The other side of Gravy

Antigua's No. 1 cricket fan has hung up his boots officially, but he's still around at the ARG

Rahul Bhattacharya

Gravy: how many wickets did Ambrose and Walsh owe him? © PA Photos

It's hard to describe what Gravy did. He can't explain it himself. He doesn't like to be called an ambassador, yet he represented Antigua in the manner best befitting it: with joy. Gravy is a performer. He cross-dresses and dances and writhes and swings from the rafters and puts on a show that you will not ever forget. For 12 years he kept doing it. In many ways, he was the face of the Antigua Recreation Ground more than Viv Richards or Curtly Ambrose.

It's easy to stereotype Gravy. A chap slightly off his rocker, a blazing extrovert, an attention seeker, and a man with no worries. Actually he is soft, sober, sentimental. On the record he has always said that his official retirement - exactly two cricket seasons ago - had all to do with the fact that he had given 12 years of his life to another country, USA, and so wanted to give exactly 12 years to his own country.

Off the record he will tell you of the hurt that came along with never, ever being given any financial support even when he had requested it, from sponsors or from the board. Continents away, Percy Abeysekara is flown around with the Sri Lankan team as official cheerleader. Gravy says he has never received a cent for buying the costumes he wore every day of cricket at the ARG. Today, he says, the guys at the gate ask him for a ticket if he wants to enter.

He has not walked away in disgust - and he hasn't gone to the press about this because it may show Antigua in poor light - but he cannot be asked, for anything in the world, to return to his act.

So, the summer of 2000 it was when he walked around the ground in a white wedding dress and waved goodbye. "When everybody came to the edge of the balcony with the cameras and the flashin' and the waves and the thank-yous, it felt like I wasn't touching the ground."

It was quite by accident that Gravy started doing what he did. He visited his first Test here in 1988. It started to rain during the presentation ceremony, and the podium was left open. "Something told me, Gravy, this is your time. I went down on the podium, in the rain, and started dancing. Everybody was excited about it. They loved it."

Gravy now runs a little stall by the Sir Vivian Richards Pavilion with his girlfriend, Hyacinth. "I been talkin' to her six years before I held her hand." Why? "Everything takes time, and good things come to those that wait."

At least three posters mourn Gravy's retirement. One of them says that ARG groundsmen are on strike because Gravy retired. Thus the dead pitch. Another one illustrates the great triangle of retirement. Curtly Ambrose forms one side, Courtney Walsh the other, and Gravy the third. It's actually quite apt if you listen to Gravy's most cunning plan of all:

"The only three people who knew what I was going to do was myself Gravy, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. We had a plan and we used it systematically. When the water cart comes onto the field, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh supposed to get the drinks first. Then I start my antics. That is when I'm at my best, when the water cart is on the ground. It allows me a chance to make the opposition not to be a part of the water cart. They forget to drink the water because they've never seen anything like me. They're thirsty and they're back in play. They're listening to me, watching me. By that time, Ambrose and Walsh have taken their wickets."

The nicest thing anyone has told Gravy has come from Viv Richards. "Gravy, what you're doing," Richards told him, "keep on doing it, cause the world is happy when you do it."

"Everybody tells me that they miss me. What they don't know that I miss it more than them."

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan and the novel The Sly Company of People Who Care