Subdued at Sabina
It was time for business. For the past week, everything in Jamaica had been gearing up for Thursday. Today, the countdown had finished, the day had finally arrived. "Sabina Park please," I excitedly told my taxi driver. "Yeah man, let's go," he smiled, "it's going to be busy down there."
And it was - well, on the pitch at least, but not in the stands. With little over an hour till the start, there were more signs of life on the outfield than anywhere else. The West Indies team used the eastern side of the square, and England the other as their practice areas. In the middle, as if acting as the referees, were the throng of media bods interviewing, inspecting and generally intruding. Any Beefy, Bumble or Bish could have waltzed out there.
Back in the stands, the Barmy Army arrived in their dribs and drabs, wearing the now-customary uniform: football shirt, a flag under one arm and a bottle of beer in the other. Most headed towards the famous Mound Stand, next to the Red Stripe scoreboard, which still showed Jimmy Anderson down as playing instead of Simon Jones.
As the start approached, the atmosphere was strangely subdued. There were, of course, the beloved sounds of Bob Marley wailing out of the speakers, but surprisingly few spectators were around to appreciate them. Given the hoo-hah about ticket prices before the series, it was understandable that the England fans were not out in force, but the locals had less of an excuse.
The George Headley Stand was only half-full; the specially erected stand, which presumably the English fans had to pay for, had a smattering of only 20 or so fans, while the area under the executive boxes was taken up by a colourful mix of English and West Indies fans, but there were still plenty of empty blue seats poking through the melee.
A few hooters screeched as England strode out on the pitch, and even more when Chris Gayle and Devon Smith followed. But things soon settled down again; it was all a bit disappointing - perhaps it was first-day nerves, or perhaps I was expecting too much. Michael Vaughan said in the press conference that his team would have to get used to the excitable crowds, so let's see them.
To be fair, England did their best to keep the crowds quiet early on. Gayle's cover-driven boundary off Matthew Hoggard was given a hoot of approval, as was Smith's soon after. But Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan's wickets were met with solemn indifference by the locals.
The party finally started to liven up when Brian Lara was forced to make an unfashionably early entrance, and a taste of the carnival atmosphere came booming across the airwaves as Lara and Smith showed off a few party tricks. But Simon Jones sent Lara home for an unpopular early exit, and the atmosphere died away again. But at least the match had made it past the first session this time.
Freddie Auld, Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor, will be following England's fortunes in Jamaica and Trinidad.