At play in the field of the Lord
The third Test between England and the West Indies started yesterday, May 1, at Kensington Oval, Barbados. Twenty-two years ago, the second Test match between the West Indies and Pakistan went into its second day on April 24, 1993.
I had started a consultancy with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in November 1992, and this was my opportunity to see my first cricket match at Kensington Oval, Barbados. It was memorable and altogether new and strange. This is what I wrote at the time.
Every human activity has its hallowed halls, its sacred and sacrosanct sites and sanctuaries. Baseball has its Field of Dreams. English soccer has Wembley and English cricket has Lord's. The Moslems have Mecca and the Jews, Jerusalem. West Indies cricket has Kensington Oval. It is Zion, Parnassus and Olympus. It is our Camelot, capitol and citadel, our base and bastion.
I had long dreamt of the day when I would sit in the stands of Kensington hearing the "Hoi! Hoi!" of the hoi polloi, their "Cor Blimeys" and the agonised "Jeeez-U" of puzzlement and exasperation.
So here I am on Saturday, second day of the second Test. I have successfully survived the bottleneck that is the entrance and the gauntlet that is the narrow, hazardous walkway between the bar and its patrons. I am grateful to the blazing early-morning sun for the empty front row on the far right of the Kensington Stand and I plunk down my bag and feast my eyes as hungrily as Alan Quartermain sighting the treasures of Solomon, or Indiana Jones an Incan ingot.
Kensington is not as picturesque as the Queen's Park Oval or as old as historic Bourda. Its beauty, however, is far beyond the bare facade of stands, scoreboards and superficialities, and rests in the fact that it is the spiritual home of West Indies cricket, a pitch 'true' in every sense of the word, where the ball comes on to the bat, and where there is pace and bounce. Here we have no unfair advantage, no pitch doctored for us. This is all we ask of life and the game - a level playing field where everyone is equal, but where we are more equal than everyone else.
I look over at the Three Ws Stand and see the advertising slogan of a classic soft drink, 'Can't beat the feeling!' I smile delightedly at the aptness of it all and bask in the sight of the team doing their warm-up lap around the ground. We stand up and cheer as they pass our little corner of the ground and the applause greets and follows them around the ground in waves of warmth.
I notice the Pickwick Pavilion and think that one must have the very Dickens of a time to get in there. Next to it is the Sir Garfield Sobers Pavilion. I marvel at the fact that two buildings now literally joined together in space represent such a gap in time and circumstance. We have crossed the great divide from colonialism to independence and have done it without bloodshed. The civilising influences of cricket and Sir Frank Worrell made the journey from Pickwick to Sobers much easier. It is still not over and today's 'Test' is fittingly named and exactly that - another episode in the continuing rites of passage of the Caribbean people.
Already the signs are up. In front of the 3Ws Stand is a banner borne by some Trini fans commenting on what they consider the Pakistani equivalent of Weekes, Worrell and Walcott - Wasim, Waqar and Weed. (Waqar was supposedly caught smoking weed on the Gran Anse beach in Grenada. The Independent reported, "Akram, Waqar, Aqib Javed and Mushtaq Ahmed, along with two female tourists and a local man, were arrested on the beach at the team's hotel on Thursday night. They were charged with 'being in possession of a controlled drug.' Police said tests would determine the drug, but it was thought to be marijuana)".
I have found myself near two Pakistani fans and a Dominican taxi driver from Roseau. The Pakistanis are glumly despondent, their green hats bilious at the batting and battering still to come. The Dominican laughs when I tell him about the peanut vendor in the Queen's Park Oval who was selling Ambrose nuts - 'long-grain'. We start talking politics and he is not amused when I tell him that Paul Keens-Douglas says that "OECS" stands for Only Eugenia Charles Speaks. He denies it. "Listen to me," he says.
'Which one is Cummings?'
It is almost time to start and some doves pace the ground anxiously watching for 'Dicky' Bird. Five little brown seed-birds skitteringly imitate him. Bird and Barker come out and the crowd applauds. The lady behind me asks her male companion, "Which one is Cummings?"
The first ball is bowled and I am far from the madding crowd, lost in the game, hoping for Hooper, wishing him well. He is the old West Indies, enormous talent with a fatal flaw, one beyond diagnosis and discovery. He glows briefly and then is out. Murray comes in and lights up the ground until he is a victim of his own temerity - another of our failings. This team is us and ours, most of the time a mirror reflecting our strengths and weaknesses, but sometimes a glorious lantern, illuminating the way forward, piercing the gloomy darkness of dependency and division.
A very brief shower and the umpires race in panic for the pavilion. The sun shines brightly but the covers are still on. The doves coo their concern and look enquiringly around. The little brown seed-birds hop and twitter and kick at the grass in disgust. A little cricket. Another shower. Dicky Bird sprints for the pavilion. Barker has mysteriously got there before him.
The sun comes out but not the umpires. The doves are furious and pace angrily up and down. Two blackbirds arrive, having been assured that it is the Pakistanis playing here today and not the South Africans. "Which one is Cummings?" one asks the other as the umpires make a very belated return. The brown seed-birds want to change their surname. (To be continued next week).
- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that in 2001 six members of the South African team and the team's physio were caught smoking marijuana in their Antigua hotel room. According to the police, they were higher than the penthouse in the hotel in which they were staying.