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Saturday 23 June 2018
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Commentary

How was he? And other cricketing questions

Josh Surtees

My wife says I ask too many questions.

It’s a good thing she wasn’t at the test match this week. The West Indies did well against Sri Lanka, but will they ever produce another Lara? I fear the answer is already written.

Questioning is essential in cricket. An unquestioning bowler would tear apart the fabric of the game. Variations on the traditional “how’s that?” or “how was he?” have lately deteriorated into incomprehensible roars, but perhaps the bellowed imploration is more appropriate. The fielding side isn’t interested in the batsman’s wellbeing or a considered appraisal of their work. What they are really asking the umpire is, “How soon can you get this man out of my sight?”

The probing must persevere. Bowlers cannot stop appealing, just as journalists cannot stop asking questions, particularly of those in power. Although, god knows, journalists’ pay does tempt industrial action…

But it’s the unnecessary questions that annoy my wife.

Do I really need to know why the box office line is moving so slowly?

“It’s the system,” says the heavily made-up girl behind the plexiglass window – hardly a position of power, but I interrogate her anyway.

In return, she asks my name, then keys the information into her glitchy ticketing software.

Another aeon of time passes. Precious overs tick away.

“How could it possibly take so long?” I ask the old man behind me.

“I never see anything like this,” he says. “Lunch will gone by the time we through. Lunch will go!”

A chuckle emanates from the line. It’s barely 10.22 am. Besides, he is part of the problem. Entry is free to senior citizens. Not only are the elderly clogging up the ticketing system, they’re taking the entire span of the Mesozoic Era to vacate the box office.

I’m joking, of course. It’s great to see promoters putting people before profit.

Inside, I buy a bake and shark, but not before I’ve asked if they have shark. I can see the shark right there, but it’s always good to double-check, right?

“What will you be serving for lunch?” I continue, persistent.

The woman looks around at the greasy floury food, without replying.

“Where does he think this is, Le Gavroche?” her eyes seem to say. “Maybe sir would like to see the wine list?”

“Chicken and chips?” I prompt. I know it’s chicken and chips. I don’t expect an answer.

“Have you got a day off school?” I say, turning my attention to a boy in uniform.

“No. School trip,” he mutters.

“Oh nice. What school?”

I feel like a truancy inspector.

“Presentation College, San Fernando.”

Sacred Hearts Girls and Nelson Street Boys are also here. Kids tickets are free too. I paid $120 – almost triple the price of the last match I attended here. I’m subsidising these brats!

Still, it’s good that they are populating this essentially empty 20,000-capacity ground.

Why does nobody go to the games? I had asked my wife in the car.

“People have work for a start. Those pot-bellied men are retired and you don’t have a day job.”

Which is slightly unfair. Only a few of the men have pot bellies.

I sit as square to the wicket as I can. One Woodbrook, resembling a cheap Benidorm holiday rental, dominates the backdrop. The TV camera pans across the colourful little houses perched on the hills of Fort George. Better to maintain the idea of quaint tropical dwellings for the international audience than introducing the more threatening concept of a modernising urban Caribbean sprawl.

“De man quite down de pitch and you still not taking de run?” a schoolboy demands of opener Devon Smith.

A few balls later Smith is run out, risking a single.

The Pakistani umpire draws an imaginary square in the air, the universal symbol for, "Can someone tell me what happened? I'm only human."

The unfortunate Smith is short by millimetres.

Powell, batting at three, takes a medium-paced delivery to the crotch, grimaces, kneels and rearranges his box.

What’s a box? I hear non-cricket fans asking. Google it.

I listen to the conversations around me.

“Gabriel does take wickets,” one man says.

“How often he take five?” his friend replies.

“We have the fastest bowler in the Caribbean. What more do you want?”

“They should have picked Ramdin,” someone hollers.

"Ram who?" comes the retort.

Sri Lanka appeal for lbw and Roston Chase walks halfway off the pitch before the more inquisitive umpire calls him back. A no-ball.

“You see the decision? You watching the game?” a spectator asks his friend.

“Take your time, take your time,” another urges the batsmen.

“If they bowl short, a fella gonna refuse something appetising to eat?”

At the tea break I text my wife wondering if there’s a cash machine in the ground.

"You have to ask," my wife messages back.

I need no further encouragement.

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