Before Colin and I had even arrived in Antigua, a turtle researcher invited us to join him at the West Indies-England cricket match that would take place after Colin’s return from Redonda. Colin and I – like most Americans – knew nothing about cricket other than that the games have a reputation for spanning hours or days, include tea breaks, and resemble baseball in that they’re played with a bat and a ball on a field. We said we would go.
We were told ahead of time that the games in Antigua are basically tailgates and that we should come prepared with beer and snacks. This turned out to be exactly right—although there are bleachers in the Antigua stadium, most of the fans were camped out on lawn chairs and blankets just beside the boundary of the field. And I mean literally just beside the boundary of the field. The boundary is a rope laid out on the grass, no wall, no fence, no Green Monstah like at Fenway Park. As one would expect for a British sport, everything – including the heckling – was generally mild-mannered. At one point, frustrated by the Windies’ performance, a woman called out sternly to a nearby outfielder, “Number 10, I find you very sluggish!”
But – as with baseball – much of the entertainment came from the fans themselves. One particularly enthusiastic trash-talker was sitting just behind us, and he zeroed in on a group of English tourists nearby. Not one to mince words, he nicknamed his trash-talking buddy English. “Hey English!” he’d call out every few minutes with a new jibe. “What?” English would call back lazily, not seeming to mind too much.
When it became apparent that the Windies weren’t going to win, the heckler changed his tack. “Hey English, where you gonna be tomorrow?” he asked, knowing that the tourists had a flight to catch that evening. Without waiting for English to answer: “You gonna be cold tomorrow! And I’m still gonna be here, so hot!”
English, it turned out, was at the game with a friend whose birthday was that day. Heckler christened him Birthday Boy.
“Hey Birthday Boy!” he called out. “How old are you?” Birthday Boy first tried to avoid answering as most adults of a certain age do, but Heckler was having none of it. “You seventy? Eighty?” Birthday Boy finally acknowledged that he was 55, and Heckler crowed with laughter. “I’m older than you, and you look like that?!” The crowd dissolved into laughter.
Later, the heckler called out “White Boy!” It wasn’t clear at first who he was talking to since both English and Birthday Boy had already been given names, and he kept calling. At long last, English turned around and said in a sweetly high-pitched voice, “Is it me you’re looking for?”
The most dramatic moment of the game came when two Antiguan fans started fighting. They were causing such a ruckus that the cricket players stopped what they were doing to watch. Between the obscenities being shouted, I gathered that the fight had something to do with a girl. As the men’s tempers flared and it seemed like punches might fly, a police officer walked stoically in their direction. He stood straight and tall, with his shirt tucked in tightly, shoes shined, and a laughably thin baton in his hand. It resembled a Harry Potter wand more than a weapon and seemed better suited for a rap across the knuckles or an Expelliarmus command than breaking up a street fight. Fortunately for everyone but my curiosity, the men collected themselves before the officer had to make use of his wand.
So, overall, my impressions: cricket is a little like baseball, but totally different. There are funny-to-our-American-ears British words—stumps, bails, wickets, overs, bowlers. The action stops for a 40-minute dinner break halfway through. Batsmen shuffle back and forth between wickets wearing the type of heavy gear reserved for catchers in American baseball. The outfielders don’t use gloves, which is impressive, and the batsmen can hit the ball in any direction, which keeps things interesting. The fans are fun. The sun, the grass, the tailgate atmosphere are refreshing. Nothing tops gentle British sass.