April 27, 2012

Rain, Roach, Roseau

Part two of our correspondent's West Indies diary stars the elements, and a heir to Marshall's legacy

April 12
Travel day. Out of Barbados at lunchtime after first picking up an HD video camera in order to shoot match analysis pieces with Michael Holding. Looking forward to meeting him, less so to playing cameraman. The flight to Trinidad is smooth, though there is rain on the tarmac when we arrive - a sign of the week to come?

The drive into Port-of-Spain quickly defines the differences between here and Barbados. A much bigger, more industrialised island, with evidence of its oil production lining the highway. Feels a little like the airport journey into some Indian cities.

Before hotel, head for the Australian High Commission, which is hosting the Australia and West Indies teams. At least that's where I think it is. On arrival, the building is locked down with no evidence of diplomatic hospitality. Confused, arrive at hotel to find out that the function was actually taking place at the Australian high commissioner's residence. Sleep arrives with a slightly furrowed brow.

April 13
Port-of-Spain is big, warm and damp. A journey to find a local SIM card ends with a new handset too, after being informed mine is on the wrong frequency for the island.

West Indies train at the Queen's Park Oval in the morning, and I arrive for my first glimpse of the ground. The stands are more or less as I remember them from Tests on television, but the cycling track is gone.

Rain sets in across the middle of the day and curtails Australia's scheduled afternoon session. I walk back via the Savannah, a vast and lush roundabout-style precinct ringed by the Queen's Park Oval, numerous hotels, shops and houses. Take the long way round.

Chat a little to Lance Gibbs about spinners in the series. Nathan Lyon has potential, he says, but could finish his action a little more vigorously. The recalled Shane Shillingford will spin the ball a lot, he warns.

Dinner is at the Kapok hotel, where it is steak night. Not quite able to bring myself to eat red meat with so much seafood around, I order the salmon.

April 14
Consternation is building among the visitors about the pitch, which is exceedingly dry and grassless. Mickey Arthur shouts "Kanpur!" when I ask him for one that he has seen in a similar state. The hosts don't expect anything too dangerous, but like their chances of forcing a result - provided it stops raining for long enough.

Australian media minder Matt Cenin and team manager Gavin Dovey invite the travelling press to dinner, and we dine at Chaud, with its fusion of local and western food. All enjoy an appetiser of pumpkin soup, and the mains are suitably sumptuous. Dovey speaks engagingly of his first year in the job, having come from a background with England's Rugby Football Union. Trips to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the West Indies must feel a long way from Twickenham.

April 15
Test match starts on a Sunday. The most vibrant thing about the play is the crowd that watches it, the Queen's Park Oval in full party mode. There are two sets of dancing girls in the Trini Posse Stand, and the music blares loud and strong from there and the other side of the ground, where a local has brought in his own stereo and speakers. A little unnerving to hear so much Australian music, but the players may find the voice of Paul Kelly more comforting than they do the pitch.

April 16
Queen's Park is now destined to be only partly filled for the rest of the working week, again demonstrating the folly of playing Test matches outside of a full weekend. Michael Hussey holds Australia's innings together, then Michael Beer takes the new ball at Michael Clarke's behest. Enjoy watching the ball turn, and fascinated by the fact that the pitch is so slow that spinners need it to be new almost as much as the pacemen do.

At a break in play I seek out Curtly Ambrose, working as a local radio commentator. Given his silent assassin bearing over a long and consistently terrifying career, it is a quite unexpected delight to find him so warm and happy to chat. Ask him one question I'd always wanted to, about why he went from bowling wide of the crease early on to the wicket-to-wicket approach of later. His reply? "All the best bowl from closer, and I had to be the best." A meeting to tell the grandchildren about.

April 17
Delay day. For 20 minutes of sunshine there is no play in the morning due to a power failure. Everyone seems shackled and bound by agreements and directives, including the players, umpires, officials and broadcasters. Wonder why Darren Sammy couldn't have run out onto the field to talk to Clarke and resolve things without players having to leave. Crowd clueless.

After Lyon has spun out West Indies in the final session, I meet an Australian couple visiting on a business trip from Houston, Texas. Not sensing much was happening, they had left the ground at tea, and are stunned to discover that Lyon has taken five wickets in one spell. "But now you've told us, we can tell everyone at home we didn't miss it," the gentleman says with a chuckle.

April 18
Rain is starting to curtail the chances of a result in this match. But it abates for long enough to allow Kemar Roach to bowl fast and well on what would have been Malcolm Marshall's 54th birthday. No cricketer from the Caribbean was loved, either inside or outside the region, quite like Maco. Roach's admiration for Marshall's methods and character is plain, and heartening for all who hear him talk of the late fast bowler's birthday, unprompted, after play.

At dinner I spend time with Julian Linden, the Thomson Reuters US editor, here for a little cricket after the Masters in Augusta. A wonderfully warm and welcoming man, but also with a sense of the laconic that few can rival. We talk about the United States, where I am to holiday there after the tour. There is plenty to discover that hasn't turned up on movie screens, he assures me.

April 19
Clarke and Sammy do their best to get a contest going, and the 11 overs of the West Indies chase are briefly thrilling. But the weather wins out, leaving Roach as Man of the Match and Australia with the Frank Worrell Trophy retained. Both captains struggle to hide disappointment at not being able to carry on with the game, an attitude that should be more frequently displayed by cricket's international leaders.

April 20
Trinidad airport is chaotic for the start of our two-stop journey to Dominica. A few hours in Barbados allow a little time to breathe and sit quietly, an interlude that feels more valuable once we commence the searching 90-minute drive from Dominica's Melville Hall airport, right across the island to the capital, Roseau. In the hills it is constantly raining, and the bends in the road make several members of Australia's touring team quite queasy. In one of my less charitable moments I think that if "Rally Round the West Indies" was a race and not a song, Dominica's airport road would have to be included. Roseau looks promising when we finally arrive, however, and nowhere near as wet as the journey. Having taken in an impossibly beautiful sunset, I resolve to explore once I've had a night's sleep.

April 21
Day begins with a final preview chat to Clarke, who recounts the team's bus ride across the island then the sensation of the water lapping against the rocks beneath his ocean-front room at the team hotel. "Felt like I was on my mate's boat!" he exclaims.

Windsor Park is a pleasant walk from the middle of town, and the ground itself is a handsome Test match venue, complete with generous grandstands and a well-grassed outfield. Like parts of Sri Lanka, it has been funded largely by Chinese investment, and the flag of the republic will fly alongside those of Dominica and Australia throughout the match. I stay back at training after most have departed due to wet practice wickets, and am rewarded with the sight of Ricky Ponting having a batting tune-up with the assistant coach Justin Langer. It may not actually be a closed training session but it feels like one.

April 22
A cruise ship is parked off Roseau this morning, and a walk through town has me thinking the captain has made the right choice in stopping here. The people are warm, the streets full of pleasing diversions (including cobbled footpaths), and the food is liberally spiced with plenty of French influences.

Things are warming up at the ground, where the visitors are happy to find the dried practice wickets have a little more pace and bounce in them than they had become accustomed to in Barbados and Trinidad. Mitchell Starc is therefore guaranteed a start, while Beer will miss out. Chat again to Dovey about how the team is progressing, and find myself being asked for my thoughts. Makes me remember that it can sometimes be harder answering questions than asking them.

April 23
Pitch reminds me a little of a few I've seen at Adelaide Oval, and will offer a little more bounce than either of the previous Test surfaces. Ravi Rampaul returns to the West Indies team with a wicket second ball and the tourists again find it difficult to assert themselves against Shillingford, who this time gains vertical movement as well as lateral.

In the evening I take another walk around Roseau. There is a street party by the waterfront every night, and the locals are unceasingly friendly. They are hopeful of a quiet hurricane season in 2012, having lived through plenty of pestilent weather over time. The Test match, I am told, coincides with the last of the cruise ships past the island for some months, as the elements conspire against tourism. The longer I am here the more I wish could see the place.

April 24
Matthew Wade is personally responsible for the most thrilling morning's cricket of the series. He attacks the West Indian bowling, spin or no spin, with enormous vigour, startling those who had only previously seen his scrapping, struggling side on this tour. Thoughts turn to Brad Haddin, given warm support by captain Clarke while at home due to a difficult family matter. Haddin has been very good and remains a leader, but has he ever done what Wade just managed here?

At dinner I meet an Australian Red Cross detachment working in Dominica. I hear of how the last major hurricane through the island left 75% of the population homeless, and struggle to comprehend it. But the benefits outweigh the risks, they think. It is truly a beautiful island, and has enough natural and man-made wonder to sustain the interest as well as the employment of those working for various NGOs and support groups.

April 25
A grinding day on an increasingly testy pitch. Ed Cowan and Ponting battle through the afternoon, making half-centuries worth more than the number of runs involved, while sharp remarks between the players are picked up on stump microphones. Sammy begins a dialogue with Ponting, who rejoinders with, "Chris Gayle should be the West Indies captain." Sammy's rebuttal is quick: "Well, this will be your last Test."

Cowan avoids most of the barbs, and after play says he wished he was staying in Dominica longer than a week: "I think it is an absolutely fantastic Test venue, probably been my favourite of the three. We've seen fantastic facilities on the ground. The outfield and the way the ground has been presented has been superb. I think it is a great cricket square. It has been tough cricket, but at the same time there is something there for the fast bowlers. I've really loved the atmosphere, we've been really well looked after in Dominica, and it has just flowed through into the cricket. I'd love to come back here for sure."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

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