Wisden India has brought you the best of the non-cricket action from the different islands of the Caribbean that Virat Kohli’s men played Test cricket on. The last installment comes to you on Trinidad’s Independence Day.
Youngster, next time ask for a Brian Lara
At the Hereford Recreation Club half a kilometre from the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain, they don’t talk much cricket. It’s an active, bustling, noisy space, even if only two tables of the dozen or so on offer are occupied. The topic of discussion is Usain Bolt, seeing as the Jamaican is on the way to more gold in Rio than the average West Indies cricketer wears on a thick chain. The islands may argue tooth and nail when it comes to cricket, but success has many fathers, and Bolt is the father of all success. What you know bout dem Under-16s? The octogenarian Rasta bartender yells to no one in particular. It’s the kind of chat you might hear in Marathi in the beer bar near Mumbai’s Azad Maidan, but here it’s strictly track and field. When I ask for a rum, not knowing what the local special is, I’m handed a small flask of Fernandes Black Label. Youngster, next time, just ask for a Brian Lara. I gulp, pour, and sip. With this, I complete my set of four, one rum for each Test venue on the tour. Not quite one ring to rule them all, but no less powerful or intoxicating.
The cricketing school teacher
He knows full well that not a single ball will be bowled at the Queen’s Park Oval on the day. Born and bred Trini, Ian Mohan says it always rains when the moon is full in the hurricane season. The bald white sphere was ripe in the night sky on the eve of the final Test and sure enough, the rains came. But Mohan, a school teacher, does not care a bit. He has driven more than 100 kilometres from his home not to watch cricket, but to meet an Indian journalist he has been friends with for 16 years but never met. So chuffed was Mohan by a piece he had read by this journalist that he carried a placard bearing the journo’s name and stood on a stairwell at the Constantine Stand near the press box back in 2002, only to be told that the person he was looking for was not present. After all, he had used a piece the journalist had written in his English class. Since then, the two have been firm friends via Facebook and Email, and the chance to meet in the flesh was too good to resist. He came bearing gifts, a cap for his friend, and a tie and a book for other Indian journalists he had befriended on the Internet. Oh, and his cricket connections are strong. He went to school with one Rabindra Ramnarayan (Robin) Singh, and, till recently the physical education teacher at his school was Samuel Badree of legspinning fame.
All sunshine and no play
They went to the barn and brought out the pitchforks. After two days of blazing sunshine, no rain and yet no cricket, the ground staff decided to take the agricultural route. Turning the top layer of the wet outfield over in the hope that the sun would dry it, this was the proverbial clutching at straws, the snapping of a wishbone, dredging the dregs in the hope of finding non-existent gold dust. Criticised for not covering the bowlers’ run-ups till the third morning, sharply questioned for not having a Super Sopper in place and pilloried for not being able to get more than 22 overs of play in despite very little rain, the ground staff at the Queen’s Park Oval was lucky that the tabloid sections of the Indian touring party did not make it as far as the staff room. During a passage of utter boredom, Wisden India paid a visit, and from what adorned the walls, it was clear that these young men had far more interesting things to meditate on than how to get a rain-hit outfield ready for play.
The importance of ones and twos
Cricket coaches go on and on about the importance of ones and twos. Or, at least they used to, before the slam-bang version of Twenty20 cricket was invented. In Trinidad, though, it’s all about Doubles. Not two runs, but the ultra delicious roadside snack that is ubiquitous and eaten at all times of the day. It may be ages since Indians arrived on Trinidad shores as indentured labour, but this has not stopped them pining for a taste of home. Doubles satiate this hunger perfectly. What is locally called a bara, a version of deep fried bread that is a close cousin of the bhatura, is topped with boiled chickpeas aka channa, different from the Indian version in that it has barely any masala, and closed off with another bara, the double. In between, slivers of raw mango and either a rust-coloured sweet chutney or mossy green chili sauce are added, based on individual preference, to complete the snack. It’s the cheapest snack you can get on the islands, and perfect to eat on the run.
Poacher turned gamekeeper
Put the ball in the right areas. Control the controllables. Focus on the process. From Chittagong to Christchurch, Lahore to London, Mumbai to Melbourne, you will hear one of these phrases at any cricket press conference that lasts more than five minutes. Ask cricketers why they spew these clichés and they say it’s because the questions they are asked are so predictable and monotonous. At the fag end of India’s tour, one cricketer decided to take matters into his own hands. Imagine Wisden India’s surprise when a vacant seat in the back row of a Carlos Brathwaite press conference was quietly occupied by R Ashwin. Not content with scoring hundreds and picking up five-fors, Ashwin asked West Indies’ Twenty20 captain what he thought of cricket going to the United States of America and wondered which of the two teams would have more support in that geography. Momentarily surprised by the identity of the questioner, Brathwaite smiled wide and swung hard in reply, hitting the query out of the park in much the same manner he had ended the World Twenty20 final in Kolkata.
A sunset to savour at tour’s end
With each day’s play being abandoned sooner and sooner, and the Indian team not even making the perfunctory gesture of turning up at the ground until the first inspection of the day happened, it was safe to take in a bit of Trinidad. In Port of Spain, almost every other taxi is driven by a person of distant Indian origin, Ganesha’s familiar trunk swaying at customers from the dashboard, a song from a Karan Johar tear-jerker playing on the radio and the smell of burning incense replacing that other herbal fragrance more popular in the Caribbean. To change the pace, we enlist tour guide Judith Voss, who has some Indian blood in her, but is in a minority among typically Trini mixes. Curious about yoga and predominantly vegetarian, there is much that is Indian about Voss, but her approach to guiding is refreshing. While thoroughly professional and knowledgeable about both history and geography, Voss is not the kind of guide who talks nineteen to the dozen. We spend hours walking through farms and rainforests, paddling through mangroves, watching flocks of Scarlet Ibis, the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago, often not exchanging a word. We wash feet at a gurgling stream, skip the beach at Maracas Bay because there are, well, too many tourists about, and watch the sun go down on so much more than a cricket tour. It has been a long seven weeks, the last of which was the dampest of cricketing squibs, salvaged only by a guide who behaved more like a friend, effortlessly showing Trinidad’s best side to curious travellers.