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It is easy to criticise the West Indies Cricket Board and it’s fun too. But say what you like about Julian Hunte and chums, you can’t fault their hospitality. For the visit of the Zimbabweans, Caribbean groundsmen have produced some of the flattest, most lifeless strips of earth seen outside of the Sahara, just to make the plucky tourists feel at home. From Kingston to Guyana, it appears that every yard of soil in the West Indies is crumblier than a Madeira cake, and as an additional bonus for touring sides, none of the local players have a clue how to bat on it.
The result is that an apparently ho-hum affair has been turned into an edge-of-the-seat thriller. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be watching this series still, but as the shadows lengthened in Guyana on Sunday, I was gripped. The batsmen crawled painfully to their target, as though spin bowling was some dastardly new invention. Kieron Pollard in particular was an accident waiting to happen. Launching a ball to long-on, the hapless Mumbai Indian had to trudge back to the pavilion under the dead-eyed glare of his captain. The laconic Jeffrey Dujon suggested that Pull Hard might consider getting changed behind the pavilion.
In between the silly shots, the crowd were amusing themselves. Given the blazing heat, some kind of award has to go to the man in the Santa suit, complete with full-length white beard, who marched up and down the stand, playing a musical instrument that looked like it had been knocked up in a shed. Horns were everywhere. At times it sounded like a troupe of performing sea lions had been let loose in a drum shop. All manner of unearthly honks, hoots and bellows were unleashed, particularly when Gayle gave the ball a few healthy taps.
The other sound most often heard was that of clattering wood. The viewer formed the distinct impression that the West Indian players had been practising, so often did they disturb the bails. Indeed, both sides were pretty hot on the ground fielding, with the result that there was more timber demolished at the Providence National Stadium than over a long weekend in the Amazon.
But the best fielder wore red. Tatenda Taibu reminds me of the days when wicketkeepers were magicians. Ball beating bat and bails being removed seems to happen instantaneously, with the little keeper shrieking his celebration from short mid-on before the spectator realises what has happened.
Then there was Ray Price, a man for whom the bowling of a cricket ball is an inconvenience that gets in the way of his sledging. After letting fly, he immediately scurries down the pitch to get up close and personal with the batsman. He then runs through a melodramatic repertoire of glares, frowns, headshakes and insults, before chatting loudly with the umpire, generally behaving like precisely the kind of person you avoid at bus stops. If you haven’t seen him, imagine Shane Warne with less talent. Really, Ray, enough already. Bullying Darren Sammy is nothing to be proud of. The ball boys probably do that during the lunch interval. You have to wonder how the lippy trundler would have fared if he’d tried it on with Viv.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. Providing his ransom demands continue to be met, he has promised never to write a whimsical book about village cricket. @hughandrews73