Touring in the Caribbean

by Douglas Henderson, Editor, Schools Cricket Online

Personally, I love the Caribbean and I am sure you will do too as long as you know what to expect. There are many differences between cricket in the Caribbean and the UK and – to avoid disappointment – it is worthwhile to realise these in advance.

The West Indies are – by UK standards – relatively poor, and while the beaches are often stunningly beautiful as shown on the posters, many inland parts are not. They have their own great charm – not least because of the mostly wonderful people. You probably expect the sun to shine all day, but it actually rains quite a lot in what are our summer months, usually in short, sharp bursts. In fact, the last time we went to Barbados, it rained so frequently that the tournament itself became a lottery; however, that was unusual.

Do not expect efficient administration: people in hot countries move at an easy-going pace and their organisation can often make the Irish seem positively Teutonic. Meals and transport may or may not arrive on time (or at all). Just don’t get flustered by this relaxed easy-going approach to life. Enjoy it and get used to it. Incidentally, drink large amounts of water at all times.

You will expect the pitches to be hard, flat and bouncy. It is true that they can be, but you may also find yourself playing on a pitch where in the UK we’d think about trying again tomorrow: if it isn’t actually pouring with rain, the umpires will expect you to play.

The traditional way of preparing a pitch in the West Indies is to flood it with water first thing in the morning, then roll it (often with a tiny roller going round in circles), and then allow the sun to bake it hard, which is usually fine as long as you’re starting at 1.30pm or later; not so good with a 10.30am start! Most squares have only one strip, which is re-used time and again in this way. Wet wickets mean often the bowlers not being able to stand up and the ball on pitching doing the most bizarre things. For example, on our most recent trip, the very first ball pitched on a length and shot straight up in the air. Outfields may be wonderful but they may also be terrible, covered with long grass, broken bottles, stones and/or goats. It adds to the charm, but don’t do too much diving around.

Do not suppose that every West Indian schoolboy bowls at a fearsome pace. Your own bowlers are likely to be quicker. West Indies’ batsmen have a traditional fear of spin, especially leg-spin, and therefore most sides that you play will have at least one leg-spinner: learn to play it (eg resist the temptation to slog it!). In particular, West Indian batsmen like the ball to come on to them. So, if the openers get away to an awesomely quick start, as they often do, the answer is always to put on your slowest bowlers (as long as they’re reasonably accurate). Believe me, it works. There’s even something to be said for opening with two spinners, for this reason. Opening batsmen in any country are accustomed to playing against quickish bowling and mostly hate it when the ball is floating in the air; even more so – sometimes spectacularly – in the West Indies.

They play to different conventions. In the UK we frown upon bowlers who pretend to bowl and then whip off the bails to run out the batsman backing up. West Indians do it for a pastime. Strictly speaking, it’s not out anyway, because it should be called a dead ball once the bowler’s back foot lands for the delivery stride, but the umpires are not always as versed in the Laws as in the UK, so don’t back up until the bowler delivers the ball (watch him do so). Incidentally, I give the same advice here.

Don’t go “gardening” unless you’re sure the ball is dead (ie come to rest finally in the hands of the wicket-keeper or bowler). They’ll run you out (and rightly, actually).

The most difficult difference for UK players to understand is umpires’ interpretation of the LBW Law. In the UK, umpires will not give you out unless they can be absolutely sure the ball would have hit the wicket. In the West Indies, if you’re hit in front of the wicket full-toss or half-volley, however far forward, they assume that the ball would have gone straight on unless they actually saw it deviate, even if – on a “sticky dog” – the bowler has been bowling off-spin which has turned square all afternoon.

It’s different in all the ways I have mentioned above (and many more). Go prepared, don’t expect it to be like the UK, and you’ll enjoy a most memorable tour. Good luck!

Douglas Henderson