Playing cricket, Jamaican style

Three centuries of British rule left the island with a passion for this amusingly archaic game

LOCALS FROM THE small town of Cornwall while away a Saturday morning playing cricket. For visitors

LOCALS FROM THE small town of Cornwall while away a Saturday morning playing cricket. For visitors

NEGRIL, Jamaica — Since the sign said Cornwall, I half expected to find a pub overlooking a village green, and figures in white whiling away a brilliantly sunny afternoon in a slow-paced game of cricket.

This Cornwall, however, lays close to the Jamaican holiday destination of Negril, where a turquoise sea with the temperature of a warm bath gently lapped beaches of fine sand. Nothing much happened and many guests remained entirely within their resorts, where the only Jamaicans were the waiters. But a little inland there was indeed a village green and there was still cricket, and a bit of real Jamaican life.

Three centuries of British rule not only left the island sprinkled with parochial English place names, but also with a passion for this amusingly archaic game. And on this particular afternoon, in a pale blue pavilion at the edge of a splash of bright green turf, the Westmoreland Police were preparing for a match against a team from Negril called Extra Flex.

The scheduled starting time for the game came and went, but eventually the players took up their positions. Even then nothing much happened at least for the first over—a sequence of six overarm deliveries by the same bowler at the three wooden uprights protected by one of two batsman. There were no significant strikes of the ball, and no laboured sprinting between the two wickets by the batsmen to score runs.

Finally the first ball of the second over brought a run and desultory applause from a crowd that had begun drinking beer from plastic cups. Then a mistake sent the ball off the side of the pitch into long grass and out of sight. At this the crowd woke up and began shouting advice: “It’s by the dry stone, man!” “Not so far! Not so far!”

When play resumed they now also had opinions for the bowler and fielders on how to play. There would be cries of “Two, man! Two!” and simultaneously “One! One! One!” from the crowd as it told the batsmen how many runs to risk.

Commentary became still more vociferous during last few overs, a period called “happy hour,” when batsmen abandon defensive strokes altogether and swing hard at every ball. Several sixes were scored as the ball was sent flying over the boundary without touching the ground.

The crowd began to argue about whether the batsman was on form or the bowling was poor. Eventually the bowler tired of the criticism and walked off the pitch in fury, refusing to play any more. “That’s rubbish, man, you can’t do that,” said someone. “When cricket came from England it was a game for gentlemen, but now everything change.”

Eventually, by late afternoon, it was all down to the last ball with Extra Flex needing three runs, and it seemed as if the whole relaxed day had somehow been slowly building to this moment of high tension.

As at the beach resort, nothing much had happened. But it had done so much more Jamaican way.

For information on travel in Jamaica go to the Jamaica Tourist Board website at www.visitjamaica.com.

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