The morning after
It was a strange experience, wandering along the beach between Bridgetown and St Lawrence Gap the morning after an historic series win in the Windies. Obviously England's fans were pleased to have been a part of it, but were they really excited about it?
West Indies had batted reasonably well on a poor pitch for their 224, and at 119 for 6, England had been in real trouble. But Graham Thorpe's gritty century turned the match around, and once England had reached parity the body language of both teams indicated the likely outcome.
Thorpe is extremely popular with the England fans. Men in wigs, naughty schoolgirls, the ubiquitous Jimmy Savile lookalike, and a group of stubbly nuns from Oldham all raised the roof when Thorpe reached his landmark, and that was just a prelude to Matthew Hoggard's astonishing hat-trick on the third day.
The end of the match also sparked wild celebrations, the likes of which have probably never been seen before in the Caribbean. The fans chanted and waved their flags as the team did a lap of honour while supping from well-earned cans of Carib Beer. Michael Vaughan later said that he could tell how much it meant to the supporters just by looking at the elation in everyone's eyes as he and the team went round the ground.
As darkness fell and the full moon shone brightly, the England team were enjoying a beer in the first-floor dressing-room. Some of the lads were sitting squeezed together on the window-ledge, as there obviously weren't enough benches in the sardine-tin dressing-room itself. This gave the 80 or so fans who had made it onto the outfield a chance to warble a few songs of praise to the players. Occasionally a head and an arm would pop out of the window, and a smile and a wave would follow. But the police soon moved in to disperse the happy throng, and the ground quietened down.
Outside it was a different world, however: one where reggae pumped out from the temporary bars that had been set up anywhere vaguely convenient. One such was a large affair run by Banks' Beer. It had been set up in the car park of a trading estate, and there were plenty of England fans dancing to the reggae beat. All the talk was of Thorpe's century and Hoggy's hat-trick, but as for the series win itself ... its significance was largely overlooked.
As we all know, it was all of 36 years ago when England last won in the Caribbean, and a sizeable majority of these 2004 fans weren't even born when the likes of Boycott, Edrich, Cowdrey, Barrington, Graveney and Snow secured the spoils in 1968. Will Harmy, Hoggy, Thorpey and Butch echo down the ages in quite the same way?
In some ways, yes. More people watched the matches live and on television this time round, which will lead to clearer memories in years to come thanks to reruns on television, video and DVD. But in other ways, no. The 1968 West Indian team was considerably stronger than the 2004 version. Lara aside, this crop has no players to compare with men such as Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Wes Hall and Lance Gibbs. They haven't even got a Steve Camacho or a Willie Rodriguez.
That is not to say there was no party this time around. St Lawrence Gap was where it was at, as people spilled out from the bars onto the streets - happy England followers mingling with West Indians who were drinking to ease the pain, but putting on brave faces all the same.
But it was sad that the West Indians didn't seem too bothered about the state of their team. They were disappointed without being truly gutted, as if they had long ago resigned themselves to the fact that they were no longer the force of old. The gradual decline of the past ten years has dulled the pain of defeat.
In truth, most of the partygoers didn't seem entirely at ease. They preferred the security, comfort and interest of the cricket ground to the chilled-out mood on the beach. This should have been the fourth day of the match, after all, and several thousand fans had been left at a loose end. "I hope Antigua goes to five days," said one, "but obviously I hope we win too."
England's fans can't have their cake and eat it. If playing as well as possible means blowing away a weak West Indies side and earning yourself two extra days' R&R, then it should be a cause for celebration.
England's first Test win in the West Indies for 36 years, and people are complaining about a day on the beach? As Fred Trueman might say: "I just don't know what's goin' off out there".
Andy Clark is editor of the England cricket fanzine, Corridor of Uncertainty.