Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo
No, The Buggles weren’t in town, but strange things were happening on Guyana’s airwaves as I drove to the stadium. Stephen, my driver who was in his early 20s, had switched on the radio almost as soon as I got in, and much of our conversation centred about what West Indies needed to do to stay alive in the competition. Even as Colin Croft and friends nattered on about the conditions, Stephen fretted about the toss. The sky above was slate-grey and the sun couldn’t be glimpsed. “You don’t want to be facing dat Malinga in dem conditions, man,” he told me, tapping on the steering wheel with his knuckles as the commentary team built up to the toss.
His anxiety was palpable. “Dat Daren Powell be de only man bowlin’ well,” he told me. “He got good pace. We have a guy like Malinga … Fidel Edwards, but he no have the accuracy.” I recalled the press conference on Saturday and the searching questions that Croft had asked Brian Lara about the tactics and team composition against New Zealand, criticism that had been echoed by Michael Holding. What did Stephen think of Lara, and the former greats slating him?
Caught between two stools, Stephen chose to do the splits. “Croft from here [Guyana], man,” he said quietly, “but Lara great player. If he mek runs, we win.” As we talked, the expert voices floating through the car speakers engaged in analysis of their own. Croft isn’t an easy man to silence, but a few seconds later, the station announcer managed to do just that.
With a serious-sounding voice, he spoke of how the cricket talk was “light-hearted chat” before the game began in half an hour. He then went on to say that they were going back to the original programming, the Mahakali religious group and their chants. The toss? Clearly not as important as some bhajans about Hanuman.
Stephen swore out loud, and I felt like accompanying him. The stadium was in sight, but now I wouldn’t know what had happened at the toss till I’d walked through the security checks and into the media enclosure. As for my driver, he’d have to fret and fume for half an hour before the religious chants that he didn’t know or care for gave way to the highpoint of his day. Karl Marx spoke of religion being the masses’ opium at a time when organised sport was a distant dream. Had he been alive today, with a once-great cricketing entity’s pride at stake, he might have revised his views.