West Indies "Full Monty" Cricket Tour Diary - 2009
Monday 2nd February 2009
The Howzat Travel Team had spent nearly a full year planning this tour and with everything perfectly arranged down to the finest detail, it was Mother Nature who put a spanner in the works the night before we were due to depart. Heavy snow showers across the UK on the evening of the Sunday 1st February created many travel problems; I personally sat for three hours on the M25 in the evening having decided to make the journey down from the midlands several hours earlier than originally planned as soon as I saw the first flakes fall on Sunday afternoon.
Most of our party had the same idea and made the journey down to Gatwick Airport the evening before we were due to fly. For some unfortunate travellers who tried to make their way to Gatwick on the morning of the 2nd morning, this simply proved to be an impossible task!
For those that made it, we met as planned at Gatwick Airport South Terminal and proceeded to check-in and headed air-side ready for the 9 ½ hour flight to Kingston, Jamaica. For those we had left behind, we made the necessary arrangements for them to fly out the following day instead, firstly to Montego Bay then onwards to Kingston.
Somehow, Virgin flight VS29 only experienced a short delay and we were soon on board and airborne on our way to sunnier climes. It turned out that our Virgin flight was running on a skeleton staff and had literally grabbed the first 12 employees through the door and got them on board to service our flight to Jamaica. Surely this will be a story we will tell for years to come?
Around an hour and a half later than scheduled, we touched down in Kingston and after collecting bags and clearing immigration, we were on our short 20-minute journey to the Pegasus Hotel.
Once checked in, we had a leisurely afternoon and we took the opportunity to relax and enjoy the 5* property in the heart of Kingston.
Tuesday 3rd February
With jet lag taking hold, most of us were up nice and early enjoying breakfast, after which the group spent the day in many different ways; the Bob Marley museum, the swimming pool and the local Barmy Army game of cricket involving Courtney Walsh and Jimmy Adams all seemed to be popular choices.
At 7pm, the group then headed to the bar to congregate for the Howzat Travel welcome dinner, where we all enjoyed a traditional Jamaican meal consisting of jerk chicken and fish. A fun evening was had by all and the meal gave us an opportunity to socialise and make new friends.
Wednesday 4th February
The first day of the first Test match at Sabina Park saw the group up nice and early in anticipation of the day's cricket. The atmosphere around the place at breakfast was good and everybody was excited about what lay ahead.
At 9am, we took the 10-minute drive down to the stadium and found our seats in the Upper North Stand along with other tour operators and English supporters. England won the toss and elected to bat, however it was the West Indies who took the early advantage with Strauss, Cook and various members of the top order not really bothering the scorers. England managed some kind of fight back with Pietersen playing quite fantastically for his 97 before, quite literally deciding to give his wicket away, getting a top edge of the bowling of Benn. England eventually finished the day at 236-5 with the match equally poised.
Thursday 5th February
With the game set up nicely, we were all optimistic for a good start by England, however when Flintoff left the field without troubling the scorers, Prior was the only member of the squad who proceeded to score with a well deserved 64. The remaining tail collapsed leaving England with a first innings total of 319. Gayle and Sarwan then proceeded to score easily, and with the new referral system working truly into the host side's favour, it was the West Indies who finished the day well on top at 160-1.
Friday 6th February
The game looked to be slipping away from England, so some of the group decided to spend a leisurely day around the hotel and Kingston. However, the cricket-goers saw England start to fight back with Broad being the pick of the England bowlers, taking both centurions Sarwan and Gayle in the last over before lunch, with wickets also falling during the afternoon and tea session. England were now back in the game finishing the day on 352-7.
For most of the group, we headed out to Cuddy's, the local sports bar owned by Courtney Walsh, where we enjoyed a fun evening and a few beers.
Saturday 7th February
Nobody could have anticipated what was to happen today. It will always be remembered as one of England's darker days in test match history! The day started brightly with Broad completing his first five-wicket haul for England, before eventually bowling out the West Indies for 392, giving them a slight first innings lead of 74. Strauss and Cook then took the field shortly lunch as disaster stuck; first Cook then Bell lost wickets, leaving England just 11-2 during the interval.
After lunch, things got much worse as Pietersen was bowled convincingly by Taylor and the remaining seven England batsman were eventually all out for 51 and losing embarrassingly by and innings and 23 runs.
With the day finishing early, the group headed back to the hotel and straight to the bar, where we spent the evening discussing the wrongs of English cricket. Surely changes needed to be made for the second Test in Antigua?!
Sunday 8th February
With a free day ahead and use of the transfer coach, some of the group made the journey up to Strawberry Hill in the Blue Mountains, where they enjoyed a scenic day and tasted the famous Blue Mountain coffee. For others, a day by the pool relaxing seemed a fitting way to spend the unexpected free time.
Monday 9th February
Our first planned free rest day of the tour saw the group depart in different ways; some headed over to Ohos Rios where they experienced Dolphin Swimming and Dunns River Falls. Again, the majority took the opportunity to recharge their batteries around the pool.
Being our final night in Jamaica, the bar seemed the ideal way to end this part of the tour. We all had a reasonably early night in anticipation of tomorrow's journey to Antigua.
Tuesday 10th February
After a leisurely morning at the hotel, we were soon on our way over to Norman Manley Airport, where we all said our goodbyes to Leo and the gang before taking the two-hour flight over to Antigua. We arrived slightly ahead of schedule and were fortunate enough to be one of the first through the slow Antiguan immigration system.
We then had a 30-minute drive over to the rather jolly 'Jolly Beach Hotel' where we had planned and booked an Antiguan welcome meal at Lydia's Restaurant on the beach front.
It didn't take long for the all inclusive drinks to take full effect and most of the party were seen propping up the bar into the small hours.
Wednesday 11th February
With a free day of leisure, after taking in the beautiful blue sea and mile long beach, the group needed no excuses to wander the huge 40-acre Jolly Beach site to get their bearings. At 5pm, our second Howzat Travel group had arrived, so yet again, the bar seemed a fitting place to gather and make friends with our new arrivals.
Thursday 12th February
At our Howzat Travel orientation briefing of Antigua, we got everybody together to give them a few words of advice and let them know what they could do to make the most of the island.
At midday, both groups went for a game of Beach Cricket; we set up the same pitch as the legends played during the Stanford Super Series here back in November! A few hours later, we were calling stumps on a fun game which saw everyone get involved.
After a quick turnaround, most of the group headed off to English Harbour before continuing up to Shirley Heights, where we enjoyed the most fantastic sunset and steel band.
A great evening was had by all and we were all looking forward to tomorrow's cricket.
Friday 13th February
It couldn't have been a more fitting day for what followed. We left the hotel at 8.30am for the 40-minute transfer over to the Sir Vivian Richards stadium. As many as 5,000 Brits had descended on the stadium for the 2nd match of the Digicel Series. The problems were apparent to all instantly!
We were greeted with a 200-metre queue to gain access to the ground, and after waiting patiently for some 30 minutes, we strolled through the most relaxed security I have experienced in recent years. Hundreds if not thousands must have missed the start of play, through lack of common sense and any urgency from the laid-back staff.
After entering the ground, we then went for a walk around and sat patiently in the sun awaiting team news, but soon realised it wasn't coming. We decided to check the scoreboard and realise that wasn't working either!
With weeds and thistles littering the grassy banks and a very tired outfield, the whole place was starting to look like a joke.
The game began, and after a short rain break during the first over, the West Indian bowlers were pulling up on their run into the wicket and complaining about the surface. With no announcements in the stadium, after a few calls to the UK we realised the game had been abandoned for the day!
We quickly organised for the transfers to return ASAP, and once back at the Jolly Beach we spent the afternoon online and chasing the news updates. Rumours were that the WICB had known about the state of the wicket for days. The England team had been training at the Antigua Recreation Ground (ARG) and it was now believed that this will be the venue for the game re-commencing on Sunday.
Saturday 14th February
With an unexpected free day, we swapped some of the planned excursions around so the group didn't miss out on the revised cricket schedule.
The evening finished with all at the bar chatting over the days adventures, the newly named 'Three Mustget Beers' were leading the drinking competition and showing us all how it's done! A rendition of the banana boat song with the 'Coconuts' in toe at the karaoke will never be forgotten. A fun evening and with the joke of yesterday seeming like a distant memory, we were all looking forward to seeing cricket back at the ARG. Ohhh arrrgggghhh pirates!!
Sunday 15th February
We organised for the transfers to leave the hotel at 8.30am for the 20-minute drive over to the ARG in St Johns. We entered the ground almost immediately, but there was some confusion regarding tickets and seating allocation (i.e there was no allocation). Despite this little setback, we found our preferred spot in the ground. The staff at the ARG had done a fantastic job in turning the place into a suitable location for test match cricket at the drop of a hat.
With the West Indies winning the toss and putting England in, it was England who dominated with a first day 301-3, Strauss top scored with an impressive 169.
Monday 16th February
We were again off to the ARG for the second day's play, and overnight discussions about the quality of the pitch were still the hot topic of debate. 'Would it break up??, 'How long would it hold out?? were the questions on everyone's lips. England continued to dominate with Collingwood making a fine 113 and England finishing on 566-9. With just 13 overs left in the day, they allowed themselves the privilege of having a bowl at the West Indians. The day finished perfectly with Gayle literally giving away his wicket with a somewhat erratic shot, leaving the home side on 55-1.
We went back to the hotel in high spirits where (you guessed it!) we were back at the bar for another night of all-inclusive pirate antics from the 'Three Mustget Beers' or as some would say 'The Rum Bunch'.
Tuesday 17th February
With England looking on top with runs on the board, we were hoping for the bowlers to have a good day in the field. However, it took almost until lunch for the wickets to start to fall, then at regular intervals England eventually bowled WI out for 285. Rightly or wrongly, Strauss never inflicted the follow-on and put England back out to bat for the final seven overs of the day, which saw England finish on 31-1.
Wednesday 18th February
With a few of the tour operators and supporters already flying onto Barbados , the ground was noticeably quieter today. England started slowly with the bat and runs seemed hard to come by! We eventually moved up a gear and with 45 overs left in the day, setting the Windies 500 runs to win. At the close, the local side were 143-3 and the game set up to be an all time classic.
Thursday 19th February
With some Howzat Travellers moving onto Barbados and some attending the game, it was day that everybody really was looking forward too. Surely, England would see it home and level the series!
The day actually started miserably as it rained well into the morning session, then almost from nowhere the sun came out and it was like a different day! The covers were lifted and we were on and ready to go. There was still a problem however, in that Sarwan and Chanderpaul were batting quite fantastically and it really didn't look like we were going to get them out.
Then, when all hope had faded, there was a glimmer of light. Broad bowled Sarwan and it was 'game on' again!
The wickets then continued to fall at regular intervals and for a few moments we really thought we were going to win the game! Unfortunately it wasn't to be. As darkness fell, the umpires offered the Windies the light and they dually walked off to draw the game.
Today had been one of the most enjoyable day's cricket I can remember for a long time. As the sun set over the ARG, it really had been a great test match and one that will be remembered for years to come.
Back to the hotel for one final night at the all inclusive bar, Antigua had come to an end. Not the result we had all hoped for, but even still, we all had a great time and went to bed looking forward to Barbados.
Friday 20th February
After a leisurely day, we were checked out and ready to transfer over to VC Bird Airport at 3pm. We checked in then managed to join the back of the biggest, slowest-moving queue ever - to pass through immigration. To our benefit and after the farce at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, the government had offered to waiver our departure tax for showing a match ticket, so that was it, Antigua was over, complete - with an extra test match and many memories!
After a 50-minute journey on Caribbean Airways, we were soon on the ground and through immigration on the beautiful island of Barbados.
Once on the ground, we took the 25-minute journey along the coast to the lovely Amarylis hotel, where, once checked in, we all headed off in different directions to grab some supper and an early night.
Saturday 21st February
With several days of leisure ahead, we arranged for our local agents to come over and chat to the group about Barbados.
Various different trips were booked, after which we all departed in different ways to explore the island.
Sunday 22nd February
For six guys from the group, we had organised a day's fishing. However, it may as well have been a booze cruise, since we didn't get any fish and proceeded to drink the boat dry. We all had a fun morning out in the choppy ocean.
Others had chosen to attend England's warm up game in St Michael, where tales of cheap beer, (one of our guests) Heather's donkey and lots of sun were floating around the Howzat hotels.
Monday 23rd February
Again, the group departed off to spend the day in different ways. For some it was back the 2nd day of England's warm up matches, for others it was a relaxing day.
For the 'Three Mustget Beers' and myself, we hired a car and went off exploring around Barbados. After a leisurely lunch and a stroll around Spietstown, we headed over to Bel Plain, a place where one of the 'Musget Beers' Tony worked back in 1962 after becoming shipwrecked. Here, we visited all his old haunts and spoke to the locals about the people and changes around the village.
This really was a fascinating and interesting thing to do. It gave us an insight into the local village life and something we will all remember. Cheers Tony!
As we drove around these winding village roads, we kept noticing the many rum shacks located on almost every street corner, so decided we try one or two out! Well, one became two and two became four. Before we knew it, we were well on our way and the reminder of the day is somewhat a blur? All good fun though and a fitting end to a great day.
Tuesday 24th February
With the sun shining and lovely breeze across the island, the group departed to spend their free time in many different ways. For most however, a simple day next to the pool was more than satisfying.
Wednesday 25th February
During the morning, some of the group took the opportunity to do the Mount Gay Rum tour, where we learned about the rich and historic culture of this fine rum. For lunch, we headed over to the Butterfly Beach Hotel to meet up and have drinks with members of the other Howzat Travel group.
After a busy morning and with the third Howzat Travel group arriving in Barbados, a few beers and a welcoming BBQ prepared at the Dover Beach Hotel were ideal to help the new group settle in and relax.
Thursday 26th February
The first day of the (now) 4th Test at the Kensington Oval saw us all up nice and early for the 8.30am departure. We were not surprised at the amount of traffic that lined the South West corner of Barbados. After 45 minutes, we had arrived at the ground and once we were through security we were sat in place in anticipation of the day's play.
England won the toss and elected to bat. The pitch looked flat, offering nothing for the bowlers - and it showed. England cruised to 301-3 with Strauss making another test hundred with a fine 142.
Friday 27th February
With the same arrangements in place, we were again ready for the second days play and it was England who continued to capitalise with the bat. With one hour remaining and England reaching 600 runs in a 153 overs, England declared and let the West Indies try and bat out the remainder of the day. Anderson took a wicket off Gayle and we were all hoping for more as the Barmy Army got louder and louder, but it wasn't to be. The West Indies finished the day on 85-1 - some 515 behind.
Following the day's play, we had arranged for the groups to meet at Oistins Fish Fry held every Friday night. What followed was a night of full-on drinking, with rum served by the bottle, good food (the finest freshly-caught fish you could ask for) and plenty of dancing.
Saturday 28th February
With a few sore heads and one or two people missing at breakfast, we were surprisingly chirpy for the drive over to the Oval. One guest, Richard, was complaining of shoulder injury from last night's antics but it was all good and we were looking forward to the days play.
It was the West Indies who continued to prove that there was nothing in the pitch for the bowlers as they comfortably moved onto 398-5 at the close of play.
The main highlight of the day was one of our guests Gravy and his pal Mayfield entertaining all with music and theatrical dancing.
After all the fun of the previous night, for most, Saturday in Barbados was an early night.
Sunday 1st March
Feeling refreshed and filled with a fine Amarylis breakfast, we were soon back at the Oval. Being honest, we needn't have bothered as the game was heading clearly for a draw. Watching Sarwan get to his personal best 297 was the only real highlight. West Indies continued batting right up to 4.40pm, when they eventually declared on 749-9 leaving England a tricky three overs before the close. England scrapped through, leaving the prospect of a draw and a West Indies win the only options for the 5th and final day.
Monday 2nd March
The final day of the Barbados cricket experience and for some, the final day of the tour was spent watching a game fizzle out into the inevitable draw. Again it was Gravy and Mayfield who kept the spectators going in the Greenwich and Haynes Stand.
For our final evening in Barbados, we headed out in our different directions, but for most, a last stop at St Lawrence Gap was on the agenda to catch up with friends old and new.
Tuesday 3rd March
After checking out at noon, we were given access to a day room for the remainder of the day. With a final few hours left on this beautiful island, we spent the time lazing around the hotel. At 5pm, we were collected and headed off to Norman Manly Airport for the 40-minute flight to Trinidad.
Once safely through immigration, we took the 30-minute transfer over to the capital, Port of Spain, where we checked in to the Crown Plaza Hotel. Since it was now getting late, a light snack was the norm for most before we all headed back to our rooms for some much needed rest.
Wednesday 4th March
After travelling yesterday, most of the group enjoyed a leisurely morning before congregating at the hotel reception to explore Port of Spain. As we made our way over to the Oval, after stopping at various banks to get some cash, we were all ready for something to drink. 'Trotters' came to the rescue! Here, we enjoyed a beer before heading back to the hotel and then onto the shopping district of the capital; Independence Square.
In the early evening, some guys headed back off to Trotters to see the football, whilst others caught up with them later. For most, the evening was spent in Sweet Lime, where we enjoyed good company and good food.
Thursday 5th March
Again, we had another free day in the Port of Spain - some chose to visit Tobago, whilst others just enjoyed a lazy day around the pool and the city. In the evening, other members of the Howzat Travel tour party (Barbados/Trinidad tour) arrived and we were all looking forward to the Test match tomorrow.
Friday 6th March
The first day of the 5th Test against the West Indies saw us all leave the hotel at 9am for the short 15-minute drive over to the Queens Park Oval. Yet again, England won the toss and elected to bat. The local paper had the headline 'Result Pitch', but as England cruised to 258 for 2 at the close, there was plenty suggesting this too was going to be a draw. The group arranged to meet at 7.30pm in the hotel reception and proceeded to head out to Ariapita Avenue to enjoy Trinidad's strip of restaurants and nightlife.
Saturday 7th March
England continued to take control of the game, with Collingwood and Prior both going on to make their 100s, finishing up with 161 and 131 respectively. At 546 -6 England declared, leaving 19 overs in the day to have a bowl at the West Indies openers. It took until the penultimate over of the day for Panesar to bowl Smith, which gave us a little hope that England may have a chance of winning the match. With everyone in good spirits, we headed off out to sample Trinidad's nightlife, which saw a fun evening and two of our group rolling home at 4am after a big night at the local club.
Sunday 8th March
With sore heads, a few stragglers missed the start of play, but as it turned out, it was England who made the most of a great morning session. Broad took the wicket of Powell, followed by Sarwan taking the prize wicket of Gayle. At drinks, the home side were on 125-3 and it was England who looked like they were right in the game. However, Chanderpaul and Nash put a proverbial spanner in the works for England and saved the West Indies blushes, seeing them finishing the day on 349-4.
Monday 9th March
During the morning session, the West Indies continued to head towards the England total, but it was England who eventually started to take the wickets and wake up the England supporters. At last, a decent afternoon session which finished with England bowling out the WI for 544, only 2 runs behind. It meant we finally had a game on! England then took to the field in the right frame of mind, hitting 80 runs in the final 15 overs. England had lost three wickets, but this meant nothing if they had any chance of winning the game. It meant a lively session in the morning should see England get two sessions to bowl the Windies out and maybe even draw the series.
With the talk around the bar heightened, it was great to see the fans having mixed thoughts about the day ahead.
Tuesday 10th March
The final day of the test series saw England start in dramatic fashion, with Pieterson leading by example making a fantastic 102 in just 92 balls. Along with Prior's quick 61, England declared at lunch for 237-6. It was a game now where England had two sessions to bowl out the thus-far resilient West Indies batting line up. England took wickets at steady intervals throughout the afternoon. We were singing 'Monty Panesar Wicket' and 'Jimmy Andersen Legend', which seemed to work well. In the fading light, England unfortunately were two wickets short of winning the match. The West Indies finished up on 114-8, massively behind the small England total, but when batting to draw the match, it was no great surprise that the Windies would hold off England to win the series.
Nevertheless, the Howzat Travellers were in great spirits after witnessing an exciting day's test cricket. For most of the party, we headed out to Chagarumus for the Howzat Travel 'farewell dinner'. A fun evening was had by all and for some, a few last night drinks were enjoyed with various members of the squad in Aura bar.
Swanny's rendition of Oasis's 'Champagne Supernova' left us all jubilant!
Wednesday 11th March
Our final full day in Trinidad saw some of the group go on the 'Trinidad Highlights Tour', whilst others chose the Caroni Highlights tour, where they enjoyed seeing the Red Scarlet Ibis during their boat ride along the mangroves of Trinidad.
With this being our final night in Trinidad, most stayed local and enjoyed an early night in preparation for a long day's travelling.
Yet again, the tour had been an absolute success and for the entire group. They had the most fantastic time and there were many highlights and memories that will last a lifetime. There had been lots of controversy along the way and the farce of the first Antiguan test will be a hot discussion for many years to come. It did however, enable us to sample the atmosphere back at the ARG and this was a very special moment for us. The cricket had been somewhat disappointing and very negative especially from the West Indian point of view. The pitches had obviously been rolled-to-death and draws seemed inevitable. All-in-all, the cricket in the West Indies is hard to beat and with the rum flowing and the beautiful surroundings, people and weather, we all already thinking about next tour to South Africa later this year...