Our flight out of the USA, the first on our 255-day trip around the cricket world, lands at Piarco Airport in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, in the early hours of July 16, 2014. We have kept Colin Croft informed, and within a few hours receive a call from him. We accompany him to a business meeting, where everyone around seems overwhelmed by the presence of a former West Indian fast bowler. "It was just a job," he says. "I was a pilot too, you know, and no one ever thanked me for safely landing all my flights."
The Test match that Ravi Shastri later hails as India's greatest overseas victory has just begun several thousand miles away. Croft decides to entertain us with stories of West Indies' past at the venue of his best bowling figures, Queen's Park Oval. We sit in the empty stand as rain lashes, listening to Croft describe taking eight Pakistani wickets in one innings.
The day after we land in Barbados, our hosts take us to a Caribbean Premier League match between the home town Tridents and St Lucia Zouks. It is my first time at the famed Kensington Oval, where the names of cricketing legends are wherever you turn.
Tour the sports facilities at the University of West Indies Cave Hill campus, guided by former England and Middlesex cricketer Roland Butcher, the head coach. Walk around the 3W's oval, named after Sirs Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott and Everton Weekes. The ground was a venue for a few warm-up games during the 2007 World Cup. Now first division matches are played here. The final resting places of Worrell and Walcott overlook the well-maintained field. Sir Everton, I am told, has already chosen his spot, close to his two good mates, for when the day comes.
Record my second Couch Talk podcast on the road, this time with former West Indies opener Gordon Greenidge: an hour-long chat where he talks about aspects of beach cricket - lessons I use a day later on the pristine beaches of Barbados.
We are driven around Barbados by our hosts. Make a stop at Charlie Griffith's club, North Stars, suitably located at the northernmost point on the island, North Point. Walk into the pavilion and the dressing rooms as the players rest during the lunch break in a weekend club match. Pictures of Griffith adorn the walls of the clubhouse. Remember him as the bowler who ended the career of former India batsman Nari Contractor when he hit him in the head during a tour game in the early '60s.
Spend the morning at the Legends of Barbados Cricket museum, a stone's throw from the Kensington Oval. Our tour guide wears a cricket shirt with the name Marshall written on it. Ask if he is Mali Marshall, the son of the great fast bowler Malcolm. He responds in the affirmative.
Logging in to check in for our flight to London, I realise we've missed it: it left last night. Panic. Call travel agent in California and rescue rest of the itinerary. Book a new one-way flight to London. Expensive mistake.
Land at Gatwick. After dropping our bags off at a mate's place, head to central London for a stint on Guerilla Cricket, an alternative cricket commentary service, to watch and commentate on the action from the last day of the Southampton Test. India lose. The tide seems to be turning in the series.
Watch the Surrey v Worcestershire T20 at The Oval. Finally get to see Jack Shantry's frog-in-a-blender bowling action in the flesh. Legend. The stadium is about half-full. A friend has spotted us in the Peter May stand. Distinctly different crowd than the ones I am used to from earlier trips to England for Tests: younger and louder. Plenty of profanity being thrown around, despite kids within earshot. Someone on Twitter says to me: "Welcome to South London."
Visit Jarrod Kimber's home for a barbecue. "We can go home right away and start the barbie or we can stop over at the local cemetery to see WG Grace's grave. Which one do you prefer?" The choice is simple. We stop at Beckenham cemetery and look around for a few minutes to locate the good doctor.
On the Mega Bus to Manchester from London. The ride takes us right past Lord's. Take a tram from downtown Manchester to get to where we're staying. It goes past the Trafford Bar station, and the cricket ground and football stadium can be seen in the distance. Hear announcements on the tram and at the stations, alerting commuters to the upcoming Test. Ah, the build up to a Test match!
A mile-long walk to Old Trafford, which I make in a leisurely 30 minutes, taking in the scenes under a grey Manchester sky. There is talk of a hurricane from the east coast of the USA that is expected to make its way across the Atlantic. Will the impending bad weather have an influence on the captains' thinking?
Day one of the fourth England v India Test, the first bit of Test match action on our trip. Kathleen is on her own in the stands, but I make my way to her during the first drinks break and introduce her to two elderly Mancunians, who keep her company, explain the nuances of Test cricket, and share their food and drink with her.
India collapse to Moeen Ali. Dhoni plays a ridiculous shot, under the circumstances, and is caught at midwicket. Dhoni says at the presser that the plan was to attack Moeen, so the English fast bowlers did not get much rest. Rings hollow when the team is facing an innings defeat. Shane Warne seems disgusted with India's performance and doesn't mince words expressing it when I run into him in the smoking area.
Cricket blogger and coach Chris Smith invites us to nets at Sale Cricket Club, a few miles south of Old Trafford. His two sons and daughter join in. Bowl from around the wicket to the left-handed Chris, making the ball straighten to beat the outside edge. Feel good about the bowling action and the way the ball is coming out of the hand.
India collapse for 148 on day one at The Oval. Only Dhoni resists. Kohli's and Pujara's issues against the swinging ball persist. Fielding coach Trevor Penney is sent to the press conference. Ask him why it seems like when India have terrible days of cricket, one of the assistant coaches is sent to talk to the press. He responds with a shrug. Perhaps sums up the state of thought within the dressing room.
Test ends in three days. Media have a bit of impromptu cricket in the indoor nets next to the press conference area as they wait for the post-series presentations and q&a to get over. Discover ESPNcricinfo's Sidharth Monga has a pretty good legbreak, which he lands consistently.
Middlesex v India 50-over tour game. Suresh Raina comes in at No. 11. Kohli hits a 71. He should be allowed to play Test cricket in coloured clothing.
T20 finals day at Edgbaston. Home team is in the semi-final, which draws a pretty decent crowd, even for an early start. Kevin Pietersen and his Surrey team are beaten. Andrew Flintoff replaces Kabir Ali for Lancashire Lightning in the final against Birmingham Bears. Comes on to bowl and takes a wicket off the first ball. Hits two sixes off consecutive balls as Lancashire try to chase down the target, but a good, tight Chris Woakes final over ensures no miracle.
Back in London, the women's ODI at Lord's is abandoned without a ball bowled because of the rain. England take the series. The presentation is held indoors, in the Long Room. In 2010, during a tour of Lord's, I was not allowed to enter the Long Room since I wasn't wearing a suit. Finally get to, without a suit on, but with a media lanyard around my neck. Mike Gatting, the MCC president, is the guest of honour, giving away the trophies.
England leg of trip complete. Head for Ireland.