The Big Bad Dread and the Bald Head

I arrive in ST. LUCIA, but my suitcase doesn't. I had laughed my guts out in the morning when the cabbie that dropped me off at the Antigua airport — on hearing I was flying LIAT — supplied me with its expansion: Luggage In Another Terminal, writes S. RAM MAHESH.

June 4: A few hundred metres from the ARG stands a structure of wood and concrete called The Spliff. In morning's light, it looks unimpressive — indistinguishable from similar three-rooms-and-courtyard blocks around it. Last night, though, it was the place to be, in Antigua. For The Big Bad Dread and the Bald Head was playing.

"The big what?" was my response to that piece of information, and I was immediately berated by the resident music critic — that annoying soul always talking of transitions and fret boards and scatting. I was sniffily informed that the Dread (amazing how quickly the band was on middle-name terms) was the hottest band this part of the Caribbean.

And, oh, it has as its members, Messrs Richardson, rhythm guitar, and Ambrose, base guitar. So I checked out The Spliff with the music critic. Only to find most of India's media contingent running their cameras along Amby's long arm, stringing fingers upwards, or getting head shots of Richie from the verandah on the first floor.

I waited till they had dispersed, and listened. I liked the music in an experiential sort of way. Amby wandered around with his guitar, pausing only to greet the odd friend. Richie stayed near the band stand — shades and all. I did my own wandering and bumped into Mrs. Bridget Ambrose. "I am Kenny Benjamin's sister," she said. "We met and it happened."

June 5: "Will Gravy be back for 2007?" ask several T-shirts in Chickie's stand. The cross-dressing showman — one of cricket's most recognisable characters — retired in early 2000, and has taken to selling an assortment of hats, key-chains, tennis balls, and beer at a stall in the ARG. Does he miss what he had? "Of course. Of course," he tells me, two intelligent eyes taking me in through a grey beard that flutters round his chest. "But you got to realise I got to do what I got to do to survive. What I was doing took up my own money." Any chance he will be back when the World Cup rolls around? "I would like to. Let's see — if the West Indies Board sponsors me, perhaps."

Now, that's a thought.

June 6: It's a sad day — ARG's last. Though it's my first time here, it's tough not to like it. Perhaps it's the fact that till recently the members of the ground-staff were inmates from the prison nearby that made it so appealing. It's the only ground that allows me to file a story at midnight, after I step gingerly over fist-sized toads passing the time in the outfield. At lunch, the place teems with food; I suspect there are more food stalls than people, but that's a delusion of a tired mind.

Greg, in charge of the refreshments counter in the press box, has the best view of the action. The brother-in-law of one of our regular cabbies — Spiceman (others include Leaf, Business and Jacko) — Greg is the ultimate service-with-a-smile practitioner. "Been here since '94. Lara's 375 was my first Test," he says. "Lara again (400), Gayle (317), the world record chase, Atherton resigning: I've seen a bit." What about the view? "I like watching from here amidst all these professionals" — he rolls that last word out for additional emphasis — "and see what their opinion is." Well, West Indies three down at tea, what's his? "It's not quite over. I've seen worse, far worse. West Indies must bat an hour at least without a wicket. Otherwise, it'll be...". The islanders lose a wicket in 12 minutes; the Test goes down to the last ball.

June 7: I arrive in St. Lucia, but my suitcase doesn't. I had laughed my guts out in the morning when the cabbie that dropped me off at the Antigua airport — on hearing I was flying LIAT — supplied me with its expansion: Luggage In Another Terminal. I had serious misgivings when I read in Viv Richards's autobiography (I picked it up at the airport) that he once worked part-time in LIAT, and that the expansion is unkind.

The officials at St. Lucia offer useful words — "It's LIAT man; what do you expect?" Though I see the humour in the situation, I can't help but wonder how many pieces of luggage will travel to locations their owners may never visit in a lifetime when the World Cup starts.

June 8: There is something distinctly French about St. Lucia. Maybe it's all those names — infuriatingly tough to get your tongue around — or those bolstered, terraced tea shops. My images of France are borrowed postcards, so maybe I am wrong. But, France and Britain did vie for this island 14 times over a 155-year period, and such wars of succession leave their imprint. The language, Creole, is a mix of French and English. The spirit of the island awakens the photographer in Anil Kumble. He pursues the sunset.

June 9: A day of drabness you wouldn't want to hear about.

June 10: Pipe it down guys. This is a press box for God' sake, not a football pub. Yet, the screaming and the advice continues. "Keep him off the ball, keep him off it," screams an adult male at Soca Warrior Lawrence. Earlier an Englishman says this to a countrywoman: "Gerrard's your boy eh? He's soft that one. No ticker." The adolescent within has come to the surface. For a while, both TVs are tuned in to the football. "Gee, Sehwag missed a hundred before lunch?" is replaced by "Yes man, yes man, yes man," when Trinidad and Tobago holds Sweden. Now, I'm no paragon of mature behaviour; but, I draw the line at spitting. It gets into the heads of these chaps that Lara out in the middle must be informed. The West Indies captain as usual is a step ahead of the game. He knows. Sanity returns.