The Pakistani flag lies forgotten on the concrete. It will fly high again, triumphant, someday, somewhere else. But not here, not now, and not in Kensington in the next Test. Skip a few days and West Indies are heading for victory again.
This time the second Test in Barbados in 1992. “Give Hooper the ball,” a woman shouts. Her companion tells her it is the new ball and Hooper cannot use it. “Why not?” she demands. “What they have against the boy?”
Ambrose twice beats Souhail outside the off-stump. “Hoi! How he fishing so? He from Oistins?” Javed plays a ball into Richardson’s hand and the cognoscenti say that it is deliberate. “Hoi! He want them to lose.”
Simmons takes a catch off a no-ball. “Jeeez-U!”
Haynes takes a brilliant catch. “Cor blimey!” “What happening?” the lady asks. “The umpire offer them the light.” “But how he could come from England and give them we light? Like he confuse.”
I am satisfied. My cup runneth over as it has run, amply and liberally supplied, all day. I will return tomorrow but it will not be the same. Today a dream has come true for me. “Cor blimey,” I say to myself as I join my brethren bound for Bridgetown and Babylon. “Can’t beat the feeling!” No way! No way, Jose!”
On television a few days ago it was watching Jerome Taylor a young man whose career I have followed and even tried to help at one stage. He and the team have rebounded, hopefully like a Malcolm Marshall bouncer – straight for the jugular.
But our cynicism did not come overnight – it was the constant aftermath of disappointment and mismanagement. Will the West Indies rise again? Perhaps, looking at the corpulent Phil Simmons, he might have both the appetite and the belly.
Tony Deyal was last seen saying that when the English team collapsed in the second innings of this week’s Test match an old joke resurfaced – not Geoffrey Boycott – but, “What do you call an Englishman who’s good with a bat?” A vet.