Watching cricket in the Caribbean is an experience like no other, says PHIL LUTTON – and the World Cup in March starts now.
The Business knows the business. Better than Red Shoes. Better even than The Sweetest Mango. No, really. The Business has a grip on Antiguan comings and goings like a Hulk Hogan headlock. And like any local worth talking to, he knows his cricket inside and out.
They aren’t names of Top Gun call signs. Or hitmen. Or clowns. Or cocktails. We’re talking cabbies. Loyal, van-driving fonts of knowledge that can enrich your Caribbean cricketing experience more than you care to know. For an added bonus, most of them go by tagnames patched on their vans, just so you won’t forget them in your time of need.
The Business knows the best bars, the best roads, the best pick-up points, the best spot to buy booze and avoid tourist prices. Having The Business waiting for us after a very, very hard day of soaking up the festivities at the cricket is, after a few days, like having your dad pick you up from school – but much, much cooler (depending on who your dad is, obviously).
He even knows when to beep at fellow motorists and why, a mysterious and unpredictable chorus that rings out around Antiguan thoroughfares that has neither rhyme nor reason. Better still, on the final day of the Test match at the harbour town of St Johns, he lets us pay his fare by shifting him the mini wheelie bin in which we had been carting truckloads of booze to the game every day. He says he wants to give it to his wife as a present. She’s a cleaning lady and he surmises she may like to keep her utensils in it. Aw, Business – such a softie for a huge, imposing guy.
If being besties with a funked-out cabbie is a handy periphery to a Caribbean venture, it’s the action inside the stadiums that will tonk any other cricket experience you’ve had for six. Along with India, watching a match in the Caribbean is one of those truly special cricketing pilgrimages that only the gentlemen’s game can serve up.
It’s a culture no other country can care to match, or even hope to replicate. The flowing rum and beer, the sizzle of chunks of chicken and fish on the makeshift 44-gallon drums cleaved in twain and reborn as barbecues, the vats of spicy sauce, the DJ in the stands and dancing between overs. Random ladies walking around handing out chunks of banana cake. Richie Richardson, the former West Indies skipper, popping up in the middle of the chaos like it’s his own private party.
You could hardly imagine Steve Waugh strolling down to the bar at the MCG for a yarn with the punters. Maybe in his Symonds Tusker days, but not now. It’s so far from the rarefied air of Lord’s or the zinc-snouted uni students at the Gabba’s cheap seats it’s a wonder you’re watching the same sport. You are, of course, and don’t the locals know.
Here’s a tip if you’re going to the World Cup – don’t try to bullshit your way through a cricket conversation with a local. You’ll get shortened up quicker than a Bing Lee bouncer. Bone up on Wisden on the flight over. Cricket worship takes on supernatural proportions in the West Indies – it’s lived and breathed, debated and discussed, played with passion and pizzazz.
It’s for precisely that reason that cricket fans are salivating over the chance to travel to the Caribbean for next year’s World Cup starting in March. Watching cricket in the islands is an intoxicating mix of world-class sport, endless opportunities to party, beachside bars and, therefore, beach cricket, and floating away your hangovers in some of the world’s most stunning swimming spots.
How you take in the World Cup depends on how you like to run your holidays. Whether you go independently or with a tour group, the best advice is to book as soon as possible. Accommodation on most islands is still available and tours still have spots, but the costs will only go up from here and supply downwards. Ditto with tickets – get in early, get in often.
Matches will be played on nine islands, the stadiums of which are mostly undergoing urgent facelifts to get them close enough to world standard, sacrificing some charm in the process. There have been reports that progress is hideously slow but, hey, it’s the Windies. Relax, man!
With some islands having fewer than 5000 rooms in total and hosting teams with huge fan bases, such as England, it’s going to be a tight squeeze. You can follow your chosen team around or take a simpler and more relaxing approach by opting to stay put on one of the host islands. Either way, you’ll be forced to take in the big matches in some breezy bar with a cocktail in hand. It’s not all that bad.
Tickets for the Super 8s and onwards are already at a premium, with the small West Indian grounds making life difficult to get a seat in the big matches. Some websites have finals tickets starting at £500, so they’re out there if the money’s handy.
But don’t despair – there are still plenty of good seats available for pool matches and, if you miss out, you should be fine for a walk-up start to any stoush involving Ireland or Holland. Package tours and cruises can be expensive, but do offer some certainty and can get you pitchside for the pointy end of the tournament.
Caribbean authorities have taken some hassle out of inter-island travel by declaring the nine islands one zone, meaning you only need your passport checked when you first touch down.
Airlines and shipping provide a good travel network between the venues, which are on Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Whatever you do, enjoy the cricket but allow some time to chill out and relax on one of the famous Caribbean beaches. You’ll need it – watching from the stands is as energy-sapping as it is exhilarating.
• For tickets, see www.cricketworldcup.com and register an account to see what is still available.