Ian McDonald, Contributor
My sister, Gillian Howie, who lives with her husband Doug in a beautiful house on a cliff overlooking the ever-changing, blue-green, coral-shadowed sea on the north coast of Antigua, is a lover of West Indies cricket. She follows all our matches religiously - in every sense of the word since she believes strongly in the power of prayer and is accustomed to appeal to God and all His heavenly hosts for West Indies to win wherever and whenever the team plays.
The problem has been that for the last too long, the West Indies has been losing no matter how fervent my sister's prayers and no matter which power she addresses. This has neither weakened her faith in the West Indies nor disillusioned her in the belief she holds in the value of prayer. She has continued to believe that the West Indies will rise again and that her prayers will be answered and that there will be a connection between the two.
She had been particularly attentive in her entreaties last year during the World Cup, but to no avail. Perhaps it was only that God and all His saints, at this particularly awful time in world history, must have been too busy coping with the billions of supplications. But still she felt it was just a matter of time.
Well, the time has arrived. The occasion has been the visit by Sri Lanka. The omens were not good. After a good start in South Africa, the West Indies had fallen away badly and injuries to the new charismatic leader and captain Chris Gayle and to the supremely gifted but horribly fragile Ronnie Sarwan foretold a future of continuing failure. Only the extraordinary achievements of Shiv Chanderpaul, more tigerish, determined and prolific as he gets older, seemed to be capable of fending off the awful fate of sinking alongside Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in the lower reaches of the world rankings.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka was invariably a strong competitor among the top teams, got to the finals of the World Cup last year and were enjoying the services of the eccentric, genius bowler Murilitharan, the only slightly less effective and talented Chaminda Vaas and Mahela Jayawaredene, plus a formidable bevy of new, young stars. To those knowledgeable in the game, even loyal West Indians, Sri Lanka seemed overwhelming favourites to win both the Test and ODI series in our house, thus inflicting another blow to our pride.
The omens, as I say, were not good. So, my sister had her work cut out and made more vital for her in these matches. And in the first Test at the Providence Stadium events did not unfold at all well. There were flashes of good form, especially from Sarwan and Bravo, but flashy is never enough and by the last day, the West Indies were desperately struggling. My sister thought all might still be well and a brave stand by the stoutly resisting captain and his tail-enders gave hope. But with only five overs left, the last wicket fell and the game was lost. The West Indies' challenge had once again dismally subsided. And my sister's, and who knows how many other West Indian, prayers had fallen on deaf ears.
One could have been forgiven for surrendering to what all the faithful counsel us against: the black night of despair. But my sister did not despair as, bless her gentle and loving heart, she never does. Instead, she decided what was needed was to find a special interlocutor to approach the Almighty, one who would pay particular attention, one whose intercession would have a degree of priority. In other words, what was required was to involve the patron saint for cricket. And better hurry up and appeal urgently to him or her to turn the tide - as one prays to Saint Antony for lost things.
The patron saint of cricket
But who, my sister wondered, is the patron saint of cricket? It is at this point that developments take on a positively unearthly character or dimension. What happened is too coincidental to be anything other than an actual miracle. At this exact moment, as my sister wondered to herself, the machine on her husband's desk coughed up an email message out of the blue.
It was from an old friend, Father Maniangattu, who had known my sister and her husband when he had resided in Antigua years before. He was writing to enquire about them and to give his own news. "And, by the way," he ended his message, "you will be interested to know that my mother's greataunt, Blessed Sister Alphonsa, is to be canonised on October 12 in the Vatican." Further information about Sister Alphonsa could be obtained on the website paladiocese.com.
I am sure I do not need to explain further. My sister decided, quite rightly I believe, that this was a sign too precious to ignore. She at once appointed blessed sister, soon to be saint, Alphonsa, to intercede to the good Lord on behalf of West Indies cricket. My sister, knowing time was short and Sister Alphonsa might not be fully aware of all that would be involved in her new role, urged her to learn the laws of the game, learn as much as possible about its rich history and specifically, learn about West Indies cricket and the special place it holds in our very souls. This would have to be done quickly because her intercession was needed as soon as the second Test, which was starting in Port-of-Spain in a couple of days. My sister prayed, and she suggested I do so also, to our new sponsor on high.
All I can say is that the results since then speak for themselves. And nobody will convince me that it was not blessed sister Alphonsa who helped guide our hero Chanders as he gloriously smote that splendid four, that miraculous six, which gave us victory at the last gasp in the first ODI at the Oval.
Ian McDonald is an occasional contributor who lives and works in Georgetown, Guyana.