“What’s your final destination?” asked the guy at the check-in desk at Geneva Airport for my first flight of the day to Frankfurt.
“No, Grenada.” I replied, expecting in advance there might be this confusion.
“Yes, Granada. You’re going to Spain, right?”
“No, the country I’m going to is Grenada. In the Caribbean.”
The guy taps on his keyboard with a quizzed look in his face.
“OK…but what is the name of the airport?”
“It’s also Grenada.”
“The airport code is GND...” I added, trying to be helpful.
“Ah, OK. Grenada. I’ve got it”.
And so began my journey to the Cricket World Cup, the biggest event ever staged in the Caribbean, with matches in Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago over a period of six weeks. I wasn’t expecting to be joined on this first flight from Geneva by any other cricket tragics, but it also appeared on the subsequent half-empty Condor flight from Frankfurt that it was just me and a bunch of sun-seeking Germans heading to the Caribbean on holiday.
The tournament had already been going for a month, eight of the sixteen competing teams remained, and there had already been more than enough drama to heighten my expectations – Dwayne “The Big Unit” Leverock’s unexpectedly agile catch in the slips for minnows Bermuda to give seventeen year old Malachi Jones a wicket with his very first World Cup delivery against the might of India. Then there were India’s otherwise poor performances that saw Bangladesh take their expected qualifying place for the Super Eights. But, most of all, there had been Pakistan’s capitulation in their group to Ireland on St Patrick’s Day and the discovery of the death of Pakistan’s coach Bob Woolmer in their Jamaica hotel the very next morning, and the enduring mystery of whether his sudden passing was due to natural causes or foul play.
Our arrival on the tarmac at Grenada International Airport came with some fanfare – a band played and there was a complimentary beer or rum punch offered before we’d even made it into the terminal. But there was a hurdle for me inside at passport control. Although I had the special CARICOM visa (enacted especially during this period to capture some further revenue from World Cup visitors, and I can’t blame them for that opportunity), I did not have a destination address for where I’d be staying in Grenada. That was because my friend Tony, who had done much of the organisation for our group of friends for the trip, was informed just a few weeks earlier that the construction of our planned accommodation would not be finished in time. At short notice he had scrambled to find somewhere else to stay, but I did not have any of the details. He was due to arrive from Australia with Derek and Ben via an American Eagle flight from San Juan an hour and a half later, but I thought there might be a chance that Atul, who had arrived a day earlier, may already be waiting to pick us up. Without any hesitation, an official took me through into the small but busy arrivals area to see if I could spot him, then casually took me back to the secure area when I could not. I then sat on a chair behind passport control, unaware of much close scrutiny while I read my book, before the American Eagle flight landed on time and disgorged a motley assortment of cricket fans from the Antipodes, my three friends among them.
With the address details duly passed on, my passport stamped along with the first name of the customs official handwritten in biro (thanks Joe), the four of us went out into the now even busier arrivals hall and found Atul. He was accompanied by a local, Deylan, who Tony had rented the accommodation from and needed a lift home after fixing some issues with our apartment. It was already dark when Atul piloted our rental Toyota Previa mini-van (a Toyota Tarago to us) away from the airport, dropped Deylan at home, made our way first to Spiceland Shopping Centre for something to eat, and then slowly up a deeply rutted track to the small row of flats in Lance Aux Epines that would be our home for the next two weeks.
I was eager to see Grenada in the daytime, though the closer we got to the centre of the capital St George’s, the more unsettling the view became. Amongst the lushly vegetated tropical hillsides, many of the houses and other buildings still bore the damage of hurricanes Ivan and Emily in 2004 and 2005. While most ground floors appeared to be habitable, many more upper floors were still missing various combinations of rooves, windows and/or walls. Even along the Carenage, St George’s inner harbour, the destruction was still as apparent. Perhaps the most prominent landmark of all, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, was just an empty shell.
I still needed to collect my tickets for the six World Cup matches Grenada was hosting in the coming eleven days, and I made my way to the office of Cable & Wireless in the Carenage as previously instructed. Unfortunately the day of Grenada’s first match was designated as a public holiday so the office was closed, with instructions to proceed directly to the National Stadium to collect tickets for today’s game only.
A roughly cut tunnel under Fort George separated the Carenage, which had been very quiet, from the main commercial area of town where the main mini-bus station and markets were in full swing.
A couple of large cruise ships were anchored a short distance off-shore, and we were now part of a bigger human tide moving towards the ground in a pre-game buzz. I couldn’t help but wonder if hosting the World Cup was a morale boost for the local population, or whether that money would have been better spent on more direct forms of post-hurricane relief. That uneasiness compounded when we rounded Cemetery Hill and into a flat little hollow where the brand spanking new 20,000 capacity National Stadium sat. Built on the site of its predecessor Queen’s Park, like many of the cricket ovals in the West Indies constructed or significantly renovated for this event, it was mainly funded and built by China – a not so subtle gift in return for severing diplomatic ties with Taiwan (who had earlier made similar overtures in the region in the hope of adding diplomatic pressure on Beijing). But its newly constructed grandeur, capable of seating twenty percent of the country’s entire population, looked completely at odds with the badly damaged grandstand of the immediately adjacent athletics complex, and the sometimes humble shacks perched up the steep sides of the encircling hills.
The joyful sounds of a steel drum band lured the crowd into the stadium precinct, I picked up my ticket for the day without any hassle, and just before the first ball was bowled we took our seats in the upper tier of the main grandstand on the south-western side of the ground. If ever the stadium was to be full during the six matches, it should have been for this game – Grenada’s first as host and the only time the West Indies themselves would be playing here. The cheaper sections on the north-eastern side of the ground, without any cover from the sun, were well attended, but the other more well-appointed grandstands were looking much more spartan.
We had paid a lot for our seats, US$100 per ticket per match, but as a once in a lifetime experience shared with a group of friends we were willing to invest in it. But clearly this was beyond the spending power of most Grenadians, and it seemed a shame that some kind of agreement between the International Cricket Council, West Indies Cricket Board and local authorities couldn’t have been made to offer any unsold tickets to local people at cheaper prices. Growing up in Australia as a big cricket fan, whatever glimpses I could catch of the punishing tours (at least until 1995) to the West Indies late at night on TV were filled with pictures of passionate crowds in heaving old wooden grandstands, bringing so much vitality and a degree of cool that added to the faraway exotic location. To be priced out of the biggest event the region had ever hosted, leaving the stadiums not just here but across the whole tournament half-empty, seemed like a losing deal for everyone – visitors like us hoping for the full Calypso experience in person, the millions of TV viewers across the world and, far more importantly, the local community themselves.
For those locals who were in attendance there wasn’t all that much to cheer about. South Africa batted first, AB de Villiers reached a century but then was struck down by leg cramps, and he gave up on running by attempting to wallop each and every ball to the boundary, falling down comically after each swing of the bat. Although he was soon dismissed, it was extremely effective as he had compiled a memorable 146.
Jacques Kallis, Hershelle Gibbs and Mark Boucher all hit rapid half-centuries as the Proteas amassed a formidable and highly entertaining total of 4 for 356. The West Indies faltered early in their chase, though the only Grenadian player in the side, batsman Devon Smith, made 33 at first drop. Despite a fighting 92 down the order from Ramnaresh Sarwan, it was clear very early on that the home side would not miraculously re-discover the lost elixir that had previously made them an unbeatable force between the mid 1970’s and the mid 1990’s.
With the travelling South African contingent in high spirits I felt the atmosphere became a little bit tense once we walked back into St George’s, and I was glad to leave the milling crowd of spectators and locals going about their business behind and be on our way towards Grand Anse. Unfortunately though, that wasn’t the only time this evening I would feel uncomfortable about our invasion. A little later, we had been enjoying dinner in a Chinese restaurant (just for the food, don’t draw any conclusions about our stances on China and Taiwan) when a group of fellow Australians entered, all dressed as Steve Irwin and accompanied by a plastic blow-up crocodile. With their collective Loud-Bogan-o-Meter switched to eleven, the five of us quickly dropped our voices and hoped they (or anyone else) wouldn’t notice our national association. Finishing up as quickly as we could, we scarpered to Kudos, a relaxed bar on the Lance Aux Epines main road at the turn-off to the bumpy track leading to our apartment, where we enjoyed the first of a few low-key evenings sitting outside until the early hours.
With Bangladesh and England playing in Barbados, we had our first non-match day to take things easy. With the rest of my tickets picked up and Eastern Caribbean dollars withdrawn from the bank, we had a leisurely lunch at a brand new café that had been built (and almost completed) on the cliff edge between Grand Anse and St George’s directly overlooking the water.
We spent the rest of the day at Grand Anse, on the long white sandy beach backed onto by a number of low-rise tourist resorts but, as the main beach closest to St George’s, also not lacking for local beachgoers either (with open offers to sell ganja).
We then stocked up on some supplies from the supermarket at Spiceland, encountering just one awkward moment when a shy teenaged boy working at the supermarket commandeered our trolley, helped unload the bags into our van and then loitered silently until we realised he was waiting for a tip.
Our stay so far had been a good time to begin mulling over the most obvious cultural influences that had shaped this part of the world. Many of the place names in Grenada harked back to the French colonists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, who drove out the local indigenous population and began the import of African slaves to work the land. Then Britain followed for the next two hundred years, who among much else good and bad had of course brought cricket, the very reason we had come here. Similarly, it had influenced the custom of driving on the left side of the road (though, unlike the UK, distance was measured in kilometres as in Australia).
Our apartment began to tell the most recent chapter of the story. It was equipped with dual 240 volt wiring (with British plugs) and 110 volt wiring (with US plugs). Most of the TV channels were beamed in directly from the US, and we had our first exposure to the agenda of Fox News – which was as ‘fair and balanced’ as the spread of talent across the sixteen teams in this World Cup. Nearby was St George’s University, a private college attended by predominately American students, which gave this south-western corner of the island a very different ethnic and socio-economic appearance (read white and comparatively well-off) compared to the rest of Grenada – the presence of which was the one of the reasons Ronald Reagan gave for sending US troops into the island in 1983 to oust a Communist coup. And it appeared that the US was one of the major donors in the aftermath of the most recent hurricanes, though at first we had to admit to being a little confused by the green road signs, prominently funded by USAID, that displayed the distances to places around the island in miles – the start of some American propaganda to move away from the metric system?
But we also had a chance to find and enjoy some local flavours too. Listening to the radio in the car gave us an insight into life in Grenada, and we particularly enjoyed the rambling but comforting advice from a male doctor in response to listeners’ questions with regards to their non-critical health issues (“drinking green tea to help regulate period cycles? Sure there’s probably no medical evidence for it, but over the next twenty minutes I’ll reassure you that it’s not going to do any harm, so if you enjoy drinking green tea you might as well keep drinking it”). But our favourite thing of all was the Knowledge Bowl on local TV, a general knowledge quiz for high school students sponsored by St George’s University, where some of the host’s questions were at times so obscure that our faces were more perplexed than even the students struggling to give some kind of stab at an answer. Tonight was the night that our enduring love for the SGU Knowledge Bowl was sealed.
Despite the much smaller crowd for this match, we underestimated how busy the traffic would be and missed the first two New Zealand wickets to fall. We had no problems finding Damien and Shierly though, who along with three other couples on the way the following day would soon expand our touring party to thirteen, after they had already been to some earlier Super Eights matches in Antigua.
With the draconian security measures enacted at the start of the tournament tempered by common sense, the whistles, shells and other noise-makers allowed into the ground helped give the quarter-full stadium more atmosphere than the on-field action possibly deserved. The Kiwis limped to 7 for 219, Scott Styris scoring half of the team’s total, before the power packed Sri Lankans leisurely knocked off the target with five overs to spare.
Despite the lack of close contests for our money so far, experimenting with the tastes of the Caribbean had been a high point. Of the drinks, Ting and Mauby Fizz were my winners, while I couldn’t grow to love Vitamalt, which I could only summarise as a liquid form of Vegemite that you must grow up with in order to truly enjoy, nor the sickly sugar syrup crushed directly from sugar cane. But the food available at the bottom of the main grandstand was far more interesting than any other sporting event I’ve been to. The organisers appeared to eschew any bulk catering deals with multinationals, and the concession stands were manned by small time operators dishing up a variety of spicy stews and curries, served with plantains, rice, potatoes or wrapped into a roti. Considering how bad stadium food generally is, this well and truly beat a half warmed pie or sausage roll, and the menu was varied enough that I actually looked forward to eating there each match day.
After a lazy morning watching Ireland try to be competitive against Australia in Barbados, we were keen to hit the road in our Previa and see some of the sights. We went inland above and behind St George’s, the remnants of still more hurricane-hit houses lining the twisting mountain road. The other traffic at times took a fairly relaxed interpretation of which side of the road to best navigate the many bends, though the one person that didn’t appear to faze at all was Atul, which was good because he was the one driving.
We stopped at the verdant Grand Etang Lake, an extinct volcanic crater, where a group of local kids greeted Tony and Derek with at first shy and then ever more enthusiastic shouts of “Ni Hao!”, and a small jetty out into the lake presented itself for a Dawson’s Creek style publicity shot.
Then we followed a narrow walking track worn down into the rich, red soil up along a ridge to the summit of Mount Qua Qua, with expansive views back down to the coast, before decamping to Grand Anse to meet up with the new arrivals for beach games, Carib beer and then a first taste of lambie (aka sea snail or conch) for dinner.
Trying to be smarter on our drive to the National Stadium this morning we tried a back route and it almost worked.
This match would turn out to be the closest of the six Grenada games, albeit one dominated by ball rather than bat. South Africa were held to under 200, and the Kiwi batsmen similarly had to poke, prod and noodle their way to victory with ten balls remaining. Fans from both teams had turned up in numbers, nudging the attendance to just over half-capacity, and at the other end of the ground from us in the Party Stand the Beige Brigade yobbos in particular were doing their best to entertain themselves with a blow-up doll.
The most spirited fans in our section were, not for the first time, a band of blonde ladies from South Africa who had brought songs of undying love for Jacques Kallis, as well as a collection of banners for their other favourite players: AB de Villiers (“AB is no maybe” – agreed there, in this tournament he’d been all or nothing, and today he scored a fourth duck), Makhaya Ntini (“Ntini knows no boundaries” – on the face of it a nice compliment for the classy fast bowler, but interpreted by us as a possible sledge of his limited batting prowess at number eleven), and Graeme Smith (“Smith is a papaya” – OK we just made that one up). But the ladies were having a fine time of it, much more so than us it had to be said. And they were more dedicated in their attendance too, evidently staying on one of the cruise ships shuttling between Grenada and Barbados each night, as we would notice the TV cameras often focussed on them during crowd shots at the other Super Eights matches at Kensington Oval on our ‘in-between’ days.
One of the other people in our section for all the games so far was a Grenadian guy called BB, who had been loudly cheering the West Indies on in the first match and at other times handed out business cards for his restaurant. BB’s Crabback was nicely situated at the end of the Carenage near the tunnel under Fort George, and tonight we had made no other plans, so immediately after the game our group of thirteen headed straight there. Decorated with photos of a beaming BB in his first restaurant in London playing host to previous touring West Indian cricket teams to England, it was a significantly pricier joint than anywhere else we’d been. The food was good, no doubt about that, though the service was not exactly operating at the same brisk pace as some of the blokes on the walls (eg Messrs Holding, Marshall, Walsh and Ambrose). I don’t think any of us were expecting to spend five and a half hours all-up between ordering, eating and then waiting on the bill, and we decided to stay more comfortably down-market from hereon in.
Our apartment man Deylan came around to fix some more minor issues with the TV and hot water system, and then we were off on our pre-planned clockwise circumnavigation tour of Grenada. Heading up the west coast the traffic soon thinned out, and Ben, Derek and I took turns standing up through the Previa’s moon roof to survey the lay of the land in the manner of a dictator or military coup leader, Fiji’s Sitiveni Rabuka the one to come to Ben’s mind, getting some friendly waves from people along the way.
Around Victoria we stopped at a little bar built from wood and corrugated iron to catch up with the day’s game in Barbados and enjoy a pre-lunch tipple. Like elsewhere in Grenada, the local rum distilled by Clarke’s Court was the drink of choice. When the three of us drinking protested that the bottle of overproof white rum (69% alcohol) initially offered to us to mix with Coke was too strong – especially for the time of day – the owner shrugged, evidently dismissing us as lightweights, and gave us dark rum closer to the regulation 40%.
Comfortably propped up at the bar, we turned our attention to the TV. Under normal circumstances this would have been an eagerly awaited blockbuster between India and Pakistan, however with both of those teams no longer with us (especially true, need I remind you, in the case of Pakistan’s coach) it had become a far less tantalising fixture between Bangladesh and Ireland. A couple of local girls evidently thought the same, sitting behind us at the establishment’s sole table playing dominoes and cards and giving the blaring TV no heed whatsoever. But we became enthralled in the contest. The Irish did very well batting first, making maximum impact against an opponent closer to their level than any of the other top eight qualifiers, and their late hard hitting would have been enjoyable to watch with or without the first seeping effects of the rum.
We continued on to the north coast and the town of Sauteurs. Cheerfully named by the French for the last Carib Indians who in 1651 jumped to their deaths from a cliff rather than be finished off in other ways by the European colonists, a wander behind a long beach on foot up and down along the deserted main street showed us that this end of the island had either suffered the worst of Hurricane Ivan’s fury, or had been waiting the longest for repairs.
With lunch on our minds we backtracked to the Sunset Restaurant & Bar, a likely looking joint at the western entrance to town. It was completely empty and the proprietor seemed surprised, but not at all disappointed, to see his first World Cup patrons venture so far away from the action in St George’s. Once it had been established that the chicken, beef, lambie, pork and fish rotis were all off the menu, we thought the chicken and fries would do nicely. When that was also discounted, it left the fish and fries as the only choice, for which our host would need to head out across the road to the local fishermen to source the fish. After supplying us with some more rum, he politely excused himself and left us completely unattended. Some time later – I’m not sure how long exactly, it seemed like a long time but things were getting a bit fuzzy for me at this point – our fresh fish and fries were dished up and I was glad to get some food into my stomach.
Along the course of the afternoon we got talking to the only other customers who arrived at the bar. The first was Zoe, a former physicist from Imperial College London who had retired to Grenada to pursue an alternative lifestyle and who, once she discovered I lived in Geneva, seemed convinced that the Large Hadron Collider under construction at CERN would soon create a black hole big enough to swallow the earth. The second was John, a local who had returned home after 35 years in London, who regaled us with tales of West Indian cricketers past, including his acquaintance Jeff Dujon, the wicketkeeper of the most fearsome cricket team in the world throughout the 1980’s.
Once we were done at the bar John escorted us to the beach across the street to search, unsuccessfully, among the giant conch shells littered around the beached dinghies for some intact shells to collect as free souvenirs (varnished versions of the same were offered at extremely high prices back in the tourist market in St George’s). From there we met some of the local fishermen enjoying their Sunday afternoon off, as well as some kids either playing on the beach or using hand lines to try their luck from off the town’s long concrete jetty.
Continuing on in the van we passed numerous cricket matches of varying formality in progress, and pulled up at an oval with a turf wicket where a small group of teenagers and some dogs were having an informal hit around. They seemed OK with us joining in and I was content just to field, figuring that either batting or bowling was a bit beyond me at this point.
We couldn’t stay long though, as it was getting dark and we had dinner plans in the south-east of the island at La Sagesse with the other half of our group. At one point the traffic backed up, and we did our best to solve the source of the jam by righting the car of an elderly woman who had run into a concrete retaining wall. Another fellow had some wire to temporarily affix the front bumper back onto the rest of her car so she could continue home, and despite the shock of the minor accident she professed the most surprise to those around her that she’d met some “nice gentlemen all the way from Australia”. I hope she’d have said the same thing if she had met the posse of Steve Irwins instead of us, and as a small thankyou she gave us a jar of her homemade fig jam that had remained unsold after her day at a local fair.
That evening I enjoyed La Sagesse very much – not only for the chance to eat another meal and to drink countless glasses of water to complete the sobering up process, thereby ensuring tomorrow would be mercifully hangover free. Its beach appeared to have all the necessary prerequisites of an ideal getaway – easily accessible but relatively undeveloped, a narrow ribbon of sand backed by languid coconut palms and lush jungle, and, of particular interest to me, a bay facing out to the Atlantic so there was a nice hint of a swell. We were immediately looking forward to coming back in the daylight on another day, especially so with Hansel and Michelle, who had just flown in to grow our group to its brief peak of fifteen people.
A healthy crowd of over ten thousand had fronted, including the Steve Irwins, to see the two sides that would go on to contest the final twelve days later. Unfortunately for us it wasn’t much of a contest as Sri Lanka chose to rest their three main strike bowlers in Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga – though some credit should go to Ricky Ponting for an attempt to even things up by allowing Shaun Tait to bowl a full ten overs (which included no less than six wides).
The most intensive physical activity was beyond the playing arena as Australian fans in the Party Stand performed roly-polys down the grass bank under the main scoreboard, while the Australian top order barely raised a sweat in chasing down Sri Lanka’s target of 226.
Though it was incredibly tasty at the time, I’d overdone the hot sauce on my chips last night. So while the others of our now reduced group of seven all headed to Fort George, I stayed behind to see out the damage to my internal fortifications.
We spent the afternoon at Morne Rouge, a smaller, more rugged and less touristy beach than adjacent Grand Anse. There was plenty of action on the part of the patrons here, from the numerous beach cricket games to the equally numerous offers to give Michelle a massage.
Though if anyone was seriously intent on relaxing inappropriately today it was England, who capitulated to South Africa in embarrassing fashion in Barbados, thereby giving up any chance of qualifying for the semi finals.
Today’s match wrapped up by 12:40pm – less than half the time of a meal at BB’s Crabback. Ireland managed 77 against a full-strength Sri Lankan bowling line-up, and that even included a heartening last wicket stand of 23 after they were 9 for 54. Despite losing the wickets of Upul Tharanga and Kumar Sangakkarra cheaply, the Sri Lankan top order did the business within ten overs and all of a sudden we had an extra afternoon off.
Ireland, whose admirable progress in reaching the last eight had come without much impetus from their only bona fide top-level player Eoin Morgan, deserved to end their first World Cup with a better performance than this. But they were warmly farewelled by the smallish crowd, in due recognition of one of the few good news stories of the tournament.
We retreated to La Sagesse and found that in the daytime the beach was just as nice as we had earlier hoped. The off-field highlights were beginning to seriously out-number the on-field ones.
A power outage at our apartment led to the uncomfortable discovery that the toilet relied on an electric pump to flush. So we headed for the cleaner air of the hills, back to the Grand Etang area, this time visiting Annandale Falls and, after a hike beyond a nutmeg plantation that sapped Derek’s energy stocks, Seven Sisters Falls. For the first and only time we ran into a large number of mainly English and Australian World Cup visitors away from the stadium, and the encounter with their hairy bodies swimming in the natural pool at the base of the falls did not exactly encourage us to linger.
With the electricity back on by the time of our return to Lance Aux Epines and the West Indies getting a solid (albeit wholly expected) first Super Eights win against Bangladesh in Barbados, the evening before our last game was happily spent watching the SGU Knowledge Bowl. If ever the host needed any more impossibly obscure questions, we’d have been only happy to contribute.
Q: In April 2007, a mixed drink of questionable quality created by a small group of Australian visitors to Grenada was named for a solo single released in 1989 by former Cold Chisel guitarist Ian Moss. What are the drink’s ingredients?
A: Vodka, root beer and orange juice.
For bonus points:
Q: A follow-up single was released by the same artist later in the same year, which subsequently gave its name to an arguably far more delicious drink mixed by two of the Australians in New York. What are the ingredients to the second drink?
A: Rum, ginger beer and orange juice.
It was our last day to hear Shaggy and other Caribbean performers feature on the official World Cup anthem “The Game of Love and Unity”, and to say hello to Mello, the youthful, orange racoon-like creature who was super chill but still conscious of important social health issues and stuff all at the same time.
With semi final berths for both teams already locked in, there was every chance our sixth and final match would be less bubbly than a flat bottle of Mauby Fizz. However the attendance was the biggest of Grenada’s games, nudging 13,000, and the mood between the opposing Canary Yellow and Beige Brigade fans was boisterous from the outset. Batting first, Australia played up to the occasion against a Kiwi bowling attack crucially missing Shane Bond. Matthew Hayden bagged his third century of the tournament at better than a run per ball, and he was ably accompanied by some big hitting from the captain Ricky Ponting and then, further down the order, Shane Watson.
Unfortunately any interest in the second half of the match went flat rapidly as New Zealand’s run chase fell more than two hundred runs short, and we all left the National Stadium for the last time overwhelmingly disappointed to have travelled so far to watch such lopsided contests. Australia had extended their streak to 27 World Cup games without a loss, and there was no surprise whatsoever that in the coming eight days they would extend that to 29 World Cup games in their subsequent semi final against South Africa and final with Sri Lanka, dominating all-comers for their third successive World Cup crown.
As the World Cup circus began its departure from St George’s we departed by water from the Carenage on a day trip out to Carriacou, the largest of Grenada’s northern outlying islands in the Grenadines. After ninety minutes we arrived in the town of Hillsborough and quickly decided that lunch was the number one priority. We filled a small wooden shack run by Ann, a polite woman of mature years who was perhaps not completely enthralled about the spike of day-trippers invading her otherwise sleepy town. The mutton soup and chicken roti were very good, though her lack of enthusiasm appeared contagious. I found I couldn’t motivate myself for an impromptu hike around or above the town, something normally innate whenever I’m in a new place, and there didn’t seem to be much else to do to while away the afternoon apart from joining a number of wandering canines in the admittedly perfect turquoise waters in the bay.
At long last the time of our return boat trip approached, though the journey back to the Grenadian mainland was made more exciting by the incredibly tense finish to the very last Super Eights game between the West Indies and England. Despite the dead-rubber, there was at last a capacity crowd at Kensington Oval and they were treated to a contest that lasted all the way to the final over, where England were nine wickets down and needed three runs off the last four balls. The visitors duly did so with one ball to spare, and, if that wasn’t a cruel enough way for the hosts to finish in their own tournament, the long-term future looks even bleaker for the West Indies with the retirement of Brian Lara. Though no longer at his world-beating best, the shoulders of the man with both the highest score and most runs in Test Cricket history surely deserve a break after he’d almost single-handedly carried the rest of the team for so many years.
Tony, Ben and Derek departed this morning, though their Caribbean adventure was far from over. They were commencing a roundabout sequence of flights to get to Cuba, where I would meet them in Havana three days later.
After just missing out last Sunday, Hansel and Michelle were keen to do a circumnavigation trip in the van, though for some variety for our second time Atul and I would take them anti-clockwise. Heading up the east coast, we passed women and children in their Sunday best on the way to or from church, and plenty of washed clothes left out to dry on roadside banks and bushes. After lunch, where our soft drinks were covered by the pooling of small change left behind by those who’d already departed, we had some difficulty in finding Lake Antoine, another extinct volcano crater, before lobbing into Sauteurs for another stroll through town there.
By coincidence I saw Zoe again, who greeted me on the main street like an old friend, and a little later we were approached by a guy who introduced himself as “Mitch the Son of a Bitch”. We had some trouble understanding him, though it appeared that he wanted to have a drink with us somewhere. The vibe wasn’t comfortable and we took that as our cue to leave town, whereupon he decided instead he wanted a lift with us as far as Gouyave. We were all hesitant, even more so when he protested “Hey, I ain’t no murderer”. But the island was a small community, particularly so outside St George’s, and if something did happen we at least outnumbered him four to one, so with great reservation we relented.
From the back seat of the van, Mitch talked non-stop in a mixture of English and local patois. It wasn’t clear whether it was a conversation meant to involve us or a monologue with himself, though when we realised he didn’t seem at all bothered whether we replied or not, we kept silent. Our tension released slightly on approach into Gouyave, and Mitch looked intently along the row of small houses and shops passing by on the seaward side of the main street. When he found what he was looking for, a little shop and bar, he told Atul to pull up and insisted that we also get out so he could buy us a drink.
He led the way in, walked directly behind the bar and asked the wiry old man in charge if he remembered him. The old man did not. Unperturbed, Mitch helped himself to the fridge while explaining the back story of their association. The old man soon nodded and then went back to pouring himself two shots of white rum, which he immediately downed and then followed with a single shot of Coke, leaving Mitch to do as he pleased.
The only other customers, or perhaps they were family members, were a couple of children with ice creams. Mitch drank some rum while we sat with our bottles of Sprite, looking through the bar’s open back door leading directly out to the Caribbean, gauging how long the polite minimum amount of time would be before we could scarper. We sipped slowly until we finished our drinks, then bade our thanks and went to be on our way. Mitch followed us out, to our great discomfort, back to the van. This nice gesture had just been a waypoint.
His intended final destination seemed vague, somewhere further along the way, and we recommenced our journey towards St George’s wondering where, when or indeed if he would detach himself. We didn’t have to wait long, as just beyond the southern edge of Gouyave where the houses began to thin out he again asked Atul to stop, got out of the van, had a quick look around and then set off away from the road into the approaching evening. I hope Mitch really was where he wanted to get to, but our collective relief that we could finish our lap of the island without him was palpable.
During another power failure at our apartment that lasted most of the day, I had a final poke around the centre of St George’s trying to fill my remaining hours on the Spice Island as best I could. While attempting to extricate myself from some pushy female vendors in the spice section of the main market I yet again bumped into my old friend Zoe, down from Sauteurs on a shopping trip to the big smoke – proving that it didn’t take the intense gravitational pull of a black hole for us to meet one final time in a small confined space.
The time of my departure eventually rolled around, and Atul dropped me off at the airport just as he had done with all the others, without complaint assuming the role of a drummer at a gig – the first one to arrive and setup and the very last to pack up and leave. We felt we’d done a pretty good job of covering most of Grenada, enough that I didn’t feel a pressing need to return. Although, having said that, I never did work out what was on offer at Nice & Dandy.
The trip was made all the more enjoyable by sharing the experience with a valued group of friends I’d met during my time living in Sydney. But there was still a lingering hollow feeling inside me, due to both the lack of real competition in the final stages of the World Cup as well as the questionable legacy (or burden) the event would leave behind.
Growing up, cricket had been my number one sporting love. I was keen on the football codes in winter, but nothing excited me more than an approaching summer and the prospect of Australia’s annual World Series Cup competition – in particular being allowed to stay up late to see through to the end of the day/night matches under lights in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. In my lifetime the popularity of the One Day game worldwide had subsidised Test Matches and saved them from extinction, allowing me in turn to grow to appreciate and savour the traditional long form of the game too.
But now Twenty20, the further truncated format, was bursting onto the scene. In comparison, the last two weeks had proven the fifty over game was looking tired and I finally had to admit to myself that I had fallen out of love with it. It seems unlikely that all three versions of the game can thrive in a congested international calendar in the long term and, if managed competently, it’s clear that T20 is the commercial future of the sport. Continuing Test Match series between the top playing nations deserve their place as the ultimate mental and physical cricketing contest, and I would be disheartened if they were ever to disappear. But if One Day Internationals were to wither and die, the sad truth is at this point that I don’t think I would mourn their passing.