Cricket in the Bahamas

My daughter was married in The Bahamas.

On arrival, we spotted an advert in the free paper for a restaurant and purveyor of European beers and lagers which doubled as a cricket club. Three of us searched downtown Nassau for the appropriate battered grey bus which dropped us below a hillside fort built to defend New Providence from the French. Here, next to the clear deep blue waters off Nassau, sits The Haynes Oval where sixteen teams take turns to play on one strip of artificial turf. The sight screen at the fort end was a massive twelve foot square of breeze block and cement in front of which a jet fighter wouldn’t have looked out of place. Games were scheduled every Saturday and Sunday, beginning at midday. The league web site said the season ran from March to November.

If the fort was at long stop to the right hander, the pavilion was at mid wicket and the scoreboard was at third man. There were dressing rooms, but the players stripped on tiered seating in the shadow of two large trees and at close of play they gathered on the ground floor patio in front of the pavilion, often staying in their kit or changing in full view. Everyone wore whites and had several bats and small bags for boots and clothing and pads to protect legs, arms, chest, thighs and anywhere else that might get hit. Helmets as well, but rarely worn. The cricket coffins were upright much like a golf bag.

The pavilion, run by Connie, a black Bahamian, and Chris, from Essex via the USA, was a colonial treat, dominated by a deep second storey covered veranda, said to easily accommodate forty diners. Like the ‘dressing trees’ it stayed in shadow throughout the afternoon, backing onto the bar where the air-conditioning was turned up high and the blinds were turned down low; a dark cool room to watch American football, baseball, soccer and cricket from around the world. Football and rugby shirts, mostly from England, were pinned to the eaves whilst the walls were covered with black and white Bahamian cricket photographs.

Diners had to share the veranda with a dozen local senior cricket stalwarts who made sure of a seat by arriving before a ball was bowled or a meal was served. The main man was the scorer. Not for him the precise brace of finely-pointed HB’s topped off with rubbers. He had enough colours spilling from his pencil case across the table to cover every conceivable cricketing event. He also had a handbell, a relic of a 1950’s primary school playground, which he rang five minutes before start of play. His cronies sat either side and behind, constantly talking in creole. Except when we asked a question, when they replied in perfect American English.

The game was forty-five overs apiece. Both teams started with eight men, the rest arriving piecemeal within an hour and a half. Batsmen marked their guards with a piece of chalk stored behind the stumps. The bowling was mostly fast medium, pitching just inside the batsman’s half. There were lots of wides and the occasional half volley which was greedily hoiked or sweetly driven. The ground fielding was enthusiastic rather than  skilful and every dropped catch and error was greeted by hoots and cheers from the batting ‘tree’. The fielders also shouted, admonished and encouraged, so the only time the ground was quiet was when the bowlers ran in. Mid to late afternoon, the noise levels increased further when younger supporters arrived and turned the veranda and patio into a continuous babble of creole.

Drinks breaks were taken every fifteen overs. No tea-lady or unemployed batsman with a few jugs of orange juice here. Everyone walked off, umpires as well, for ten minutes shade under the ‘trees’. The scorer had to give his bell a decent pull to get them back.

The highlight was fourth man in, second innings. A dwarf rasta not much taller than his bat. Dreads in a ponytail to his waist and a bright red building-site crash hat. The standard delivery was either pulled away to mid wicket or awarded a no-ball on the above shoulder-height rule. His kit didn’t fit and he was always on his knees, adjusting something, refixing a pad or his gloves. The rowdy batting ‘tree’ loved him and was hugely disappointed when he eventually missed a straight one.

The scoreboard didn’t tick over. Every five overs or so, a member of the batting side had to leave his pals and rum under his ‘tree’, collect the information and cover the seventy-five yards between pavilion and scoreboard. Because of the delay, the run chasers didn’t realise they’d overhauled the target. The scorer knew what to do.

Then a not uncommon cloudburst. Our last view of The Haynes Oval was from the plush seats of a long black limo, hastily hired in the pouring rain.

What has cricket got to do with a wedding? Well, the players are often young people whilst the older generation looks on. There is selection, preparation, formal clothing and a ritual at a specific place usually followed by a party. Whilst the bride and groom spend the rest of their life together, the competing cricket teams separate, to meet and do it all again in the near future. Well that’s the theory.

This was published by the Journal of the Yorkshire Cricket Society.