Stanford Super Series 2008 Diary, Antigua
After months of planning and the ongoing saga of the politics of advertising rights safely put to bed, it is now the 24th October and Howzat Travel is jetting out to Antigua for the Stanford Super Series!
Does it really matter? Who's going to attend? Will the series be a success? These were the questions on everybody's lips...
Well, it soon became apparent that lots of our travelling party were Middlesex supporters first and foremost and were coming along to support their beloved team playing their part in the series of games being held at Sir Allen Stanford's beautiful stadium. The $20 million England vs Stanford Superstars game was simply an added bonus for them!
Our chosen accommodation was at the Jolly Beach resort in Jolly Harbour; a huge 40-acre site that was also hosting the Middlesex and Trinidad & Tobago teams, along with the England legends taking part in a beach cricket game, and various Sky TV and media personalities.
Stanford Super Series Dancing Girl
Saturday 25th October
After a leisurely morning and a few people nursing sore heads after the Howzat welcome dinner, we congregated at 3.45pm for the 35 minute journey over to the Stanford Stadium for the first of the 'warm up' games; Stanford Superstars vs. Trinidad & Tobago. I guess we were all apprehensive about what was to be expected. However, guests were stunned with the absolute beauty of the Stanford ground, and once we had collected our complimentary souvenirs we were soon in our places ready for the game.
The atmosphere was great, the locals had turned out in abundance and the scene was set. The Super Series had also been tied in with a week of 15th anniversary of independence celebrations and this really was a great way to start the festival. Although the game wasn't the most entertaining, fun was had by all, and Stanford eventually won the relatively low-scoring match, with Trinidad falling 22 runs short of the 146 needed.
Sunday 26th October
The series had started well; the atmosphere around the Jolly Beach complex was good with the players and media alike, seen smiling and enjoying a family holiday. We caught a quick word with Tyrone Henderson who suggested that he hadn't seen anything from the Trinidad and Tobago team to worry them, but it was clear that the trip was as much about a holiday as winning the cash!
Today saw us go over to the Stanford Stadium to witness England vs Middlesex. There was not as much of an atmosphere tonight and although England eventually saw Middlesex off, it looked like a very friendly affair. The Strauss dropped catch followed by a smile summed up the nature of the game perfectly. Something tells me a dropped dolly catch against the Aussies next summer would be taken rather more seriously!
Monday 27th October
At 10.30am some of the group congregated on the beach for the first in the series of Howzat beach cricket matches. This was extra-special since we had the honour of official Middlesex scorer, Mr Donald Shelly, adjudicating the game. Great fun was had by all, with our youngest traveller Alfie earning the top score with an unbeaten 52 not out!
We had all recovered from the initial jet lag and the holiday was getting into full swing. It was obvious that England supporters were looking at this as a beach holiday with a relatively small amount of cricket to attend in the evenings - in fact it was perfect! Red-hot sunshine, an all inclusive hotel, hob-knobbing around the players and media followed by three hours of cricket in a beautiful setting ' it really doesn't get much better!
Our new friends, the Trinidad and Tobago team, were challenging us to volleyball, table tennis and pool, and the Middlesex team were found relaxing with families around the pool. Tonight was going to be a big game with lots of cash riding on it.
We arrived at the ground around 4.40pm ready for the 5.30pm start. The locals were certainly rooting for Trinidad & Tobago but the Middlesex supporters were in great form. 'Middle, Middle, Middle... Sex, Sex, Sex!'
Middlesex batted first and set T&T a small target of 117, with Dextar top scoring with 39 and Rampaul being the pick of the T&T bowlers, taking four wickets for 25 runs from his four overs. Middlesex started well taking early wickets but the Trinidadians came through winning the match with 4 balls to spare.
It was disappointment all round for Middlesex: their hardened supporters were distraught and left the bar early for bed. For the neutrals, it was a great evening of cricket, sharing the success of a cool $280,000 with our new friends - photos with the trophy were popping up everywhere!
Tuesday 28th October
There was a slight 'morning after the night before' atmosphere around the Jolly Beach resort this morning following last night's game. We got a quick word with Andrew Strauss who passed on his disappointment, but like he said, 'Never mind'! And he was right - it sure wasn't the end of the world and let's face it, Trinidad and Tobago needed the cash a hell of a lot more than anybody from Middlesex.
Tonight's game was easily the best so far; England vs. Trinidad and Tobago. It was apparent that many more English fans had arrived in Antigua and the split between England supporters and the locals was fantastic: it really had a carnival family atmosphere with shades of what we have come to expect with our own 20/20 domestic tournament.
Tonight was great, the game going to the final ball and England just squeezing through. The disappointment of yesterday had long gone and the anticipation of Saturday's game was reaching fever pitch.
Wednesday 29th October
Today was our first free day of leisure so it was spent by our travelling party in numerous different ways: a Catamaran trip, the tourist attraction Shirley Heights and a visit to the capital of Antigua, St Johns, were all popular choices.
Today also saw the final group of Howzat travellers arrive in the afternoon, and the joys of jet lag, tiredness and the all-inclusive alcohol were all taking their toll.
The night ended with a gathering at the bar... maybe a few too many drinks for some!
Thursday 30th October
After a relaxing morning, the full group congregated for the journey over to the Stanford ground at 3.45pm for the Middlesex vs. Stanford Superstars game. Again, the Middlesex posse were in fine form with Barmy Kev leading the singing and chanting. We all noticed how good the Stanford Superstars looked, making an impressive 173 and bowling Middlesex out for 115.
Friday 31st October
Today's entertainment all took place at the Jolly Beach resort and we were all treated to an entertaining game of Legends Beach cricket, and although the overall game was of a very friendly and pretty poor standard, it was great to see a few of the big guys back in action; Richards, Richardson, Ambrose, Walsh, along with our own Gough, Lamb, Small, Malcome, Hussain, & White.
The highlight was probably Kev's rendition of his Abba favourite, when a chorus of Dancing Queen was aimed at a certain Mr Gough; 'You can dance, you can bowl, we're having the time of our lives' with smiles all round and good humour, everything was just perfect.
The group made the most of not having any evening cricket by having a group meal in the Indian restaurant at the resort. A fun night, great entertainment and good company saw a few stragglers propping up the bar into the small hours.
Saturday 1st November
The big day had arrived and after a leisurely morning, we had decided to leave at a much earlier 2.00pm for the big game. It was noticeable how many more of the supporters had the same idea, with large queues at all the gates.
The guys on the grass banks set up camp on Howzat Hill, or for Middlesex games, Murtars Mound, and with the atmosphere building nicely it was clear that tonight was going to be huge party.
We all took along several pre-mixed bottles of rum and coke and enough picnic goodies to feed a small army, and with the sun beating down, we really were living the dream. In fact, the cricket seemed very much secondary to the carnival atmosphere.
With all eyes now on the big $20million game, England won the toss and chose to bat, and being fair, made a reasonable start with Bell and Prior quickly moving the score onto 21 from the first few overs. Disaster then struck with a truly outstanding display of bowling from Taylor and Sammy. England obviously hadn't turned up mentally prepared, the Stanford Superstars clearly wanted it and it showed. England finished making 99 all out, setting the Superstars 100 to win a cool $20,000,000.
The Stanford boys made the chase look easy, completing the task with 56 balls to spare and a full 10 wickets in hand.
All the travelling support should have been distraught, but do you know what? It didn't make the slightest difference, we partied with the locals, we danced and cheered the Superstars around their lap of honour, for this was a party, not serious in any way whatsoever. It was 20/20 cricket at its very best and for all the bad publicity back in the UK, you would be hard pressed to find an Englishman or women in the ground that had a bad time. The game finished with a firework display to top anything we had ever seen before. I've seen a few, including Sydney Harbour for NYE and an amazing millennium display, but this made those look tame in comparison!
With the night still seeming young, around 18 of us headed off to St Johns for the 'Calypso Spectacular', part of the independence anniversary celebrations, whilst others headed back to the hotel bar. The event was good fun and a fitting end to the day, which in all honesty had been one big party - and one to savour at that!
Sunday 2nd November
With plenty of hangovers around the camp, the guys and girls spent the morning in numerous locations around the complex without venturing too far.
At 4.45pm the group headed over to the tourist attraction, Shirley Heights, where we enjoyed steel band and the independence celebrations.
Today had been an extremely long day and with tiredness kicking in from the Saturday night parties, for most it was an early night once we returned back to the Jolly Beach. However, some of the party decided to participate in the karaoke night, with Barmy Kev, as per usual, leading the way with a couple of entertaining renditions!
Monday 3rd November
Today, some of the group had booked a morning charter of a fishing boat over in English Harbour where we enjoyed four hours of the finest deep sea fishing in the Caribbean. Highlights were Ian's 40lb Wahoo being taken and bitten in half by a shark, whilst Steve and Ralph had the privilege of King Mackerel at over 30lb each. Other captures included a Barracuda each for Ben, Minesh and Rob.
After the morning's antics and plenty of fishy stories knocking about, we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon around the site and in the evening, enjoyed more of the delicious food that the Jolly Beach restaurants had to offer. The evening was once again rounded off with the now-standard quota of rum & cokes at the hotel bar.
Tuesday 4th November
With this being the last full day in Antigua, many of the Howzat party decided to go to St Johns and have a look around the local shops and markets, buying gifts for friends and family back home. Others decided to make the most of their last day by the pool or on the beach, topping up their tans to show off to the poor people back home who had by all accounts, been experiencing sub-zero temperatures and snow. It made us all appreciate the beautiful Antiguan weather even more, although the return back home the next day, and an ever-nearing return to work, was at the back of everyone's mind.
In the evening, the full Howzat party ate and partied together, taking the opportunity to take lots of photos with their new friends, and party into the night courtesy of the disco entertainment provided by the hotel.
Wednesday 5th November
On our final morning in Antigua, we were greeted to the worst weather we'd experienced since arriving. Torrential rain had been coming down all night and morning, and many areas of the Jolly Beach complex were underwater! I suppose if there's one day you don't mind the weather being bad, it's the day you're going home...
Most people got up for breakfast, wading through six-inch deep water to reach the restaurant, then returned to their rooms to pack. Some people had some Eastern Caribbean dollars to use up, so they ventured to the local supermarket to spend them. The most popular purchases were bottles of rum, and with so many to choose from, the decision of which to buy was a challenging one!
We left the hotel on our transfers to the airport slightly earlier than planned, as some of the roads on the island had become flooded, causing delays to journeys. The last thing we wanted was to miss our plane home (or was it?)! As it happened, we made it to the airport in good time, witnessing some serious flooding en-route. Our plane home was delayed as a result of the bad weather, but only slightly. Once aboard, we settled in for the flight home, with many people trying to combat the prospect of jet-lag by getting a few hours sleep.
Once we arrived at Gatwick airport, we said our final goodbyes and everyone went their separate ways.
On reflection, the cricket could have been better, but everyone who made the trip to the West Indies had a great time nonetheless. The Antiguan people had been extremely welcoming and hospitable, the weather had been great, and the atmosphere and fun we'd all experienced and enjoyed was amazing! By all accounts, the Super Series had been covered by the press back home in what you might call an unfavourable manner, but in our view, things could not have gone better. We're already looking forward to coming back out again next year to the Stanford Super Series 2009!