Yes, We can at Sabina!
Published: Sunday | February 15, 2009
Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor

Rally, rally round the West Indies
Now and forever
Rally, rally round the West Indies
Never say never
Pretty soon the runs are going to flow like water
Bringing so much joy to every son and daughter
- David Rudder

Worst Indies. That's what people have been calling the formerly beloved cricket team for the last 10 years or so. A once-proud symbol of joy was now a constant source of embarrassment, as they lost match after match. Sensible people simply stopped caring. Those helplessly addicted to Windies cricket began to question our sanity - why voluntarily subject yourself to endless humiliation?

But last Saturday, the faithful were rewarded in a manner beyond our wildest fantasies when West Indies routed England for 51 and crushed them by an innings.

Memories to treasure

In the grand scheme of things, neither cricket nor any sport matters very much. But then, once your loved ones are healthy and you have enough to eat in reasonable comfort, what does?

Yet, even essentially meaningless diversions can give you memories to treasure. And those lucky enough to be at Sabina Park on February 7 will never forget it. Years hence, we will still reminisce fondly about the famous victory and wonderful celebrations.

For this was not just a sporting triumph, it was years of pent-up disappointment erupting into unbridled ecstasy.

The atmosphere on the Red Stripe Mound had to be experienced to be believed. It felt almost surreal, and I felt myself asking time and again: Is it really possible for people to be so deliriously happy for so long?

Because that's the thing about cricket, and Test cricket in particular - everything seems to happen in slow motion. So, yes, there are quiet periods which to uninitiated outsiders are almost unbearably tedious. But the excitement also unfolds moment by moment.

So, when things go as well as they did eight days ago, and the enjoyment metre keeps ratcheting up with every wicket, you can almost feel enveloped in a cloud of palpable joy. Being in Jamaica, of course, magnifies everything.

And everyone fortunate enough to be there can testify that it was not possible for there to be a happier place on the planet than Sabina two Saturdays ago.

Warmth and generosity

On Friday, I started chatting to70-year-old English visitor John Beckett, who told me he has been watching cricket since he was seven, and seen every great post-war batsman from Bradman to Lara. His favourite? Viv Richards.

On Saturday, when England was 50 for 8, I went over to tease him, as we opposing cricket fans love to do.

"In a spot of bother, are we?"

He responded with a smile and said, "Kevin, I have been to lots of places, almost everywhere really. And I have never enjoyed myself as much as I have over the past two days. I simply can't say enough about the warmth and generosity and humour of you Jamaicans. I can't wait to return."

And this, mark you, while his team was getting slaughtered. Cheers, John, and see you again soon.

The mound even channelled Barack Obama. When it reached 26 for 5, and fans really began to sense something extraordinary in the air, someone shouted "Yes, we can!".

The crowd took up the chant, shouting it louder with each wicket. The inspired deejay responded with Sam Cooke's anthem, and the entire mound sang along to the very appropriate "It's been a long, a long time coming, But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will."

I wonder if the West Indies team heard, and if it had any effect?

That said, my one disappointment with the mound is its rather limited palette of Jamaican music, which consists mainly of Bob Marley and recent dancehall. They ignore so many evocative reggae gems that could add cricketing spice, tunes like Sweet and Dandy, Pressure Drop and You Can Get It If You Really Want It.

So, there you are. One of the most enjoyable days of my life, and I still have to find something to complain about! But what else can you expect from a Jamaican?

Star performer

Now, Saturday's victory was especially satisfying to me, because the star performer was Jerome Taylor, whom I've got to know quite well over the past five years. Since I have a daughter only, he's the closest thing I have to a son. And it really has been great to see how this young man has grown both on and off the pitch.

His modest interview afterwards made us all just as proud as his fantastic spell for the figures of nine overs, 11 runs, five wickets.

There's no brag or boast about this descendant of the fighting Maroons, just quiet pride and intelligent confidence. His mother and father certainly instilled excellent qualities in him.

When I was growing up, cricket was a bond unifying all Jamaicans. Every radio was tuned to cricket during a test match, and you had to line up early to get tickets. I remember more than once going home in bitter disappointment because the match was sold out.

But now Test matches are carried intermittently by just one station, KLAS FM 89, and only a dedicated band of devotees listen.

Changing cricket

Even on weekends Sabina Park is now merely half full. Why? Well, the constant string of humiliating defeats has turned many people off West Indies cricket. Plus, there are so many other diversions for young boys and men, such as NBA, EPL and video games. And in our time-strapped society, who has time to spend a whole day, much less five whole days, on anything?

That's why 20/20 has taken the cricket world by storm. Finished in three hours, it draws huge crowds and pulls in big money everywhere. It's the future of the game, and will likely be a planet-wide smash, making cricket popular in places that have never heard of it before. Simple yet skilled, and exciting and unpredictable, 20/20 could well become in 10 years the second most popular team sport in the world behind football.

But for all the riches they will bring, 20/20 or 50-over one-day internationals will never provide the lasting memories of Tests.

I've seen many exciting one-day games at Sabina. But none linger in the mind, certainly not the way that Lara's 213 in 1999 does. Or even the 47 all out in 2004. Or last Saturday's 51 bowled out will. No, money is not all - or even most.

The optimist hopes this win heralds a new dawn in West Indies cricket, and that the runs and joy will soon again flow like water.

The realist accepts times are a changing, and that Test cricket might well continue to fade away.

But come what may and God willing, I will continue my annual pilgrimage to Sabina Park, in search of more days that I will never forget.

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