(Reprinted from Jamaica Observer)
MANCHESTER, England — The West Indies cricket team has endured a mostly lean period over the past decade or more, but has somehow continued to captivate fans far and wide for varying reasons.
At the 2019 Cricket World Cup the maroon-clad Caribbean men have lost four of six games and are out of contention for the semi-finals. But in the stands they still have substantial blocks of supporters and many neutral admirers.
Ahead of Saturday’s game against New Zealand at Old Trafford, which the West Indies lost by five runs in a nerve-jarring finish, the Jamaica Observer caught up with some of them, magnetised by the magic that is West Indies cricket.
“I travelled to Manchester for the game, hoping I could bring West Indies some luck. I think they needed to see some more familiar faces in the crowd and not be outnumbered by everybody,” said Margaret Ismond, who is based in London but is originally from Micoud, St Lucia.
Ismond said she has been living in the United Kingdom for 15 years, but it is clear that West Indies cricket stays close to her heart as she sieved through the team’s challenges at the tournament.
“The Bangladesh loss (by seven wickets in Taunton) was not surprising because Bangladesh have now beaten us eight out of 10 times. But I was flabbergasted that our bowlers went for so much — the bowling was too one-dimensional.
“We’ve looked one spinner short and the bowling at the death has not been good — we’ve looked flat entering the last 10 overs. The first few games we were exceptional, and we probably got carried away with that style of attack,” she told the Observer.
Diving briefly into the back story of how she became knowledgeable on cricketing matters she explained that things took shape during her early years in St Lucia.
“I grew up not far from where former West Indies captain Darren Sammy is from. He went to the primary school right next to the playing field close to where I lived, so I know him and his family.
“I’ve always followed cricket but my first interaction was listening to cricket on a Saturday when my sister was following it. I still think that [listening commentary] is still the best way to learn about cricket because since there’s no visual, it’s usually so descriptive. And lucky for me, I started listening to cricket in the glory days…it was really exciting and we knew what winning meant and it was consistent, so I became addicted,” Ismond recalled.
Englishman Nick Heyes is a West Indies fan when he is not supporting his homeland. Heyes, who is from Manchester but now based in London, was at Old Trafford with his girlfriend Eirin Saether for the game against New Zealand.
“My main team is England but if I had to choose a second team it would have to be West Indies. I like the players; I follow them closely in the IPL (Indian Premier League) and I’m a big fan of Chris Gayle.
“I like their style of cricket, the way they bat, that aggressive style. They started off well and then it started to tail off a bit… but I’m still hoping for some fireworks,” Heyes said just ahead of the game.
Saether, who hails from Norway, is a fledgling cricket fan. While Heyes was sporting a West Indies shirt, Saether’s replica New Zealand blouse indicated the direction of her support.
“I’m from Norway and we don’t really have cricket, and this is my first-ever game. I used to live in New Zealand — though I’ve never watched a game there — so we both decided to go out and have fun. I’ve been watching stuff on YouTube to help me understand the game,” she explained.
Mervin Bain and his two friends Andre Joseph and Aldwin Alston Charles made the trip from Scarborough, Tobago, to catch the encounter in Manchester.
For Bain it’s more than the outcome on the day.
“This is an experience — you don’t get the opportunity to come to a World Cup in the ‘Home of Cricket’ every week.
Sport is not only about winning.“You also want to enjoy yourself and you want to be around Caribbean people with the Caribbean vibe, so you take it for what it is. You’d wish your team would be in a better place and performing better… but it’s still 100 per cent support,” he said.
Bain noted that the West Indies brand remains marketable globally.
“People all over just love West Indian cricket; not just West Indians. Internationally, West Indies is always one of the more popular teams because of our charisma and our playing style,” he said while gesticulating emphatically.
Alston Charles, who hails from Mason Hall in Tobago, was also lured to England by more than the on-field happenings.
“I’m still proud to be here even though it’s not likely the West Indies will reach the semi-finals. It was important for me to come personally because it’s an experience to come to a World Cup here in Europe,” said Alston Charles.
Joseph, another visitor to England from Mason Hall, said his dream was to catch a West Indies game at the ICC World Cup.
“I’m always interested in cricket — win or lose. I always wanted to watch a live game at the World Cup and this was my opportunity. It’s true the team isn’t really what it’s supposed to be, but at the same time I’m here to watch cricket and have a very good lyme,” he said.
Tyrone Hines, who hails from Montego Bay in Jamaica but is now situated in London, was at Old Trafford with his chidren Kadedra, 12, and Tyrone Jr, 16.
“My dad was a big West Indies fan, a big cricket fan, and the family relocated to the UK but we love the cricket the same way,” said the senior Hines who recalled that he attended Muschett High School before his family moved.
Kadedra was gleeful as she saw West Indies captain Jason Holder, star batsman Gayle, and other members of the team mount a staircase before the start of the game.
“It is my first cricket match and I’m very excited and happy. To be honest, I don’t really watch cricket on TV but I did want to come for the experience,” she said.