Howzat Travel Director Steve Eatherington - accompanied by his colleague John Kerr - has just witnessed history in the Caribbean along with the party of keen Twenty20 cricket fans travelling with them. This could be described as 'the perfect tour'; sun, sea, sand, some excellent entertaining cricket and a superb performance by England, winning their first major trophy. Steve kept a diary of the tour, so that the Howzat Travel group can reminisce and everyone else who didn't make it out to Barbados and St. Lucia can enviously read about the good times they had...
Tuesday 4th May 2010
The day before we are due to fly to the Caribbean from England and I wake up to a couple of answerphone and text messages telling me that the Icelandic volcano has erupted again and that airports in Scotland and Ireland have been closed. Switching on the news myself, I see they are right but things are not as serious this time round. The authorities, having been criticised for the blanket flight ban following the first eruption, have decided this time round just to close just a select few airports. However, it was still cause for a little concern and we kept a close eye on the news before my colleague John, his wife Hilary, and I, made our journey down the M1 from the Midlands to a hotel near to Gatwick airport, ready for our flight first thing the following morning.
After checking in, we settled down in the hotel sports bar to watch the England v Ireland World Twenty20 match taking place in Guyana. The result of this match was very important to us and the majority of our tour group. What with England losing the day before against the West Indies as a result of being on the end of a very cruel Duckworth-Lewis application, if we did not beat the Irish, we faced the prospect of England being knocked out of the tournament before we had even boarded our plane to get to Barbados!
We watched anxiously as England lost the toss and laboured to 120-8 as a result of the plucky Irish bowling and fielding. The rain came down at the start of the Irish innings and it looked like we might be on the end of same rotten luck we had the day before. As it happened, the rain stayed and the match was called off, which meant that England would make it through on a basis of a better run rate than the Irish against the West Indies. We sighed with relief and went to bed pleased that we would be greeting our tour party at Gatwick airport knowing we would see some England cricket.
Wednesday 5th May 2010
After an early start at the hotel, we jumped on the shuttle bus and made the short journey to the South Terminal. All of the 39 people flying out with Howzat Travel today either met us in the airport or let me know that they had arrived safely and checked in.
The flight was fine, albeit with a few spots of heavy turbulence, and we all landed in Barbados, greeted by a queue to pass through immigration. After a 20-minute transfer to the Butterfly Beach Hotel, we all checked in and acquainted ourselves with our new surroundings.
We hosted a welcome BBQ on the hotel veranda, which overlooked the beautiful sea. I said a few words to the group to officially welcome them to the tour, and communicated a few notices, whilst our local ground agents talked to our guests about sightseeing and excursion options that were available to them whilst staying in Barbados. The evening was good fun and the group started to get to know each other over a few glasses of their chosen tipple – Banks beers or rum and coke were popular.
With most of the group tired after an early start and the travelling and five-hour time difference to take into account, they made their way to bed. A few stayed a bit longer at the bar or decided to go for a wander.
Thursday 6th May 2010
Today was our first day at the cricket and we all arose for breakfast, which was served from 7am. The bus to the ground left the hotel at 8.20am to make the journey to the Kensington Oval – first match of the day was England vs Pakistan. The traffic into Bridgetown was its normal slow self, what with it being the morning rush hour combined with all of the cricket fans making their way to the ground at the same time. Our driver William took us on some ‘short cuts’ which enabled us to make it to the ground several minutes before the match started. There was another queue through security to get into the ground itself, after which we found our (excellent) seats and settled down to watch the day’s play. Most of the group sat in their designated seats, but with the ground not being full, many of the group took the opportunity to watch the match from different areas of the stadium. Some paid extra to go to the ‘Party Stand’ where your entrance fee included several drinks. Needless to say, those in our group who decided to do this made the most of the deal…
In the cricket itself, England beat Pakistan by six wickets, and in the afternoon match, South Africa beat New Zealand by 13 runs.
After the day’s play, the group returned back to the coach happy, and the transfer back to the hotel.
The evening was spent in different ways - some of the group, including myself, enjoyed a meal at The Ship in nearby St. Lawrence Gap. Some ate at the hotel, some went to Oistins in the other direction. Some even partied into the night, drinking with some of the England players in St. Lawrence Gap, not returning home until the wee hours.
Friday 7th May 2010
Same routine in the morning - breakfast followed by the bus journey to the Oval - for those who had decided to go to the cricket this morning. What with England not playing today, some of the group didn't come to the cricket and opted to spend the day relaxing or exploring. For those of us who did go the cricket, we were joined by thousands of West Indies fans who filled the stadium with the usual colour and noise that we have come to expect.
In terms of the cricket, everyone was impressed by Australia getting 184-5 and beating India by 49 runs, much to the dismay of some of the Howzat Travel group who were supporting the Indian team. We also witnessed Sri Lanka beat a very disappointing West Indies team by 57 runs, a result that didn’t go down well with the locals. Our coach driver Stevenson (a former cricket coach) gave us his expert views on what is wrong with the West Indies team, when on our journey back to the hotel.
For the majority of the group, the evening was spent at the Oistins Fish Fry, just a few minutes taxi ride from the Butterfly Beach Hotel. A big ‘market-style’ set up, live music, bars and plenty of delicious fish to choose from, everyone had a great time. Some of the group rolled into the hotel sometime between 2am and 3am… did the lovely rum and cokes have anything to do with that?!
Personal favourite moment of the night was our traveller Tom, mastering his ‘Barbados handshake’ with every local he could find. It still makes me laugh now thinking about it!
Saturday 8th May 2010
The traffic was not so bad on the way to the ground today what with it being a weekend day. A few of the group who are Nottingham Forest supporters, including myself, found a bar in St. Lawrence Gap, which had Sky Sports and was showing the first leg of the Championship play-offs. We watched our team lose 2-1 (booooo) then grabbed a taxi to the ground to join the rest of the tour group. We missed the start of New Zealand vs Pakistan, but caught the end, including the exhilarating finish where New Zealand beat Pakistan by just a single run. Exciting stuff, which set up the mood for the England match against South Africa later in the afternoon.
The England team put on a very impressive all-round performance to beat South Africa by 39 runs, scoring 168-7. Everyone was buzzing a talking about one of the best England Twenty20 victories in recent times. Fantastic stuff!
The evening was spent by the bar, with many of the group eating in the hotel, not venturing far, with the next morning’s early transfer in the back of their mind.
Sunday 9th May 2010
Today saw an early start for the majority of the group, with an air transfer from Barbados to St. Lucia. My colleague John accompanied the first group, and after I saw them off from the hotel, I took the opportunity to catch up with some work, as me and the second shift were not transferring until later in the early afternoon.
The flights - on small propeller aircrafts - were fine, and the early group even made it to the Bay Gardens Hotel in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia in time for brunch! Unfortunately, Liat Airlines left seven of our group’s cases in Barbados, and only managed to get them to their respective owners at 11.30pm. Even though our unfortunate Howzat Travellers were prepared for such an eventuality, it was still frustrating and we were all relieved once the cases had arrived.
In the early evening, we hosted a short ‘welcome to St. Lucia’ session and our local agents talked through some options.
St. Lucia certainly has plenty to offer and most of the Howzat Travellers were going to go on at least one of the fantastic sightseeing options presented by Glenise. The Catamaran Land and Sea tour was the most popular and the majority of the group thought that this would be their preferred way to spend their day of leisure on Wednesday.
The first evening in St. Lucia was spent either eating at the hotel or going for a short walk to check out the nearby bars and restaurants in the Rodney Bay area.
Monday 10th May 2010
This was our last early start of the tour, with the remaining cricket matches starting later in the day from now on. The hotel breakfast was enjoyable and plentiful and nearly all of the group boarded the bus at 8.15am to make their way to the Beausejour cricket ground - just 10-15minutes from the hotel. The two matches today were Pakistan Vs South Africa and England Vs New Zealand and with a new cricket ground to experience, everyone was looking forward to the day.
The sun was hot and the seats were again great - the group settled down to enjoy the day’s play. There was a loud band in the Castries Stand a few rows from the group, and I think most people could hear the banging of drums long into the night after leaving the ground!
The cricket itself was entertaining. Pakistan beat South Africa by 11 runs and England put in another superb performance to beat New Zealand by three wickets, scoring 153-7.
On the way home on the bus, the group were buoyant following another excellent England win and talk was of who we would play in the semi finals.
In the evening, we had organised a group dinner at the Fire Grill restaurant just round the corner to our hotel. Friend of the business Jonathan Agnew joined us for a couple of hours and spent time with our inquisitive customers, sharing his views on all things cricket. The food served at the restaurant was excellent and everybody seemed to really enjoy the night. The restaurant was hosting a jazz night that evening -part of the St. Lucia’s jazz festival - and after we had all eaten we were treated to some soulful grooves. Once bills were settled, some people made their back to the hotel, whilst others drifted off to one of the plethora of bars along the strip. Those who did decide to stay out had the pleasure of some of the cricket teams’ company, as England, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa players celebrated or commiserated following the day’s results. Collingwood, Wright, Sidebottom, Broady and many others seemed to be having a great night, and a particularly drunk South Africa player was spotted by one Howzat Traveller, telling another SA player how much he thought he was a good cricketer - you can imagine the slurring and gesturing, I’m sure!
Tuesday 11th May 2010
Today’s matches were scheduled later than any other day - the first eagerly-anticipated match between Sri and Lanka and India did not start until 1pm, and the just-as-eagerly-anticipated match between Australia and the West Indies was to be a day-nighter, not starting until 5pm. This allowed for a lie-in and the group made the most of this, relaxing by the pool and having a late breakfast. In fact, only half of the group decided to go on the bus to the cricket at 11.45am, with the rest either deciding to make their own way there later on or not go at all.
The ground was hot today and most of the group sought the welcome shade in which to watch the first match. Sri Lanka won the thrilling encounter, and needed three runs off the last ball when Kapugedera hit a magnificent six to win the match by five wickets.
Today was also the second leg of the Championship Semi-Final between Nottingham Forest and Blackpool, and the intrepid Forest fans in the group - me included - again found a bar showing the match. So, we left the cricket half way through the first match to see the football. The less said about that the better... In the day-night match between West Indies and Australia, the Windies team disappointed all of the local fans going all out for just 105 runs. The Aussies inevitably won the match by six wickets, setting themselves up for a semi final showdown with Pakistan.
With the cricket finishing quite late today, no big plans were made for the evening and most of the Howzat Travel party grabbed a bite to eat, had a few drinks and retired to their respective rooms.
Wednesday 12th May 2010
With the semi final places now settled - England Vs Sri Lanka on Thursday and Australia Vs Pakistan on Friday - today was a day of leisure; the first day of no cricket or travelling since we had arrived in the Caribbean.
The majority of the tour group including John and myself decided to do the ‘Land and Sea Tour’ which involved us spending a day exploring the island. First, we travelled by coach down the west coast, through the rainy (no surprises there) rainforests, visiting the fascinating botanical gardens, the dormant and steaming (and smelly) volcano and then a spot of delicious lunch in a restaurant with panoramic views of the coast and sea. For our journey back home, we travelled by catamaran - a couple of hours cruising along the sea, partying and drinking rum punch. Everyone had a great time - we all had a good laugh when we stopped for a while to have a swim, and some of the group started an impromptu diving competition off the back of the boat. Some very questionable techniques were on display… I don’t think a judging panel would have been dishing out many ‘6’s! Geoff and Fiona opted for a spot of scuba diving and the afternoon was made even better (for me personally) by the news that Leicester City had lost their play-off semi final too.
Once we re-boarded the boat to make our way back to Rodney Bay, Howzat Traveller Arif got cocky with the water hose and in true karma style, got drenched as a wave made a direct hit as he sunned himself on the front of the boat. It was truly hilarious.
The day was great fun and our local hosts had done us proud. We’d had a really enjoyable day. In the evening, our last Howzat Traveller joined the party; Elan, who had been delayed getting out to see us, got to the hotel and about 8pm and was reunited with his friends who had been on the tour from the start.
I didn’t venture far tonight - nor did several others in the group. We enjoyed a picnic and a few bottles of wine by the hotel pool as we reflected on the day.
Thursday 13th May 2010
Today was the day of the first semi final matches - both the men’s and the women’s - and England were playing Sri Lanka. Although everyone was optimistic that England could win it, you never take anything for granted in Twenty20 cricket. Sri Lanka had just beaten India in Tuesday’s match, so were hoping to continue in the same form. For me personally, after the disappointment of seeing my football team losing the Championship play-off semi a couple of days before, I was hoping that England would win and that it would go some way to make up for it. Today was also my birthday so a win for England would be a nice gift!
After breakfast, everyone boarded the bus in eager anticipation of the match. The crowd were in good voice and St. George flags were being waved in every corner of the Beausejour ground. The crowd witnessed England beat Sri Lanka by seven wickets, scoring 132-3 from 16 overs… we were in the final!
The majority of the Howzat Travel group returned back to the Bay Gardens Hotel, whilst several of us stayed to watch the women’s semi final between Australia and India, which Australia won.
That evening, the hotel was hosting its weekly rum punch party, which a lot of us joined in with. As it was my birthday, David B and some of the group had organised a birthday cake and card, and I found myself being force-fed some very strong rum punch as soon as I arrived at the party. As a result of this, the rest of the night is a blur, but I do have vague recollections of singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to myself on the mic, and (attempting to) play the steel drums, all of which took place after I voluntarily jumped in the pool in my clothes, to avoid the inevitable fate that had been promised to me…
All-in-all, a perfect day!
Friday 14th May 2010
Second semi-final day, and we all boarded the bus again to make our way to the ground. There was a good turn-out to watch the match between Australia and Pakistan and the noise coming from the various bands scattered around the stadium was simply immense. It was an amazing atmosphere and the match itself was also remarkable. After a rain delay at the start of play, Pakistan batted first, scoring strongly, but the match ended with Australia beating Pakistan by three wickets - Australia required 34 from two overs and got it with one ball left! The Pakistan fans in our group were gutted. The team - having got themselves in such a strong position scoring 191-6, ended up losing the match. Howzat Traveller Salim was heard talking about conspiracy theories for the next couple of days…..
Again, most of the group returned back to the hotel after the men’s match, but Hannah, Tracy and a handful of others also stayed to watch New Zealand beat West Indies by 56 runs.
In the evening, I went with John and Richard to the nearby Gros Islet ‘Jump Up’ street party. We saw some more of the group there - Arif, Reetesh, Neerav and Neetesh - and we all enjoyed some local cuisine and several local brews. The party itself was lively, with loud music booming down the streets. We had a great night and returned home in the early hours. John claims his recollection of the night's events is not very clear. That’ll be the rum then…
Saturday 15th May 2010
Transfer day today - we had two shifts for our return flight to Barbados. I took some of the group at 9.15am, with John following with his group a couple of hours later. As the first group were flying via St. Vincent, we all ended up meeting in the same immigration queue at Barbados airport.
I have to mention at this point, one of the funniest things seen on the holiday - whilst my group were waiting to check baggage in at St. Lucia airport, young Howzat Traveller Jack did a ‘Del Boy’ and leant against a door which promptly swung open and he fell into a room. Perfect slapstick comedy!
Also bringing a smile to everyone’s face later in the day was Keith’s case being one of the ones that arrived late at the hotel. He took some stick, but it was all in jest and everyone had a good laugh about it. It arrived safely later in the evening.
We also had a new episode in the becoming-all-too-familiar ‘Les losing stuff’ story of the holiday. To this point, he had lost his bag at the cricket, left his hat in a restaurant (retrieved), thought he'd left his camcorder on the bar (found in his room), lost his wallet (found) and now he had found his credit card in with his traveller cheques, after thinking he had left it in his safe and cancelled the card with his bank!
Anyway, once back at the familiar Butterfly Beach Hotel, the group checked in and headed straight to the bar for the early evening happy hour. I did my usual arrival routine of putting up my notices and ensuring that everything was in place for our stay for the last few days. Some of the party headed to Oistins or St. Lawrence Gap. I opted for a take away from the Chinese restaurant across the road from the hotel and sat on the hotel veranda enjoying a few drinks with some of the group.
Sunday 16th May 2010
The day of the final! With nervous anxiety and excitement in the air, we all boarded the bus to make our way to the Kensington Oval. We were there in plenty of time to take our seats and soak up the atmosphere. The England fans were in huge numbers, with supporters from other countries also adopting our shirts and colours for the day. There were also plenty of Aussies in the crowd, and the banter kicked off as the match started.
I won’t go into too many details of the match as you will no doubt have read and re-read the match reports and watched the game yourself. Needless to say it was an amazing day and really the icing on the cake of a fantastic tour to see England win the tournament and lift the cup. To think that the night before we flew out here, we were facing the prospect of not seeing any England cricket at all! A superb performance from England, who were very deserving winners.
After the match, most of the group headed back to the hotel and then on to various bars to celebrate the win. Some of us stayed to watch the women’s final, in which Australia beat New Zealand by three runs. A low-scoring match, but one which had some excitement at the end.
Back at the hotel, after a curry with some of the boys in the group, I spent the evening in St. Lawrence Gap having a few drinks and reflecting on one of the very best days in English cricketing history...
Monday 17th May 2010
The celebrations of the previous day and night were taking their toll on some of the group, who arose late in the morning missing breakfast. Fuzzy heads after many rum and cokes or Banks beers to celebrate the historic win…
Whilst we provided options for our guests to do sightseeing excursions today, the majority took the opportunity to just chill out, relax by the pool, on the beach - generally have a lazy day. A couple went on a catamaran trip, which was by all accounts a good day out, and half a dozen did the ‘see the island by jeep safari’ trip, which again, was enjoyable and a nice way to get to see a lot of Barbados in short space of time. A few guys also visited the Mount Gay rum distillery near Bridgetown and sample and purchased some of the finest rum the world has to offer.
Back at the hotel, some of us hired a jet ski and took it turns to take the powerful machine out on the choppy sea. Nerves of steel were required at times, but we were rewarded with an exhilarating ride.
In the evening, the hotel hosted a rum punch party (another one!) and the restaurant had a Caribbean buffet, which many of the Howzat Travellers enjoyed. I for one was tired after what had been a tiring day lazing about(!) so had an early night, but I heard report the next morning of a selection of the group enjoying a few drinks at the bar until the early hours.
Tuesday 18th May 2010
Sadly, today was the last day in Barbados for most of the group, with nearly everyone heading home and two going on to Jamaica and Montego Bay. We all enjoyed a very leisurely breakfast and had a lazy day, packing, relaxing by the pool and some even popped into Bridgetown for some last minute gifts for friends back home.
John had organised a farewell lunch at nearby ‘Charlie’s’ where we all enjoyed some good food and drink, using up the last of our Barbados dollars. We were even accompanied by music from John C’s iPod, specifically the song ‘Conquest of Paradise’ by Vangelis - the haunting tune that the teams had been walking out onto the pitch with, during the tournament. A very emotional tune, perfect for our last few hours on the island… a few people even had a twinkle in their eye and the emotion of winning the cup came flooding back.
After lunch, we were picked up at the hotel and made our way to the airport, where on arrival we were told that the plane was overfilled and that Virgin Atlantic were looking for people to spend an extra night on the island free, plus also receive a free international return flight for their troubles. About 16 of the group took Virgin up on this generous offer, extending their holiday, and immediately started thing about where they would like to go with their free flight.
The rest of us said our ‘goodbye’s to them, checked in and made our way through security to await our flight home.
The ICC World Twenty20 tour had been superb. Both Barbados and St. Lucia were very accommodating and the cricket could not have been scripted any more perfectly, with England beating Australia in the final. England cricketers winning their first major tournament! The Howzat Travel tour party had witness a historic occasion and we were all delighted and proud to be a part of it. Now, bring on the Ashes…!
Thanks to everyone who came on the tour – it was a genuine pleasure for John and I to host you all. We hope to see you again in the future, maybe the next ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka 2012?