June 2018 Volume 15

When cricket had a wicket - Trinidad Express

Ray Ford
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A visitor reflects on the Trinidad Test experience

When cricket had a wicket

WHEN I first visited Trinidad and Tobago 24 years ago, and for a good time after, the after-cricket 'wicket' was at Cricket Wicket-- the pub on Tragarete Road, across from the Queen's Park Oval.

Now bought out and moweddown into a parking lot for the Cricket World Cup 2007, the 'Wicket' is no more, and cricket in Port of Spain has lost one of its more lively spots, on where `cricket' was played way into the night.

Last time I visited Trinidad for a Test match back in March 2008 when the Australians were here, a new after-match venue had been laid at the Brooklyn Bar on Roberts Street, not too far away from the Oval.

Back in the day, the Pelican Inn Pub, on Coblentz Avenue in Cascade, was a pretty lively place to go after the cricket as well. But back to the day cricket.

The first Test match I saw at the Queen's Park Oval was the third of the England-West Indies series in 1994. And what a cracker that was. England led the West Indies on first innings by 76 runs, but they were later blown away for 46, thanks to some fantastic bowling by Curtly Ambrose steaming -in from the Pavilion End. The drama began late on the fourth evening when Curtly Ambrose embedded his first delivery into captain Mike Atherton's pads and appeals could be heard coming from as far away as Galeota Point in Guayaguayare. The lanky Antiguan ended up with innings figures of 10-1-24-6, and the terror of his bowling was best summed by England's middle- order batsman Graham Thorpe: 'The sight of Ambrose steaming in, with an ambulance parked in-between the pavilion and the Jeffrey Stollmeyer Stand, did not inspire confidence.'

Seeing my first Test in Trinidad also gave me my first sighting of Shrivnarine Chanderpaul, playing in only his second Test. Of course, he'd go on to play 162 more. 'This lad (though), isn't lacking in promise,' I wrote in the Caribbean Red Stripe Cricket Quarterly,'and has displayed the composure and easiness of style to get himself a lot of (Test) runs.' Little did I know that those runs would amount to 11,867 at an average of 51.37.

The West Indies romped to a 147-run win and took the Test series 3-1.

I was back in April the following year to see the West Indies-Australia Test.

The West Indies took the limited overs (ODI) series 4-1. But that was not an accurate predictor of the Test series which followed, in which the West Indies surrendered the Frank Worrell Trophy 1-2. It was in Trinidad where the West Indies won their solitary Test by nine wickets, in a low-scoring and acrimonious affair. Late in the afternoon on the first day, Ambrose had to be dragged-away from a stare-down with the Australian captain Steve Waugh.

I was back again in March 1997 to see the West Indies hold out for a draw against India. In-between the home team's two innings, India made a solid 436 all out, crafted by Navjot Sidhu's 201, Rahul Dravid's 57, and Sachin Tendulkar's 88. And then they were kept at bay by Stuart Williams's 128 and Chanderpaul's 79 to go along with his 42 in the first innings. The West Indies took that 5 Test-match series 1-0.

Lucky of me to return in April of 2003 to see homeboy Brian Lara make his first Test century on home-soil. How could I forget the snorter Lara was servedup by Brett Lee that morning as he neared his century-mark? And then the brutal square-drive through a jamb-packed off-side field, to take him to his landmark? In the losing-cause by 118 runs, another homeboy, Daren Ganga got a century in West Indies' first innings - 117, putting on 158 for the third-wicket with Lara, who got 91. Australia took that Test series 4-1.

I stopped-by in 2007 for the Cricket World Cup, but last time I was in town for a Test match was in March 2009 when England visited. In a high-scoring match with seven centuries - four for England and three for the West Indies - the hosts held on for a nail-biting draw. During that Test, Sir Vivian Richards - on-hand to do commentary - celebrated his 60th birthday.

I've always enjoyed the lushness of Trinidad and Tobago, even though my visits have been confined to Trinidad. I like the long flights down and the long drives in from Piarco International - the latter giving me a chance to catch my bearings.

The hospitality of Ms. Edwards at The Allamanda, has been firstclass, and so has it been at the cricket ground, especially back in the days when the late Alloy Lequay and Richard De Souza used to run things.

Back in the day when Test matches had rest days, I'd rent a car and drive to Toco in the far northeast, or down to Galeota Point in Guayaguayare - Trinidad's southeasternmost village. En-route, I'd feast on the rural tranquillity and expanse of the twin-island country. Then there's a must-visit to Ishmael Khan's bookstore on Henry Street downtown Port of Spain - the most comprehensive bookstore, I think, in the Caribbean. And for a wide selection of Caribbean art there's `Fine Art' on Rosalino Street in Woodbrook, near where I stay.

In the mornings, after walking some of the Savannah, where I'd run into the likes of, say, a Merv Hughes, I'd catch my 'bake-ofchoice' at the Curry Masala across from the Oval (no longer there). After the cricket, the spot to be was at the Cricket Wicket. But now that it's torn down, the Brooklyn Bar now seems the place.

I also used to savour `liming' with a friend on the benches on the western fringe of the Savannah looking dead-straight at some of the Magnificent Seven buildings. Then nothing would beat going down to the Mas Camp to see fedora-dappered gentlemen, spin spiffily dressed women on the dance floor, and to listen to some first-class live soca music.

Trinidad and Tobago, even without the Cricket Wicket, still is a good host to me, for the cricket. It's always good, to find out what's going-on, in the Eastern Caribbean. T& T has always been an accurate reflection of that; expressively so.

-Ray Ford is a Jamaica-born KCOB and freelance journalist based in the United States

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