Until the last day of the recently concluded second West Indies-India Test at Sabina Park, from a West Indies standpoint there was hardly anything to write home about. Until then, the West Indies had batted timidly. And except for Roston Chase, they had bowled pedestrianly.
And then came Wednesday.
Very early in the last day’s proceedings, my prediction that the West Indies would bat-out the day for the draw, was met with a ‘kiss-teeth’ from one esteemed `observer’. But I had once again made the trek down from Mandeville, because of my cricket motto – `Cricket is not what you go to see. But, what you might miss, if you don’t go’. And there’s no greater regret for a true cricket-fan than to say, “I wasn’t there.”
The West Indies middle-order batsmen, Jermaine Blackwood, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich and Jason Holder, batted assertively – hitting the ball crisply on merit, and not on name. And it was a first for a very long time that the West Indies – the modern-day version that is, batted-out a day, while losing only two wickets. And Chase’s five-for and a match-saving century had the statisticians leafing back in their books. They had to go back fifty years and to find the name Gary Sobers, where they stopped. And so, quite a heady accomplishment indeed for a fellow playing in only his second Test.
For me, this last day’s play at Sabina, was as sumptuous as a day back in March 1999, when one Brian Lara concocted that dream-like double-hundred, to vanquish the mighty Australians. But things are much different now.
Quarters for the print press at Sabina Park these days, are now sealed-off (too) high above the action for my liking, behind glass-panes impervious to sounds and smells. There’s now no sound of bat against ball; no sounds of thumping reggae music; no smell of jerk chicken, or of the good sensimelia, wafting in from the Mound Stand. And for the first time too, there was no Tony Cozier, to just by his presence, enforce order. When Cozier was around, I never dared walk around, but sat instead, and paid attention. I always feared back then, that he might have said something like, ‘how are you turning in a cricket report, when you weren’t watching the cricket?’ But this time around, I had time, to mosey-around.
Another aspect of West Indies cricket missing along with Tony was that of a cricket tour brochure. If one was put together for this tour, then, I didn’t see it. Tour brochures historically, make for good souvenirs, and allow the public to better get to know existing players, and serve to introduce new ones. They also give regional cricket journalists, opportunities to write more than just about runs and wickets. “Who’s going to take the place of Tony Cozier now?” I recently asked former West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding. “I don’t see anyone in the Caribbean to take over from Cozier,” was his take. “He was the only (cricket) journalist who was ever taken seriously around the rest of the world,” Holding noted. And even he and his work, were not exactly embraced by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). And these days, West Indies media men, now prefer to don tracksuits and supervise the serving of food. Where is good West Indies cricket scholarship to be found?
The place is now much different from back in January 1962 when I saw my first Test match here – the second India v West Indies one, in which Easton ‘Bull’ McMorris, Rohan Kanhai, and Gary Sobers, all made centuries. Back then, I was cramped high into the old wooden stand to the northeast, had to carry my own lunch, and barricade it on the floor-board, in-between my two feet. These days, I spread-out in my single plastic chair, and am feed, either curried goat, oxtail, steamed-fish, roast beef, or roast pork, come lunch-time. And to that, add crumpets, come tea. To get into the cricket ground back in the day, I had to – at the crack of dawn – join one of the long snaking lines outside, and work my way up, and through a dusty cattle-like tunnel and up to a creaking turnstile. These days, all I have to say is, “good morning boys,” and the gateman jumps to his feet, and flies the gate. What a life!
Back then in the day, for a Test match, Sabina Park would be bursting at its seams, and all three tiers of the Kingston Cricket Club members’ pavilion, would be lined with aristocracy – those on the terrace rocking in high-back ratoon rockers, while those above, took sun. Now, not even the ghost of the shoe-less `Sleepy’ – the sprightly pensioner who used to bowl some wicked off-breaks to visiting players – can be found.
Time waits for no man. And so, in anticipation of seeing some cricketing stars of past India-West Indies rivalries, I took along the only `thank-you’ gifts I could afford – some photographs of them, from days of old.
“Wow, this one is not from when I had hair, but from when I was sporting Afro,” said an appreciative Sir Vivian Richards. That one I gave him was taken at the Sydney Cricket Ground, on the night of January 27th, 1982. The West Indies had just won the 1981-82 Benson & Hedges World Series cricket tournament, and Richards had just been voted Man-of-the-Match, and Man-of-the-Series. Earlier on, he had been run out for 70 in a mix-up with Gordon Greenidge, and was not in a good mood. But as time wore, his mood improved.
“This is lovely,” said Sunil Gavaskar, as I gave him one of his wife and himself, taken at the Kennington Oval on June 15th, during the 1983 Prudential Cricket World Cup staged in England. I didn’t bother to remind him that the occasion was when he was left out of the India side, in a preliminary match against the West Indies, in which Ravi Shastri was preferred to him, to open the innings with Kris Srikkanth. India lost that match, but won the final.
“Can I keep it?” the former India opening batsman asked with anticipation.
And for Jeff Dujon, I gave him one from when he was part of the West Indies coaching set-up, taken at Kensington Oval back in May 2000. I had walked into the commentator’s bullpen, while the former West Indies wicketkeeper/batsman was engrossed in conversation with the WICB president Mr. Dave Cameron. “Do you know Ray Ford?” Jeff asked. At that moment, I felt like `bolting’. Because, when Mr. Cameron was first running for the WICB presidency, I wrote an op-ed, not in support of his election. In fact, so opposed I was, that my piece which appeared in the March 26, 2013 edition of the Jamaica Observer was titled, Put off that WICB election. As the president began to search his mind, Duj saved me – probably from possible eviction. “He’s a `Fortis-man’ like you.” `Lodge-signs’ were then exchanged, and it was smooth sailing from there on.
Then Mr. Dujon went on to unearth a Sabina Park ghost. “He’s one who never bowled one in the batsman’s half,” referring to our two Kingston College-Wolmer’s Boys School Sunlight Cup encounter(s) some forty-six years ago. “You and the one named `Rhombus’ (Norman Henry).” Now why this illustrious former cog in West Indies cricket back in its glory-days chose to resurrect that ghost is beyond me. Surely, he has more pleasant memories of his exploits at Sabina Park.
One that readily comes to-mind was his `wristing’ of a Mohinder Amaranth full-toss into his club’s members pavilion for six, back in February 1983. It took the West Indies second-innings to 173 for 6, sealed victory in that first Test of that India-West Indies series, and sent Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards and the entire Sabina Park ground, into frenzy. “…the stadium was full, with fans clamping their transistors to their ears, jumping off the wall, falling off the stands and, at the finish, pouring over the boundary walls to pat me on the back,” wrote Sir Vivian of the scene, in his autobiography, `Viv Richards’.
“Jamaicans love their cricket, especially when the batsman is putting bat to ball the way we did that day,” he went on. “To be there, it could not have been better,” Sir Viv intoned. And, “we won in the last over,” he concluded. Thankfully, for me, I can say, `I was there’.
Be that as that was, one stroke by this elegant middle-order West Indies batman that’s etched in my mind, is a click-heeled elbow-flexing upright Gray-Nicolls punch through mid-on, off a rampaging mop-maned Jeff Thomson in a day/night ODI match in Sydney, in the same 1981-82 Benson & Hedges World Series tournament. It sent the pigeons scurrying, the crowd `oowing’ and Alan McGilvray drooling. “Only Lawrence Rowe could have timed that better,” the great Australian cricket commentator mumbled into his microphone.
These days, I’m still into Dujon’s rib-cage. “Why don’t you write a book and leave your footprint in concrete?” I keep asking. After all, as a West Indies wicketkeeper/batsman, he had played more Tests (81), taken more catches (267), and made more runs (3,322), than many. “Let me think about it,” he continues to say.
Sunil Gavaskar – having scored 10,122 Test runs, in 125 Test appearances, with 34 Test hundreds and at a clip of 51.12, might be the most successful of all of India’s opening batsmen. He was the first batsman to score 10,000 Test runs. And against the West Indies, with all their four fast-cylinders firing, at 65.45, he averaged higher than his overall Test average, and in his 27 Tests against them, scored 2,749 runs. As successful as he might have been though, Sabina Park was never a happy hunting ground for Gavaskar. In his two Tests here, (he did not play in the first Test at Sabina in February 1971), Gavaskar amassed only 88 at an average of a mere 22.
In January 1976, with local-boy Michael Holding playing in his first Test at home, and bowling like the wind, the ‘Little Master’ could only muster 66, and 2, the experience of which he writes about in his 1984 book – `Idols’.
“Lloyd thought that the (West Indies) bowlers should come round the wicket and have us fending off the short deliveries. While this was a good tactical ploy it got out of hand when the bowlers got carried away and started bouncing the ball almost ever delivery round our heads.”
I can see their captain Bishen Bedi now, waving his white handkerchief from the Kingston Cricket Club’s pavilion gate. But all now seems to be forgiven, because the little opening batsman could be seen during the last Test, `taking tea’ with the West Indies `Instigator-in-Chief’ that day – Sir Vivian Richards. I remember Richards clapping and egging-on the fast brigade, from his position standing way back at second slip.
In his last appearance back in February of 1983, Gavaskar scored 20 and 0 – bowled first-ball in the latter by Michael Holding, as the little-master left his leg-stump exposed. His wicket sent the Sabina crowd cavorting.
Sir Vivian Richards is another kettle of fish. The 61 he made here in that run-chase against India back in 1983, was just one of the many devastating innings I’ve seen him play. And one stroke that will forever stick in my mind is a back-drive to Bishen Bedi here in the 1976 India Test here. It almost tore-off Bedi’s hand. Beyond the boundary though, I’ve been fortunate to have seen Sir Viv’s lighter side – driving from Mandeville to Kingston is one; and driving through a hail storm in Sydney the other. I know also that he’s fond of reading his Time and Newsweek magazines during his downtime, and that he keeps abreast of world affairs.
“So what do you make of the world these days?” I asked as he was relaxing in the commentators’ bullpen on the second-to-last last day of the Test. Further, I asked, “what of the black man’s plight?” In so asking, two things were on my mind. The police shootings of black men in America, and what I term `economic plundering’ by entities like the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ), as I had recently read of members of their top-management, granting themselves luscious, questionable, and unauthorized pensions. Unlike some, I don’t think our sportsmen should be confined to just expressing their views on sports. They can, and should, I think, use their platforms to speak-out against disenfranchisement, whether that be, of life, or, of the public’s wealth.
“Those are good questions,” said the great man. And by asking them, I got his eyes flashing and his shoulders in animation. “Somebody has to tell me, why so many of us are getting killed by police, and locked-up, when we are the minority.” And Sir Viv reasserted, “I think that black lives do matter.” And of the shenanigans surrounding the misuse and abuse of public purses by some in power in the Caribbean, I asked, “who now, will speak for us?” It was a leading question which Sir Viv graciously deflected. “Well, somebody has to step-forward,” Sir Viv intoned. But, why not him, I mused.
“Okay Bro Ford,” he then bade. As if I had left with him something to think about.
(Ray Ford, a Jamaican, who lives in the United States, is a freelance journalist and retired mechanical engineer. For over two decades, his articles appeared in the Caribbean Cricket Quarterly, The Cricketer International, The Jamaica Gleaner, Sky Writings, The Carib Cricket Circle and The Sagicor West Indies Cricket Quarterly).