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On Thursday, it was the turn of the Port of Spain audience to be wowed by the West Indies Cricket Team’s long-running variety show. It is difficult to put into words the full experience of an afternoon and evening with Chris Gayle’s Travelling Circus. There is comedy for sure and there is tragedy too, not to mention a fair bit of standing around sulking. But the centrepiece of the show is a thrilling escapology act.
Each night, Defeat is tightly gagged; bound in padlocked chains, locked into a trunk and heaved into a tank full of piranhas by Chris and his glamorous assistants. Then we look on in wonder as, against all the odds, at the last possible minute, Defeat breaks free, bounds onto the stage and yells, “Ta-da!” accepting the groans of disbelief, sporadic booing and occasional fruit flinging of a stunned audience.
The verdict of the genial Colin Croft in the Sky studio is that the West Indies have forgotten how to win, a diagnosis of amnesia that might not be too much of a handicap to you or I but which is particularly unfortunate in a collection of professional sportsmen. And there appears to be no cure, other than waiting for your collective memory to return, a process that can take several years. For example, England mislaid the art of winning some time during 1987 and didn’t find it again for a decade and a half. Even now it comes and goes.
And it is hard not to feel sorry for Chris Gayle. The man is clearly doing all he can to ginger up his chaps. He’s even started running quick singles. Throughout the series, the men in maroon have refused extra runs with the profligacy of well-fed diners waving away the sweet trolley. But early on during Thursday’s game, big Chris put his head down and pushed hard for a quick single. It was an unusual sight that put me in mind of an elderly aunt in desperate pursuit of a number 24 bus whilst trying to retain a grasp of her handbag, her hat and her dignity. But at least he was setting an example.
Their fielding was much improved too. Unfortunately, the South Africans were back to their efficient best and it was humans against cyborgs out there. Boucher, reduced to the ranks for the first time in a couple of decades, pulled off an astonishing catch in the 25th over, like a small boy scrumping apples with the aid of rocket-propelled trainers. Fielder of the day though was Roelof van der Merwe who was busy reinvigorating the word "enthusiasm" with a scrambling, hustling performance that left viewers exhausted and his smart green shirt all brown with dust and sweat.
The home side did show that they were capable of innovation in some areas. In the absence of the UDRS, the West Indian vice captain introduced the BRS: the Bravo Review System. The process is a straightforward one. An umpire makes a certain decision. Bravo indicates his intention to have the decision reviewed by waving his arms and glaring meaningfully at the man in the white trilby. Said official, after weighing up his options, decides that in the light of new information, he can after all, revise his decision to the satisfaction of certain parties.
I believe that next year the ICC are looking into the possibility of doing away with on field arbiters altogether and allowing the players to umpire their own games.
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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