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Tour Diary

The unmistakable Gravy

Stand 16 at the West taxi station in St John's

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan

Stand 16 at the West taxi station in St John's. My taxi driver said I wouldn't be able to miss him. Sure enough, as I wander through the parked cars all I have to do was say one name: "Gravy."
Labon Kenneth Blackburn Leeweltine Buckonon Benjamin – it's a good job his mother came up with the nickname, because his full version would never have caught on. As I walk up to his store, which sells everything from bolts to batteries to beer – "the hardware is in the back," he later says – Gravy is on his mobile, no doubt getting the latest gossip ahead of the Test.
There have been frequent, heavy showers around Antigua over the last 24 hours. "Mention the cricket in Antigua and the rain comes," Gravy says. "I spoke to the groundsman the other day and he said everything would be okay."
Gravy became known all over the cricketing world for his dancing exploits at the ARG (Antigua Recreation Ground), which he made his home from 1988 until retiring in 2000. He is almost as famous as the players he supported for all those years, but when I put that to him he says: "That's not a very good sign, is it?"
The beard is a bit whiter these days, but his passion for the game hasn't dimmed just because he no longer struts his stuff in the stands. The last time he 'performed' at the ARG he wore a wedding dress. "I wanted to go out on a high," he said, "so people would remember me." Like anyone would ever forget.
But with another Test match around the corner does he miss his days entertaining the crowds? "Not at the new ground," he says. "It would never be as much fun." That echoes the view of many fans in Antigua, who have shunned the new Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. "They should never have moved," Gravy adds.
Gravy must get hundreds, even thousands of visitors, coming to his stall not because they want to buy something but because they want to meet a legend. Yet he is more than happy to pose for a picture and is eager to talk about the England team.
"What happened to them?" he asks of the Jamaica collapse. "They are good players."
As I try to sound as though I know what I'm talking about, mentioning captaincy-coach splits, the IPL and the fact that England just aren't very good at the moment, Gravy sagely nods his head. As a West Indies supporter he has seen it all before.
Feeling a bit a guilty at being one of those people who came just to meet Gravy, I realise I need some more batteries and ask him for a pack of AAs. "You need them for your camera?," he asks. "These ones would damage it, better go to the shop over the road." So I buy a lighter instead. Don't know why, I don't smoke.
Before leaving I remember that my taxi driver, who took me to the ARG in the morning, asked me to say hello to Gravy for him so I give him the message from JP. "He's a good man, will look after you well," Gravy says. "When you see him, tell him he owes me a Red Stripe." I bet he hardly ever needs to buy himself a drink.
With his stall to look after, Gravy doesn't get to watch much cricket these days but is hoping to be in Barbados for the third Test. Is there any chance of comeback? "Nah, I'm retired," he says, before adding. "But I might be going to St Lucia [for the one-dayer] and might do a little dance for the fans." It's sure to bring the house down if he does.
If you are ever in St Johns and happen to be near Stand 16 at the West taxi station walk by and see Gravy. He'll be more than happy to chat and you will leave feeling uplifted.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo