In the north of Antigua, just by the medical school, is a neat little cricket ground. It was a bit overgrown and bedraggled when I drove past the other day, but the small stand was still there, the changing rooms, the peeling scoreboard, and the sails of the kite-surfers dancing skittishly out on the Caribbean. It was all different in 2013 when a team of us from the UK played in a T20 match against a student side. The mid-afternoon start was breezy, the outfield rugged, but the ground was quite full of youngsters who had come to watch their friends give a pasting to a bunch of ageing overweight English guys. They weren’t disappointed.
We knew we were in trouble when their opening bowler’s run-up went back to the boundary. He was 17, tall, whip-thin and quick — very quick. He was also rather angry as he had just been left out of the West Indies Under-19 team to tour Bangladesh.
He had a point to prove now, especially in a game being played in front of Sir Viv Richards’s brother. After a couple of balls of serious chin music, our opener never saw the delivery which cleaned him up. And the young bowler celebrated each scalp as if it were a Test match. Afterwards we gave him a lift back. He was pleasant, but on the laconic side. Maybe fast bowlers aren’t meant to be loquacious: you can’t imagine settling down for morning coffee and a chat with Curtly -Ambrose (another Antiguan).
Our young bowler that day will, hopefully, be part of a new wave of talent that could drive the West Indies back to the top table of world cricket. His name is Alzarri Joseph and he played a key role in the West Indies Under-19s’ victory in the World Cup final. He took 3–39 in his ten overs, those three being the top of the Indian batting order. I don’t envy them one bit. Michael Vaughan, who knows a thing or two, called the West Indies win the ‘best cricket news in years’. Let’s hope Alzarri and his U19 buddies want to play senior cricket and not just pick up the riches from T20 franchises. The future of Test cricket needs a strong West Indies.
The media has been full of guff trying to explain Leicester City’s breathless rise to the top of the Premier League. It’s because they are a ‘proper team’. Eh? One distinguished -writer noted that their players applaud each other for mis-hit passes — which makes you wonder how much football some writers actually watch. There isn’t a player in the world who hasn’t turned to applaud as the pass meant to find him disappears into the stand. And that much-travelled phone pal of Roy Hodgson, Henry Winter of the Times, praised the ‘camaraderie’ that led the team to attend their Christmas party in fancy dress. You never! ‘Such camaraderie is displayed publicly in their joyous goal celebrations,’ he noted. Staggering! Personally I think it is because they are very well-coached, extremely fit, defend in great depth, and attack on the breakaway with gravity-defying speed and accuracy. But that is just a view.
He may be the toughest Italian since Mark Anthony, with a similar eye for the ladies, but Azzurri skipper Sergio Parisse shouldn’t get away with bossing referees. He tried to get Ben Youngs sin-binned at the weekend for a marginally high -tackle. Rugby is slipping towards football-style scenes with players giving the ref too much lip. This should end now, gentlemen.
Talking of rugby, when a man from Hamilton in New Zealand’s north island (where sheep outnumber men six to one) talks about kissing his sister, you might just take him literally. But Warren Gatland was only using an American metaphor for ‘strangely flat’ — often used to describe tied games — after the heavy-weight draw between Wales and Ireland. Good job Wales-Scotland didn’t end in a draw too, as Gats would have advanced to second base — with his sister.