There is much more to enjoy outside the game too

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

MAY 13: We have a Sri Lankan friend for dinner at our flat. Ranjan Madugalle, former Test batsman and now a respected Match Referee, loves Indian food and comes over to enjoy some rice and rasam.

Former West Indies paceman Curtly Ambrose playing the guitar at the Lashings, a club in Antigua. Former skipper Richie Richardson, who plays the base, and Ambrose are regulars at the Lashings, enjoying every bit of being professional musicians.-V. V. KRISHNAN

Ranjan is a very friendly character in the cricketing fraternity. He is tough with people who act funny and is friendly with cricketers who acknowledge their mistakes and promise not to repeat.

The aroma of rasam is too tempting for him as he surveys the well laid out table and checks the "menu" for the evening. "I enjoy an Indian meal. I've had some great friends in India and I never miss an opportunity to catch up with old pals," says the affable Ranjan, who travels eight months a year on cricket assignments.

Cricket travel has taught Ranjan not to be fussy about food. Even during his playing days he would be happy with whatever the locals ate. "One has to learn to develop eating habits," he says.

I know of a couple of Indian cricketers who never struggle on account of food - Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. From naan and daal to a meaty helping of steak, they enjoy all kinds of cuisine. There are some fussy ones too, and some vegetarians, who land in trouble on tours abroad. And that is why someone suggested a cook could be a most valuable addition to the Indian cricket contingent when travelling overseas, especially places like the West Indies and New Zealand.

It would not be a bad idea for the Board to consider a cook with the team. Or get people like Ranjan, Sachin and Rahul to hold a course to enable them to be flexible in their eating habits.

May 14: Antigua has been a fantastic experience. Cricket may have been ordinary but meeting a legend like Viv Richards makes the trip worth it.

Even the great Richards is overwhelmed as he poses for pictures with the Indian media contingent. "Ya maan, good maan, he smiles and obliges our requests. Signing his autobiography or chatting with the West Indian scribes in the press box, he comes off as such a warm man.

In the company of his contemporaries, Richards is at his best. His laughter, his entire body part of the exercise, shakes the wooden staircase. He is a lively man. "No place for any regrets maan," he says as he shares some of his playing experiences.

It was at St. John's that he once hammered his best friend Ian Botham for some sensational sixes. I ask Richards where did those sixes land. He points to the stand in front. "One over that." And then he turns around and shows the bus depot behind the press box. "The other right there."

As we part with a warm handshake, he leaves a big impression. "Take care maan, be good in life." Coming from Richards, these are memorable words for me.

A statue of Bob Marley at the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston. Marley, who died a hero at the age of 36 from brain cancer, lives in the hearts of the Jamaicans and his inspirational songs are still a rage.-V. V. KRISHNAN

May 15: "Be sure to be at the Lashings." Well, I know it is a place for swinging couples on a holiday to this dainty island. Certainly not for cricket scribes on a demanding tour. But, I am told by a local, one should not leave Antigua without a trip to the Lashings. So off we go.

Music is at its best. The lead singer is holding the stage but there are two gentlemen at the back who catch my attention. A former West Indies captain and a great fast bowler, playing guitar, and swinging to the music.

What a sight it is! Curtly Ambrose, the dreaded fast bowler, smiling and singing along. Quieter, but no less lively, is Richie Richardson. His face gives nothing away. He does not swing. Stands erect and plays the base.

Their simplicity is striking. Two noted cricketers of their era now doing something they have always enjoyed. Richardson was known to carry his guitar but Ambrose's love for music is a secret to the cricket world. If only our cricketers could see Ambrose and Richardson in this different role and understand that there is much more to enjoy outside the game too..

Ambrose and Richardson are regulars at the Lashings, enjoying every bit of being professional musicians. They once made their opposition dance to their tunes with the ball and the bat, and now their music creates a terrific impact on those who take to the floor, not many of them even recognising these two entertainers. Ambrose likes it that way. So does Richardson, who is a minister in the government.

I return with some pleasant memories of the evening. The best being able to get an interview with Ambrose, courtesy my colleague V. V. Krishnan, who gets noted West Indian lensman Colin Cumberbatch to talk Ambrose into speaking to The Sportstar. As we part, Ambrose asks "I hope you enjoyed the music." We certainly did!

May 16: Can one come to Kingston and not visit the Bob Marley Museum? Well, one need not be a fan of Marley to recognise his worth to this island. For the Jamaicans, Marley means more than the inspiring music that he brought into their lives. He died a hero at the age of 36 from brain cancer but lives in the hearts of the Jamaicans, his inspirational songs still a rage. So, a visit to his museum is not a bad idea at all.

The house where Marley lived on Hope Road is now a museum, a home of memories of this Rastaman, who motivated a generation of youngsters with his enchanting reggae. He grew as a singer in this house which once was the Tuff Gong Recording Studio.

The museum highlights his life and achievements through a collection of memorabilia, newspaper writings on him and some great photographs. A 20-minute film on his various tours and concerts adds colour.

The entry fee to the museum is steep but what leaves you disappointed is the stern warning, "No cameras, filming or taping equipment are allowed. No filming of the mural paintings." Now, you come such a long way and cannot even take a picture of the place. It certainly does not sound pleasant to a small group of European tourists who do protest mildly.

The entry fee to the museum is steep but what leaves one disappointed is a stern warning which states, "No cameras, filming or taping equipment are allowed and no filming of the mural paintings."-V. V. KRISHNAN

May 17: The passion for cricket in the Caribbean is unmatched. "Cricket unites us," is the theme that keeps the game going. There is threat from soccer and basketball but cricket has managed to stay afloat because the support comes from the masses.

One good thing is that you have comfortable access to the cricket match in the West Indies. Tickets can be bought online through the internet or you can just simply stand in the queue and get your tickets even a day before the Test.

In India, watching cricket is not all that comfortable but in the West Indies care is taken to give the spectator his money's worth. Of course, there is demand for complimentary tickets here too. Tony Becca, Sports Editor of The Gleaner, is flooded with requests from friends and colleagues. And he has a simple solution. He just directs them to the place where tickets are being sold.

Those interested can secure match tickets, provided they are able to spare some time standing in the queue at the Sabina Park. They are disciplined and patient. It is indeed the passion for the game that counts.

May 18: The Chikki Stand, the new rage Cavallier Stand, the trendy Trini Posse Stand. And now the Mound Stand in Kingston. Cricket watching in the Caribbean is one grand musical experience.

To the left of the media box, a grand section of colour and splash, is the Mound Stand. The organisers claim it is the world's first all-inclusive party stand. It gives unlimited access to food, cricket, music and dance. It is seven years since it all started and the popularity has grown manifold.

A new addition to the grass carpet is a white sand beach complete with a swimming pool. Day long music is an attraction for those who make cricket watching a great fun. On the opening day of the match, Courtney Walsh is the much sought after figure in the Mound Stand. An immensely popular man, Walsh enjoys every bit of his time spent at the Mound Stand. The fine leg area, in front of the stand, was said to be Walsh's favourite fielding spot during the international matches at the Sabina Park. His presence at the Mound Stand lends credence to it.

May 19: Aftab Pandey hails from Delhi and is studying mathematics in Boston. And he just cannot believe he could get so close to Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. He lives just across ugly Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi but getting anywhere near his cricketing heroes had remained a dream, until he walked into the Sabina Park.

The cricket fans are disciplined and patient as they wait in a queue to secure match tickets at the Sabina Park.-V. V. KRISHNAN

He could chat with Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, even though the disappointment at the Indian bowlers faring poorly was evident on his face. But then there are many such Indians in the stands, flying in from New York, only to see their heroes getting pasted all over the park.

Well, for Aftab, the trip has been worth it. Just getting Tendulkar and Dravid to pose for pictures is more than the joy of watching a Test match at one of the finest venues in the world. And also a message for the bright young man. To get friendly with the Indian cricketers, better meet them overseas.

May 20: Barnabus Collins is a livewire, and a tireless athlete as he takes orders and fetches stuff for the scribes from the Kingston Cricket Club (KCC). They all know him because he has been around for many years and is a friendly character at the Sabina Park.

Every morning, he is bubbling with energy, taking orders for lunch. By afternoon, his pace takes a beating but not his enthusiasm even though he looks a packet of confusion, what with the journalists' demands coming from all corners. "Easy maan, easy," he is slightly irritated as he sorts out payments for the lunch orders.

Coconut water is a favourite with everyone. Collins brings in loads of them. Suddenly someone asks for his sandwiches. Collins has left them behind in the club house. "I'll be back, my friend," he assures and sprints 300 yards and is indeed back in a flash, proudly placing the plate of sandwiches in front of his "master."

At the club house too he is the most sought after man. "Collins, where have you been?" asks an old member. "Busy maan, busy," Collins has no time to explain as he reels off the order for his "dear friends" in the Press Box.

I order coffee even as the Indian bowlers begin a fightback. Collins returns after a while, panting and wiping his sweat. He looks tired. The tea is too sweet and I empty it into the bin. Collins is appalled "What's wrong, my friend?" I tell him it is too sweet. "She is a sweet lady and she made nice, sweet tea for you my friend. She probably dip her finger in the cup my friend," Collins defends. His reference is to the lady who cooks at the club.

Even as Collins, belying his 52 years of age, sings praises for the hostess of the KCC, I ask how long has he been working. "Only since the cricket started." I am curious "Where do you work then?" He gives me a hard look, suppresses a smile and whispers "freelance."

Barnabus Collins is a friendly character at the Sabina Park, taking orders and fetching food and other stuff for the scribes in the Press Box.-V. V. KRISHNAN

May 21: Traffic is very bad this morning. We leave two hours before the start of play but cannot be sure of reaching in time. But our man knows Kingston inside-out. He swings into one lane and swings out of another, sneaking in and out with an amazing skill. There are a few angry honks but he is not concerned. He has to reach the Sabina Park.

On the way is the team hotel. The traffic is getting worse. Pedestrians are better off and we get impatient too. Suddenly, there is siren behind us. The Indian team is heading towards the Sabina Park with a police escort in front clearing the way. Our man swings the car right behind the team bus in a brilliant move. The team bus races unhindered and we keep pace. It is a sensational drive and we are at the Sabina Park in 10 minutes!

May 22: Sabina Park is in the grip of wild celebrations as the West Indies beats India just in time. Well, just in time because even as the presentation ceremony gets over the rain comes pouring.

It is a tremendous day for West Indies cricket because heavy defeats overseas had left the passionate supporters despondent. But things have changed and it is celebration time at the Sabina Park even as the Indian cricketers seek the refuge of the dressing room after that miserable performance.

Kids take over the park and come up with all kinds of acrobatic acts, much to the delight of the grown-ups. The music from the Mound is blaring and the crowd sings and swings along. These are good times for West Indies cricket.

May 23: They say when it rains in Jamaica, people stay indoors. Such is the intensity of the rainfall. It is Labour Day, a general holiday. And then it rains cats and dogs to keep people indoors. Everything comes to a stop in Kingston. I order a taxi to go to the team hotel and it comes in three minutes. Normally it takes 20 minutes.

The Sabina Park is water-logged. And the curator is worried. He has not had time to prepare the pitch and then it rains incessantly. Fans pray for the rain to stop, so does the ground staff at the Sabina Park.

The roads are waterlogged and the traffic crawls. It is chaotic but no one loses temper. By evening the rain relents and people come out. The traffic has eased and there is now a problem of a different kind for me when I want to step out. I order a taxi and am told it would take an hour. Why? "Because no one wants to drive," I am informed. This thing about people staying at home when it rains in Jamaica is a bit hard to digest.

May 24: Courtney Walsh is a living legend in Jamaica. His name is enough for a product to sell, for an event to be a success. The Courtney Walsh Sports Good Ltd., a 10- year-old project, is testimony to the respect he commands in this island. His humility is infectious and it is one reason why he has no detractor at all.

Walsh is said to be a private man, who keeps to himself, and believes in kindness. He does a lot of charity too. At the entrance of his shop in St. Andrew is a poster which reads "Live with kindness, give with caring, live with faith and generous sharing, live with truth, for when you do all, good things return to you."

Veteran sports journalist Tony Becca, Sports Editor of The Gleaner, with his wife Celia.-V. V. KRISHNAN

He is a good man no doubt and is very popular among kids. The best product at his shop is the kids cricket set, which sells the most. The staff at the shop is loyal and has stayed on since its inception. For them, it is like home away from home, and all because of a nice boss named Courtney Walsh, an international icon in cricket.

May 25: Tony Becca is an institution himself in West Indies cricket journalism. A very warm person, helpful to visiting scribes, he stands out for his impeccable press box behaviour. He has not been known to lose his composure and is widely respected for his knowledge of the game.

A doyen among cricket journalists, Tony has rubbed shoulders with some of the stalwarts, including C. L. R. James who authored that classic book Beyond A Boundary. For 20 years, he has been the Sports Editor of The Gleaner, the leading paper in Jamaica, and continues to serve the game with utmost devotion.

Young players come to him for support; veteran cricketers value his counsel as much. Even the National selectors take note of his suggestions and have, in the past, given due importance to Tony's observation of budding talent.

For us, Tony's company has meant a lot on the tour. The fact that he readily shares news makes him such a lovely company and then his anecdotes keep you occupied when the cricket is dull.

Respected for his unbiased writings, Tony is well known in the whole of Caribbean. His columns, appearing thrice a week, are keenly awaited. For his grand service to sport, and cricket in particular, Tony, in 1994, was awarded the Order Of Distinction, which is the second highest honour for a Jamaican citizen. Two years later the Caricom honoured him with a similar award which he values a lot.

It is celebration time at the Sabina Park after West Indies clinched the series, defeating India 2-1.-V. V. KRISHNAN

May 26: Cricket is the soul of the Caribbean. It brings people together and everything else to a stop. Soccer is the only sport which attracts greater sponsorship than cricket but nothing hurts a West Indian more than a loss on the cricket field. Cashing in on this popularity, a small group of enterprising sports lovers come together to launch a programme called the Caribbean Cricket Festival (CCF).

Lorrie Foster, a freelance journalist and one of the key members of the group, invites me to the launch at the Jamaica Pegasus. It is an evening worth the visit. Michael Holding is a special invitee and the Master of Ceremony is former Test batsman Maurice Foster, who regales the audience with his brilliant speech laced with humour which leaves us in splits.

The CCF is a proposed annual event with an invitation to cricket lovers, supporters and their families from all over the region. The five-day package offers the people interaction with six former cricketers. The cricketers picked from a poll are Rohan Kanhai, Lawrence Rowe, Mushtaq Mohammed, Maurice Foster and Wesley Hall with one more name to be added, possibly Sunil Gavaskar.

The CCF also includes a cricket quiz which offers grand prizes, the first being a trip to South Africa during the World Cup next year. The response is tremendous with even the likes of Holding and Foster showing keen interest in the success of the event. For Laurie Foster it is a dream come true. He has been a quiz master for 41 years now.