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66 lime January - March 2009 T here are two tours an English cricket fan must experience before he meets his maker: the Ashes in Australia and the West Indies in the Caribbean. The Ashes carry the historical kudos of being the contest that spawned Test cricket and remain arguably the game's greatest prize, but for sheer unadulterated fun, mixing with like- minded cricket lovers and watching sport in beautiful weather- blessed surroundings, the Caribbean is hard to beat. Of course the West Indians have historical signifi cance too, from the sepia- tinted days of Learie Constantine to Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine's twirling heroics at Lords in 1950, on through the eras of Headley, Sobers, Lloyd, Richards and Lara, the region has produced some of the fi nest players the game has known. England, the West Indies and cricket are also inextricably linked by a shared colonial heritage, a fact so eruditely extolled in CLR James' Beyond a Boundary that many call it the fi nest sporting book ever penned. James describes cricket's historical and social context, how it shaped the regional culture, his life and future political career, and infl uenced his understanding of issues of race and class. But, when the West Indies fi rst tweaked at the outer edges of my consciousness, I was a 10- year- old sitting watching TV in a cold English kitchen and knew nothing of this. All I knew was that there was something exotically unfathomable about the West Indians; the endless exuberance, the high- fi ves, the fl ourishing shots, the cavalcade of bouncers. It was less romantic I suspect for English batsmen staring down the barrel as Garner, Holding, Marshall and Patterson roared in, but for me, with the emotional detachment of a half- hour BBC2 highlights package, my whimsical imagination was given full rein. And there was one thing that stood out above all else, on that peculiarly orange- hued screen atop our kitchen counter – the fans. I'd seen English counties take on touring teams in an atmosphere akin to a parish council meeting, where corduroy- wearing men hunched over scorebooks tutted huffi ly at anyone within 20 yards. I'd even been on a school trip to Lords, the vaunted home of cricket, to watch the 1985 Aussies; we weren't allowed to make banners or noise and were to remain seated until close of play. This was different; truly another world. These guys were swinging around the stanchions like Soho pole dancers, invoking their fellow fans to make merry hell to a constant backbeat of conch shells and calypso. They were wearing fl amboyant outfi ts, drinking, singing, partying, barracking the English CRICKET players, charging onto the outfi eld at the fall of a wicket; damn it some of them didn't even seem to be watching the cricket at all. That was two decades ago and the heyday not only of West Indian cricket but of West Indian fandom, with supporters such as Gravy, ' Uncle Lester' Armoogam, Pappie the Bugler, Mayfi eld and DJ Chickie becoming stars in their own right. Today, some have suggested the team's fl agging fortunes have similarly wilted the fans' spirits and that the ICC's fun- throttling administration of the West Indies World Cup in 2007 might have sounded a death knell for the sport regionally. It's a depressing thought, but is it true? Is there no more fun in the sun at a Caribbean cricket match? " People love the Caribbean; the calypso cricket, the hospitality and the love of partying. Our door is always open to people we meet as friends," says Peter Matthews, widely regarded as West Indies' No. 1 fan. Matthews, who wears a tall, colourful top hat and is famed for his enthusiastic fl ag- waving throughout games, has followed the West Indies home and abroad for 25 years. " There's nothing like it; whipping the crowd up, getting a Mexican Wave going, the banter between the players and the fans, just having a ball. You have to go out there with passion, love and truth to contend and support what you believe in," says the man who can't watch cricket on television. " I know the fun of being on the ground; I know the pain, the agony, the joy and you just can't get it from the TV screen. Sitting in the sun and liming with the boys, having a few beers, that's how I like to enjoy my cricket. " Cricket people around the world tend to be like- minded and, whether you're supporting different teams or not, when 5.30pm comes we knockin' a bottle until the next morning. I tell people cricket is such a great game. You can start off drinking; early part of the game you see a four or a six you drink, in the middle of the day if your team goin' good you drink, or, if your team goin' bad you drink. Any way you take it, you win." Above left: Peter Matthews, West Indies' No. 1 fan; Above: All eyes on a cold beer; Right: The Carib Girls LL

January - March 2009 lime 67 REQUIREMENTS Knows the game better than the West Indies captain and gives direction where necessary. A nephew who shoulda made the West Indies team but failed due to a) liquor; b) women; or c) the system. Fluent in wide- ranging ole talk and preparedness to bad talk other islanders as well as the opposition. A favourite seat in the ground, and reasons supporting rightful ownership when occupied by another. Rote knowledge of Brian Lara's stats to correct anyone who talks the great man down. Ability to hold court on why the WICB is playin too many Jamaican on the side. If Jamaican, why too many Trini makin' the team, and so on. Anatomy of a WEST INDIAN cricket fan APPEARANCE AND DRESS ? 1 Faded maroon West Indies one- day shirt ? 2 Old shorts and sandals ? 3 Once- white broad- brimmed Richie Richardson hat ? 4 Sunglasses ? 5 Beer belly big enough to rest yuh glass ? 6 5 o'clock shadow ACCOUTREMENTS ? 7 Favourite ( personal) cup to drink rum from ? 8 Cushion from yuh mama couch ? 9 Cooler brimming with curry duck and roti, Johnnie Walker, rum and ice ? 10 Conch shell and ability to blow it loud ( air horn as back- up) ? 11 Day's newspaper ? 12 Binoculars ? 13 Flag in island's colours ? 14 4/ 6 Card ? 15 Transistor radio for ball- by- ball commentary loud enough to annoy yuh neighbour ? 16 Umbrella to shade from the sun on the walk to the ground ? 17 Spare cash/ rum to bribe de gateman when you arrive late without a ticket AFP/ GETTY IMAGES ILLUSTRATION: CHRIS BURKE