Bowled over by Barbados
It may have been a wet day at the Test Match, but there was a silver lining.
It’s cricket season on this Caribbean island and the locals love it
Rain stopped play - three words to dampen the spirits of any cricket aficionado. The weather breaks were even more dispiriting in the idyllic surrounds of the Kensington Oval in Barbados as tropical downpours punctuated the third day's play of the Test between the West Indies and India.
Along with other members of the smallish crowd, I made a beeline for the sanctuary of the covered area of the modern arena, redeveloped for the 2007 Cricket World Cup, to join other holidaying Brits drowning their sorrows in the bars selling the local Banks beer.
As is generally the case in the Caribbean, every cloud has a silver lining.
I first visited the Bridgetown ground in 2008 when the Aussies were touring. The weather was perfect, attendances were decent and the travelling fans found a home from home in the party area in one corner of the ground, featuring its own bar, plunge pool and music. The party area remains, as does the shambolic ticketing operation.
Based on my previous experience of queues and confusion at the venue, I'd departed early on day one from the hotel to take the local bus into Bridgetown.
As well as an inexpensive means of seeing parts of the island omitted from organised tours, or the more direct route taken by taxis, the journey can serve as a musical introduction to Barbados as a boom box seems to come as a standard accessory for passengers.
Kensington Oval is a 20 minute walk from the main shopping area. It took longer, as I discovered that residents share the Jewish propensity to willingly proffer directions, irrespective of accuracy.
A seven-night package for The Crane resort in Barbados (see Hotel of the Week) is available from Kuoni for £1,137 per person in September, based on two sharing. This includes accommodation in a junior garden room suite, breakfast, Virgin Atlantic flights from Gatwick and transfers. www.kuoni.co.uk, 01306 747008 Catamaran cruise: Five hours US$90 pp. Includes lunch and drinks (cocktails and rum punch) www.funbarbados.com
Although the ground was encouragingly bathed in sun for the start of the Test, I failed to witness the opening ball, or indeed many subsequent deliveries, being delayed in the snaking line of disgruntled punters outside the tiny ticket office.
With tickets supposedly reserved in my name, I managed to persuade a police officer to escort me to the head of the queue, to the transparent annoyance of those going nowhere fast.
It was a naive assumption that the tickets would be located, but at least the woman behind the counter took pity on me.
Yes, I could buy one for the day, if not for the following match days. The cost was just 20 Barbados dollars, equating to less than £7 (what did I say about clouds and silver linings).
Outside England,Test matches can no longer draw the crowds attracted by one-day games and starting the match on a Tuesday certainly did not find favour with the island's populace.
Caribbean cricket is going through something of a trough. When a Barbadian starts a sporting conversation, it is more likely to involve Manchester United or American basketball.
But those who love their cricket bring an uninhibitedly enthusiastic vibe to the proceedings. And particularly so when the Windies reduced the Indians - without star men Tendulkar or Sehwag but still fielding a strong side - to four wickets down for under 40 in the opening session.
"Fast and straight, fast and straight," the man seated behind me incessantly implored the home bowlers.
When the Windies' batsmen proved no more adhesive than their opponents, their failures were greeted by some ribald and in some cases, alcohol fuelled invective. And the match sponsors kept the party spirit going by distributing "noise-makers" among the promotional giveaways. Something that would never happen at Lord's.
Home spectators happily engaged in banter with their overseas visitors, who were as tempted by the smells emanating from the catering huts as by the cheap booze as lunchtime beckoned.
Talking of food, I could only admire the entrepreneurial chutzpah of the elderly guy wandering our stand selling bags of quite decent fried fish snacks.
"Last two" was his constant refrain, irrespective of how many portions he was carrying on his tray. To the huge amusement of all around, he was still shouting "last two" when down to his last one.
Another Bridgetown landmark is the synagogue and cemetery, originally constructed in 1654. The Barbados National Trust property also features a spring-fed mikveh, whose discovery was hailed as one of tremendous historical importance. Otherwise, we were back near the cricket ground to embark on an additional delight of a Caribbean vacation - a five-hour catamaran cruise with Tiami cruises, taking in some picture-perfect scenery.
There were stops for swimming or snorkelling with turtles and, at lunchtime, the opportunity for a swim ashore for those unable to countenance half-a-day without quality beach time.
I took the offer of a champagne cocktail on boarding the catamaran and, better still, the follow-up of a rum punch (drinks and lunch were included in the cruise price).
I kept the crew company while the missus and the other passengers did the turtle thing. I don't know what I missed, apparently. Such was my blissful state by the time the food was served that I found it hysterically funny when, asked what the fish was, the captain replied: "Dead."
Thankfully lunch was over when the heavens opened and we were drenched in the matter of seconds it took us to join the other bedraggled passengers under the small semi-sheltered area.
Rain may have stopped play once again at the Kensington Oval but our boat sailed on - and they were still serving at the bar.