Eddies from the past
History has a way of being over-run by the present. The third Test between India and the West Indies succumbed to its immediate identity as the first Test ever to be played at the new Warner Park ground in St. Kitts. So historic was the occasion that the island had been granted a public holiday in honour of the event.
Surprisingly, another milestone has not seeped into the public consciousness. The second day of the match, June 23, marks the 78th anniversary of the first Test ever played by the West Indiesin 1928. That was the first of a three-Test series that the West Indies lost 3-0 to England. Three years ago, for the 75th anniversary, the honour of celebrating went to the new Beausejour Stadium in St. Lucia with its first Test match against Sri Lanka. Then, there was a solemn air to the proceedings as relatives of the members of that first West Indies Test team were presented with commemorative photographs and copies of a book on that 1928 tour during the luncheon interval.
Putting his stamp on the ground, Brian Lara scored 209, and Wavell Hinds 113 in a drawn match that was affected by heavy rains. Now, here at Warner Park, there was a sense of reliving a moment. I had last visited Warner Park for the sod-turning ceremony on September 30, 2004. I remember the site, which had housed a playing field with only a pavilion of sorts on one end. There had been ancient air about the place, which was bounded by old buildings with thick, stone facades. Funding from the Taiwanese had allowed construction, and there were speeches and even a lengthy poem written to mark the moment.
Nearly two years had since passed, and the rains had delayed the start - a man was bailing water out of a square depression off the field into a bucket and toting it away. Despite the holiday, the stands remained sparse. A reminder that as in St. Lucia, the Test match culture is at best, embryonic.
St. Kitts has not yet produced a Test player, although the island of Nevis, its neighbour and political partner, has. Its latest product, Runako Morton, while on the squad, was left out of this Test. Test cricket still holds little appeal to the populace. The ground could not have been more than a third full, and despite the valiant efforts of those who had chosen to occupy the tented area designed to be the equivalent of the party stands in the other territories, there was just not enough bodies for a spectacle.
For the better part of the day, the sound system comprised three horn men backed by three drummers with a limited if spirited repertoire. It was a reminder of earlier times, when the music was created on the spot at the grounds and fed off the rhythms of the game. After tea, the sun had dried all remnants of moisture; even the bailed-out square revealed itself to be a concrete slab, glaring white in the heat. The stands, only barely covered overhead, never offered shade from rain or sun to more than two thirds of its possible inhabitants.
Earlier I had wondered if Lara was going to stamp his mark on this ground as he did at Beausejour, but on this two-session day, the only stamping was coming from Chris Gayle, who had flourished from the heavenly watering. He ended with 83 off 128 balls but the full effect of his destructiveness can be understood only when one realises that 95 off those were dots. It meant that he scored his 83 off 33 shots, and if the ground had grown hot in the afternoon glare, Gayle was hotter than a chulha.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad