From the tranquillity of the Somerset countryside and the small quaint cricket ground in Taunton, to the searing African heat and raw aesthetics of Zimbabwe, to finally winding up in the tropical extravaganza that is the Caribbean is quite an achievement if I say so myself.
Of course you must understand that I am not one of the idle rich. My travel itinerary is all work, work, work and no play. Well, in my case a lot of play actually. Anyway, I digress. Travelling around the world, despite having to work, is hugely rewarding, meeting interesting people, indulging in cultures unknown and so different from anything one would associate with normality. This really is a great way to experience life and I must say just writing this is a strong reminder of things easily forgotten in the professional capitalist world we wake up to every morning. So I arrived in the Caribbean after a longish flight from South Africa via New York - talk about climate shock. I stepped onto a plane with only a pair of boardshorts and arrived some 17 hours later to an early morning minus five degrees in New York. Gee was it cold. Then back on the plane in my warm woolies to Antigua three hours later dripping in sweat!
I’ve written a lot about my African adventure in Zimbabwe and for what it’s worth it has probably been one of the best cricketing and cultural experiences of my life. But now it's time to turn my attention to the most famous cricketing destination in the world - West Indies. I grew up watching heroes like Ambrose, Walsh, Lara and the end of the Marshalls and Haynes era. West Indian cricket was, for me, filled with magic. Such cool dudes, with their quaint accents and jaunty swagger. They seemed impervious to anything around them, living by their own rules. Now that I was playing against all the local islanders I could experience the real thing. Okay, so West Indian cricket hasn't been the same for some time, well actually for quite a considerable length of time, truth be told. American TV, big money and lucrative deals in basketball were contributing factors. But let’s face it, West Indian cricket has lost its polish and this is really sad.
I caught up with West Indies coach Ottis Gibson the other night at our game in Barbados. I played against him a bit when he was playing county cricket, and he was saying it’s like teaching over here rather than coaching or facilitating like they can do in England. He was saying how lucky we are players already have that technical grounding and basic awareness. Not so here. I wondered why? Perhaps this takes the subject back to schools, education and exposure and again in England, South Africa and Australia in particular, guys coming into the game have a far greater awareness of themselves and their game. We as county players are really lucky to have the financial backing of the ECB and the opportunities that are afforded us.
From the first couple of games it was evident that the players are physically gifted, their fielding, speed and throwing arms are as good as any. They also have some very effective bowlers who bowl well in their own conditions. However the batting is a little raw. Apart from the odd batsman who stands out - usually the international ones – many of them don't shape up much better than glorified tailenders and once pressure is applied they almost always revert to big shots rather than looking to do the 'smart' thing.
Having said that, Somerset didn’t exactly set the world alight. We came here to win and those are the high standards that are set by the team. To be fair had we shown some more brain in the first game we would have won, but apart from the six-over aside thrash, which in effect is always a lottery, and the highly talented Marlon Samuels coming off, we've been very competitive with a relatively inexperienced team. It's been a great trip on a few fronts, more importantly for some of the younger players to gain exposure with crowds and to adapt to foreign conditions. Most importantly though, having the chance to interact with new team-mates, chill on the beach, and have a couple of beers (when allowed) does so much for team morale and getting to know one another. During the season times are busy, people have their own agenda and it’s difficult to really get to know your team-mates. Sometimes we can get caught up in the whole professionalism of it all but it is usually when you're having fun, feeling relaxed and expressing your true self that the results tend to show.
So, yes, while it hasn't been hugely successful, I certainly believe we'll gain a lot from this trip going into the start of the county season. What I really do hope after playing in the Caribbean is that West Indies once again become a force to be reckoned with. When the mere presence of someone like Curtly and Courtney, to name but a few, makes you tremble with fear and admiration at their immense size, astounding skills and awesome presence. Another great experience to add to mum’s scrap book.
Published 24 January 2011