Time out for nostalgia
"What happen? Is only white people does field slips for Zimbabwe?"
That loud query from a fan in the Learie Constantine Stand yesterday as the visitors warmed up for the final one-dayer against West Indies is just one of the reasons why the Queen's Park Oval will always be one of my favourite places.
For all of the innovations and renovations over the years, this home of cricket in Trinidad and Tobago, and still one of the most beautiful grounds in the world, retains a timeless appeal, even for those not too enamoured with the increasingly artificial and orchestrated nature of spectator support.
Nowhere is the sacred art of picong - the biting, sarcastic wit that has often had many a West Indian legend wondering if this was really a "home" ground - better expressed than at the Oval. Indeed, in the golden, idyllic days before we were all being deafened by the booming amplifiers and the Trini-Jamaican-Yankee deejays, a day of cricket there was an education both on and off the field.
As if the privilege of seeing some of the finest players of all time in their pomp was not enough, there was (and I'm sure still is in the areas of the ground furthest from the noise) the opportunity to be educated on the more aesthetic points of the game by an assortment of well-studied experts, a history lesson recounting in vivid detail the great deeds by great champions over the years, and, if the cricketing professors were sufficiently mobile, an impromptu practical coaching clinic on just how it should be done with front elbow cocked, bat and pad close together and much more.
I may never be a fan of the Trini Posse, but it will take more than an assortment of unbearably noisy party animals who know next to nothing about cricket to keep me away from this venue.
If this all sounds like shameless self-indulgence, it is. But then again, for someone weaned on the game and brought up believing it to be a great teacher in matters considerably more weighty than just bat and ball, there should be no need to apologise for a game and an environment that has been enjoyable, enlightening and quintessentially Trinidadian.
|Cricket at the Oval, or at anyone else's favourite ground, is never just about the action in the middle. It is about a comfortable environment that, even as it changes physically, fights to remain the same spiritually|
Issues of crime and violence, the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice, fade into the background when the sun comes up on a day of international cricket at the Oval. Indeed, there will be much heated debate in the stands on those matters, as there has always been when friends and foes gather, especially for a Test match. However, that is just the pepper sauce to flavour the meal, the true enjoyment of which can only be appreciated over time and explains why, as dull and dreary as it may get, there will always be that core of fans for whom the longer version of the game is the only real cricket.
Having been so extremely fortunate over the years to be able to cover cricket at home, around the region and around the world, it is easy for the traveling media to become very cynical about the whole thing. For us it is just another ODI or Test, watching the same players play the same shots, bowl the same deliveries and make the same mistakes, even if the results are occasionally different. But there are still brief moments, small windows of memories and nostalgia that offer a timely reminder as to why cricket at the Oval is such a special experience going beyond wickets, fours and sixes.
"Call it off man! Let we go from here!" many of us in the media area were already saying when the rain started to come down really heavily on Saturday afternoon. It took a while, but the showers hung around long enough to force the abandonment. With a few minutes to spare before being picked up by my wife (no parking this time in the Oval with all the construction going on), I decided to take a walk up to the Queen's Park Savannah and then, sitting on a bench, enjoyed a refreshing coconut (medium jelly if you please) with my considerably better half.
The reawakening of the senses as to the timeless beauty of the Savannah and its surroundings made the journey around the world's biggest roundabout even more pleasurable heading back to the ground on Sunday morning.
From the poui trees in full bloom to the cricket nuts with their coolers, to the wide-eyed children being dragged along, it brought back memories of a time when life seemed so much simpler and considerably more enjoyable.
West Indies versus Zimbabwe, eighth against tenth, is hardly the sort of contest to get the pulses racing. But cricket at the Oval, or at anyone else's favourite ground, is never just about the action in the middle. It is about a comfortable environment that, even as it changes physically, fights to remain the same spiritually.
The sense of great deeds done over the years under the stately gaze of the samaan trees and against the backdrop of the hills of Maraval, St Ann's and Cascade makes it a special arena. So even as the stands climb higher and look more impressive, even as greenery has to give way to steel and concrete, the Queen's Park Oval will remain a storehouse of rich memories, an oasis of what is, or was, good about life in this country.