February 13, 2009

Andrew McGlashan on England in West Indies, 2008-09

Blind bends on a mini-bus

Andrew McGlashan

Being driven around Antigua is an interesting experience. White lines appear an optional extra outside of the capital, St John's, and are mainly used for marking the popping crease. Pot holes are deep, occasionally verging on cavernous, and there are endless blind bends. But it's a heck of a lot of fun.

After a couple of England's training sessions this week I have opted to use the local bus service to return to my hotel and it has added a whole new dimension to the journey. And when I say local buses, don't think about the 275 along Uxbridge Road.

In Antigua it is a mini-bus type vehicle. For anyone who has been to South Africa, picture the vans you can jump on board to whizz around Cape Town. Occasionally those come without steering wheels so the driver can fit in an extra passenger and, while the Antigua version is less extreme, the principle remains the same.

To begin with there is no set timetable. The buses just leave when they are full. And by full, I mean not being able to squeeze in another person. As in any mini-bus there are rows of seats, but at the end of each is another fold-down seat and each of these gets filled as well, plus the two next to the driver. So by the time you leave the stand it's like a can of sardines. Spare a thought for the person sitting on the back row in the far right corner – there is no swift exit for them.

Normally, though, it works out that an early drop-off will free up a seat and then it becomes like one of those puzzle games where you have one free block and have to move all the other pieces around. When someone shouts "bus stop" it often requires some severe logistics to allow the person from their seat.

Then there is the actual driving. Antiguan roads aren't busy (at least by London standards) but they bring with them their own set of challenges. I've noticed that people have a habit of just liking to stop rather randomly on the side of the road, causing some sudden braking and manoeuvring.

These mini-buses aren't always the most responsive of vehicles, either, especially when weighted down with a full load. Overtaking is particularly interesting, especially when the option is taken on a blind bend, while going up hill, with a van that is surely loaded with more than it is made for. But each time we make it and continue on our way.

Hills and valleys provide something of a challenge while the van is fully laden, and at one point it almost feels like it needs a push to reach the top. However, once we chug our way up the driver makes the most of a tail wind – and gravity – and floors it down the other side.

The passengers quickly begin to disembark as we pass through the centre of the island and towards the south coast. The occasional person hops on board (and the driver seems to know everyone, as is a general way in Antigua) but by the time my stop approaches it is just me left. I still shout 'bus stop', just because I want to, and he quickly pulls up at the side of the road. I jump off, slam the door and he speeds away. St Johns to Falmouth harbour, the north of Antigua to the south, in 30 minutes. On a bad day on Uxbridge Road I'd have gone half a mile.

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Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew McGlashan
Assistant Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.

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