April 13, 2012

Bajan days and nights

There's always something to see, a happy face to talk to, in Barbados

April 1
"You won't be winning this time", says the customs man in reference to the looming Test match as he grants me passage from Barbados airport to my first ground-level glimpse of the Caribbean. The islands had been a feast for the eyes towards the end of a 30-hour, three-flight journey from Sydney, lengthened by ten fitful hours in LAX. After the wintry weather of Los Angeles and New York, the first sight of Barbados from the plane brought a sense of anticipation, though it briefly turned to terror when I could not find my suitcase on the carousel - it had been taken off by an airport attendant and stacked with an American family's luggage. Having retrieved it and left the terminal, my driver greets me warmly, but once we start on the road to the hotel, his tone is as expectant as the customs official's. "Ready for your guys to cop some licks?" he asks.

April 2
Joined at breakfast by Cricket Australia's team performance manager, Pat Howard, who is in Bridgetown for a brief pre-series check on the progress of the tourists. We compare jet lag stories - I struggled to sleep past 5am, he was up at 4am and running on the beach by 5. Howard has been in Barbados before, in his rugby incarnation, but is rightly more preoccupied with helping the team rise up the world rankings than by the thought of having a holiday. Stomach full, the journey is made to the Three Ws Oval at Cave Hill for Australia's tour match. The Oval is pretty, grass banks on one side and the University of the West Indies on the other, but the pitch is grassless and untrustworthy. A weak WICB President's XI does not unduly trouble the visitors with bat or ball.

April 3
Aussie bats struggle under the Cave Hill sun, while on John Inverarity's recommendation I take a closer look at the West Indies Walk of Fame carved into the hillside. Inscribed on the lectern at the foot of the memorial are the following words from Sir Frank Worrell: "Now there is nothing wrong with wanting to win. There is nothing wrong with winning. But there is a lot wrong with getting so carried away by success that you can no longer play the game in the proper spirit. The public should be entertained to some worthwhile cricket and not just a struggle for victory." Think to myself that these words should adorn the doors of every cricket dressing room. Bump into George Bailey arriving at the ground, who relays his "one day I'll look back and laugh" Indian visa story. Later, after the local XI has folded in the second innings, I join Keith Holder on his BBC (the first B is for Barbados) cricket radio programme. Geoff Lawson appears on a rival programme that airs earlier, then hears me in his taxi home. Quite the role reversal.

April 4
Tour match is wrapped quickly, affording a quick escape from the cramped press box at the Three Ws. Ask a local who is following all three Tests about Dominica and am told "they say it is the one island of the Caribbean where if Christopher Columbus came back to see it he'd still recognise it". Think Spanish thoughts momentarily.

Australia's squad elects to do fielding training at Kensington Oval, so I get my first sight of the ground. It is very different from childhood memories of the 1995 Test on television, when Ian Healy cracked Carl Hooper for two sixes into the stands in a critical 74 to help the tourists to a ten-wicket victory in three days. It was refurbished greatly for the 2007 World Cup, a less happy recollection. Ricky Ponting flings himself everywhere in catching practice, Peter Siddle and James Pattinson excel at hitting one stump in fielding drills. They look sharp.

April 5
Series launch press conference at the Oval is more notable for a long and winding welcome address from the Barbados association president Joel Garner than much either captain has to say. Michael Clarke notes that a single bad hour can prove costly in these parts, leaving me to recall Australian lost opportunities on previous tours - though none influential in the outcome of a series since the turn of the millennium. Darren Sammy strikes the right notes as an affable leader and the counterpoint to the sterner voice of the coach, Ottis Gibson. West Indies showed signs of growth in the ODIs, but five days is another matter entirely. Dinner is with Lawson and his former Sheffield Shield broadcasting partner Keith Stackpole, who pushes the case of Michael Slater as the best commentator out there today.

April 6
Good Friday. Preview is put together - momentarily omitting Shivnarine Chanderpaul from the likely West Indian XI until the oversight is discovered - final training sessions observed and Michael Hussey spoken to. Speak also to the amiable third umpire, Marais Erasmus, and the golf-mad match referee, Jeff Crowe, who expects a clean series and a tightly contested Masters tournament in Augusta.

Having been joined by the full travelling Australian press corps - Andrew Wu from the Sydney Morning Herald, Wayne Smith from the Australian, Graham Davis from Air News, and Ed Jackson from AAP - four of us venture down to the fishing town of Oistins for its famed Friday night fry-up. One of about 30 food and drink stalls is invitingly called Short Ball, but we go to Pat's on popular recommendation. Crowds are plentiful but not suffocating, the fish fresh, the entertainment colourful and the beer cheap. Everyone goes home full of food and good humour. Happy Easter.

April 7
Opening salvos. Am greeted in the press box by the great Tony Cozier, who asks me to tell him if anything is required, "since the press box is named after me, you know".

Takes a long time to work out who has won the toss and what the teams are, because there is no television audio in the press box and the CA duty media manager, Matt Cenin, has left his phone in his bag before walking out with Clarke - he'll remember it next time. So often television viewers know these things before correspondents at the ground. West Indies acquit themselves well on a friendly pitch, Australia's bowlers a little short, a little wide and a little fuzzy in their focus. Catches go down too.

April 8
Chanderpaul grinds Australia's bowlers into the Bridgetown dust and passes Brian Lara as the most prolific batsman at Kensington Oval - a huge achievement for a Guyanese, he says.

I have a quiet night in, to catch up on some reading. Finished American Journeys by Don Watson on the trip over, and am now reading The Bounty by Richard Hough, a most thoughtful and even-handed account of the 1789 mutiny. The voyage was intended to transplant breadfruit from Tahiti to the Caribbean, though it would take William Bligh a second voyage in another ship, the Providence, after Fletcher Christian had stolen the Bounty away from him. Breadfruit now shows up on plenty of Barbados menus.

April 9
Australia keep slipping up against a doughty West Indies, though they do enough to keep in some sort of touch, as though waiting for youthful opponents to fluff their lines before the finish. Spend some time watching the game alongside Inverarity and chatting, including at the moment when Ricky Ponting is run out: the national selector's pain is palpable.

In the evening I walk down the coast road from Hastings towards St Lawrence Gap and its bars and restaurants. There is always something to see, always a happy face to talk to. When I attempt to cross the road at one point, the traffic stops for me on both sides - can't recall this happening without a pedestrian crossing anywhere else in the world. There is a downpour while at my destination, the Accra beach resort, but the walk there and back is un-dampened.

April 10
Test matches are more marathon than sprint, and West Indies find a way to blow up with the equivalent of about 10km to go. Am pleased to watch Ryan Harris, a better batsman than he has shown himself to be, finally make a match-shaping score.

In the evening session I spy a TV cameraman shaping to shoot the press box. This has happened before, but never when I've been in the front row. Elect to keep watching the game unfold instead of hamming it up, for on a ripping day like this a sidewards glance can mean a wicket missed. Phone and computer light up with "saw you!" messages. Lawson apparently says, "There's young Dan Brettig from Cricinfo, pretending to concentrate on the game." Suppose I was.

April 11
A great day in Test cricket. Australia secure a three-wicket victory in fading light and later celebrate in the middle of Kensington Oval. Clarke speaks proudly and eloquently about his team in the aftermath, sounding more like a captain with every sentence.

Flying out to Trinidad tomorrow. I'm going to miss Barbados. It has become the rote British tourist destination, sure, but the people are warm and open, the weather beautiful and the cricket, at least this week, memorable. Hope I bump into the customs man again...

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here