Cricket Sweet Can't Done! What a Match!
Published: Sunday | March 18, 2007

What a match! What a crowd! What an experience! Old cliche's, yes, but it just doesn't get any better than this. Sabina Park on Tuesday was undoubtedly the happiest place on the planet. The sheer unbridled exhilaration all around made me realise again how God blessed I was to be born in the West Indies.

And it confirmed once more my growing conviction that we West Indians were put on this planet to show others how to enjoy themselves.

Amid all the jubilation, I felt almost guilty at times. What right did we fortunate few there have to be so delirious with joy, while at that very moment people in Darfur were probably being raped and/or killed? And isn't it really sort of senseless to get so worked up about balls being hit and thrown around? Yet the Lord works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. Every West Indian fan left Sabina Park utterly glad to be alive. And who could be so stupid as to doubt such a blessing, temporary though the feeling might be.

World Cup 2007 has been unfolding nicely, starting with that spectacular opening ceremony. Sure China or South Korea might have put on more tightly coordinated routines. But give me genuine fun and exuberance over joyless, ant-like precision any day. The details of who did just what are quickly forgotten. But I'm sure the natural delight and obvious enjoyment of the performers and participants remained etched on the minds of the billions watching.

As for the match, well, we fans were pretty nervous at the start. When Pakistan won the toss and put West Indies in, a groan went up. The 85 all out against India was still fresh in the mind. It's not the losing that has made Windies fans so jittery these days, it?s the frequent abject surrenders. Too often we feel another crushing humiliation just around the corner. No wonder so many have tuned out. If you pretend or convince yourself you don't care, it doesn't hurt so bad when "the wutless man dem" crumble again.

Shudder through the crowd

When Gayle went for two and Sarwan was dropped first ball, a shudder ran through the crowd. Memories of the infamous 47 all out flashed before our eyes. Some square cut and cover drive boundaries relaxed the tension. But at 77 for three, it got nervous again.

Then Samuels and Lara put on a batting master class that showed why cricket is as much an art form as a game. The elegant one drove sweetly for sixes and fours, while the maestro produced two absolute gems. The first was an impossibly late cut which caressed the ball out of the keeper's gloves to the boundary. The other was a delicate sweep that curled the ball around the wicketkeeper and between the two men near fine leg for four. "Oh God, Brian! Oh God, Brian!" I heard one ecstatic fan exclaim. "I can go out now and pay to come in again!" another shouted, "Cause I get me money's worth already!? In what other arena will you ever see such exquisite skill, timing and body control while the hopes of 20,000 countrymen weigh on your shoulders

Slipping away

But suddenly it was 183 for six and gloom descended as the all too familiar collapse loomed. Dwayne Smith produced for once, however, and when Collymore struck the first six of his life, 241 looked defendable, if a bit short.

"At least them try hard," was the general sentiment. "Even if them lose, I won't feel so bad." But Dwayne Powell and Jerome Taylor came out firing shots and at 39 for three the crowd was rocking. Slowly though, Inzamam and Yousef took the initiative, and at 90 for three with singles being taken at will, it was slipping away. Then like nothing I have ever experienced before, the crowd took control of the match.

Ironically, considering all the talk of multimillion-dollar stands and all-inclusive party mounds, the grassroot supporters in the cheap uncovered temporary seats were the soul of the proceedings. The drums kept beating and the marching band kept playing and they started a Mexican wave that swept one, two, three, four times around the ground. Then they began chanting, 'Go Windies go', and the whole stadium followed suit.

Every fan in the place clapped and shouted, ?Dwayne Smith?, as he ran in to bowl ? and Yousuf was beaten all ends up. The crowd geed Smith up again to the wicket ? and again Yousef played and missed. For the third time the crowd fervently cheered Smith on and again Yousuf was beaten ? but this time Ramdin threw the ball in the air and the umpire's finger went up and Sabina erupted as one. The match was ours.

United force

I asked a 40-years-of-cricket-experience watcher beside me if he had ever seen a crowd take a wicket like that before and he laughed and said, "No".

I've personally never felt anything like it. While clapping and chanting Smith up to the stumps, you felt like part of one huge united force. When the crowd rose and roared for the wicket it felt simply magical. This is what West Indian cricket and unity are all about. If the fans in the other regions show the same passion, how can we not win this damn thing

It was amusing to later hear a friend who watched from a corporate box say, ?It was sort of boring when Inzi and Yousuf were batting.? I'm not knocking the corporations who in a sense make it all possible, but some things money just can?t buy.

The crowd?s enthusiasm was a measure really of how much they wanted the West Indies to win. You hear a lot of talk about cricket's demise, but it's hard to imagine people letting something they obviously love and care about so much just wither away.

Maybe the crowd's ceaseless urging transmitted to the players just how important cricket is to the West Indian psyche, for they bowled and fielded with laser-like intensity. Even been-there-done-that Brian Lara sensed something new in the air.

"The atmosphere when we were out in the middle was different from what we have been accustomed to. It was the opening of the World Cup and we expected it, but it was just tremendous, the people of Jamaica and the Caribbean really showed their patriotism, and that was a real high point for us today. You?d have to be out there to really understand what was going on."

And perhaps the ghost of Frank Worrell, who died 40 years to the day of this World Cup opening match, whispered to our lads the proud legacy of Headley, the Three Ws, Richards and Sobers.

Rejuvenated passion

This West Indies win has surely rejuvenated the country's passion for cricket as in the halcyon days of yore, no one seems to be talking about anything else. Yet, maybe the love never went away. According to a Don Anderson poll commissioned by the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA), 82 per cent of Jamaicans professed an interest in cricket, as opposed to 86 per cent for football and 55 per cent for basketball. While 45 per cent said cricket was the sport they were most interested in, compared to 40 per cent for football and six per cent for basketball. So it's still our national game.

The JCA has been criticised for lacking imagination and playing politics instead of looking about the game's best interest. Let's hope they prove the detractors wrong and capitalise on this new burst of enthusiasm with well-thought-out legacy plans.

The West Indies team showed so much desire on Tuesday that I really felt happy for them. And they made everyone feel proud. So keep it up boys. You can do it.

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