Anyone for cricket?

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Living & loving the Caribbean lifestyle, with James Fuller

Catch it!” I’m startled into consciousness by desperate shouts just in time to witness a blur of leather sailing over my head to safety.

A slothful chase and weak return evokes what I take as a playful reproach from my skipper: “Hey James – what happen? Yuh need a pillow or what?” He’s not smiling.

Every Saturday, dozens of weekend cricketing warriors gather on Trinidad’s Queen’s Park Savannah to do battle beneath the blazing sun. Standing in the outfield, I had been dreamily regarding the world outside our game. Joggers circled the boundaries of other matches while Japanese tourists strolled across the outfields of yet more games (up to 14 are staged simultaneously). Two pitches across there’s rugby practice; beyond that, football, goalposts leaning like drunks against a pub wall.

Closer to home – perched on Carib crates and slouched against cricket bags – our opponents are drinking beer, mocking teammates and waiting to bat, shielded from the 34°C heat beneath a pop-up PVC shade. Turning, I watch as a Rastafarian bowler in a neighbouring game stops mid run-up to attend to his unruly locks, which have unfurled and cascaded down his back to tickle his calves.

This is Fete Match cricket. It’s social cricket – and the emphasis is on the social. The unwritten rule is knowing how many beers to consume while retaining enough of your faculties to ward off life-threatening injury.

Earlier in the day, both teams had arrived short of players, necessitating a recruitment drive. Calls were made, favours asked, bystanders dragged in, girlfriends quizzed on cricketing credentials, and a final tally of ten versus eight reached, including a spectator in a garish holiday shirt.

Beware the man who says he “bowls a bit”. It means either he can’t bring his arm above the horizontal or he’s just represented West Indies U19s. Today it’s the latter: one of the opposition’s late recruits is in fact a first-grade fast bowler. On a wicket where an identically pitched delivery could hit you in the head or on the shin, it’s news met with uncomfortable murmurings, followed by the gassy pop of beer bottles opening.

Responding to a target of 122 in 25 overs, our innings passes in a haze of confused running, agricultural swipes and inquiries about the batsman’s eyesight. Wickets fall regularly. But, as the number 10 strides to the crease, one run is needed for victory. His wife doesn’t seem confident.

“Look how bad daddy is at this,” she says in a coochy-coo voice rocking her newborn. “He’ll be back in a couple of minutes,” she adds with spousal dismissiveness.

The final run required for victory is somehow scrambled but, as there are no scoreboards in Fete Match, nobody on the field realises.

“Let them bat out the rest of the over,” says the scorer. “The man facing’s over from New Zealand on holiday.”

One ball later the New Zealander is bowled and our opponents begin whooping with joy, celebrating what they believe to be victory. The confusion seems a fitting end to an afternoon defined by it.

As the result is relayed, there’s no heated debate; the serious business of emptying the coolers and getting stuck into a pot of chicken pelau takes precedence. As darkness descends and Port of Spain’s streetlights flicker into life, the day’s events are endlessly re-run, players re-ridiculed, and plans for a rematch hatched to a backbeat of chinking bottles, laughter and soca music.

Long live Fete Match.

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