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A cricket thing

Published:Saturday | August 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Tony Deyal, Contributor

The mandatory 'winer girls' or dancers at my end of the ground in front of the Jeffrey Stollmeyer Stand at the Queen's Park Oval represented the St Lucia Zouks at the third and final Caribbean Premier League (CPL) match to be played in Trinidad in this the second coming of the T20 league, which is now clearly here to stay.

On the first day, the same threesome had appeared in the colours of the Guyana Amazon Warriors and on the second they were there for the Jamaica Tallawahs. The girls were the same, the routines were unchanged, but the crowd, despite having many of the same people, including my son, Zubin, and me, was always different in appearance, number and behaviour.

The first game was at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night and was sold out. The crowd was noisy but not tremendously raucous. The man with some kind of air horn, which may have been stolen from a 20-wheeler rig, accompanied the DJ music with a completely out-of-tune blaring that could wake the departed souls of the ancient greats who made their name and fame in the Oval - but he seemed to be having fun, and, as the game got increasingly tense, his cacophony faded but never left even as my memories of the hallowed ground that is Queen's Park.

The Oval is a place, a shrine really, that I have been attending since I was five, taken there by my Uncle Jacket, who worked in the cane fields but who always had time for cricket. We took the train to Port-of-Spain and found our way by bus or walked to the Oval from downtown Port-of-Spain. We were always so full of expectation and excitement that the long walk never seemed far.

In my time, I have seen many wonders, the greatest of which was the left-handed Garry Sobers picking up a ball from Australian leg-spinner and googly bowler, Peter Philpott, and depositing it on to the roof of the same stand in which I was sitting.

This was 1965. I was an Oval teen. Philpott, who eventually got 18 wickets in the series, made his debut in the Australian Test team in Jamaica and was difficult to read. He started off well in Trinidad and then Sobers came in to face him. I was in the ground almost directly opposite the Stollmeyer Stand. I may have seen the ball leave the bat but I definitely did see it land on the top of the stand on the old zinc roof raising a dirty dust cloud. Only then I heard the resounding thump from the roof as the echo headed hurriedly towards me in waves of sound.

I have seen Rohan Kanhai's famous hook shot where he jumped and, with both feet in the air, hit the ball and then fell on his buttocks. I did not know what the shot was, but I saw him hit an inside-out six, banging the scoreboard and scattering the schoolboys who manned it. Clive Lloyd's fielding and throwing with either hand, Lara falling before what seemed to be an inevitable century against Barbados, Richie Richardson's debut Test, Dujon's brilliant century, the return of Tom Graveney who, at the age of 41, made a brilliant 118 against a West Indies team that included Hall and Griffith at the Oval.

Perhaps the greatest accolade to the Oval that I ever experienced was from a noted Australian professor of journalism I met at a conference at UWI and somewhere along the line I mentioned cricket. His eyes lit up and he begged, "Can you please tell me how to get to the Queen's Park Oval?" I wanted to say, "Practice, practice," but then he added, "It is a place that I have always wanted to see."

Someone in the group said, "Dey eh have no cricket playing dear now." It did not matter in the least, he explained. He had grown up with cricket on radio and just wanted to see it. I took him, and the groundsman allowed him to go to the pitch area where he stood and looked around, trying to get a player's eye view. He left grinning and thanked me profusely for taking him. For him, it was a dream come true.

On that first night against the Amazon Warriors, who had beaten the Red Steel team in Guyana in a match made doubly exciting with a super-over by Sunil Narine, which yielded not a single run, a six on the last ball by Darren Bravo was a dream come true for those Trinis attending and watching the game. "Maybe because Kamla (Persad-Bissessar, the prime minister) give them back the 'Trinidad and Tobago' they win," one of the ecstatic fans said to me. "Write about that, Tony," another one said.

On the second day, a Saturday, the game started at 12 in the afternoon. I could not believe that games starting at 12 in the afternoon, a time more suited to the global television audience than Trinis, would be sold out. It was, and it turned out to be more like the Gary Cooper western, 'High Noon'. Until the last few overs, it was not clear whether Chris Gayle would be Sheriff Will Kane (Gary Cooper) or villain Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald). Irishman Kevin O'Brien, like Shane, came back and ended the thriller. Wrong movie but great script.

And so it was written that on the third day, a Sunday game starting at 4 p.m., the crowds would gather and the Oval would be sold out again but, paradoxically for anywhere else in the world but Trinidad, with even more people there. Loaves and fishes were ordinary compared to this miracle. It got so crowded that fans started to encroach on the dancers' area in front of the Stollmeyer Stand. The girls left, fearing less for their lives than their sanity and perhaps feeling crowded out by the fans surrounding them.

Immediately, members of the crowd jumped up on the platform and started to gyrate, oscillate, cavort and rotate - in other words, 'wine'. They did this with such gusto, flexibility and panache that several of us commented almost simultaneously, "They wining better than the winer girls!"

Then the police came and stopped the fun and I remembered many years ago when a policeman came and stood in front of us in the Carib bleachers blocking our view of the game. The 'orange' bombardment was as thorough and ferocious, like the drubbing Holland recently inflicted on Spain. One of the people behind me told the policeman dryly, "Boss, we pay to watch Sobers, we ain't pay to watch you."

Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the finals of the CPL in Warner Park, St Kitts, makes him less a wannabe than a Warnerbethere.