Calypso rhythm skips a beat

ALMANACK

"CHEESE and onion." "I'm sorry, sir?" "Cheese and onion, please." "Just couldn't catch it, sir?" "Cheese and onion." "Right sir. Sorry sir. It's that steel band - they've turned me completely deaf." Thus did Surrey County Cricket Club import the exotic atmosphere of the Caribbean to London SE11 on Friday. The Lambeth Youth steel band bashed away mightily, to the pleasure of the passing crowd and the displeasure of marooned snack- vendors. But Sabina Park it wasn't.

There was a time when The Oval was almost a home ground for the West Indies. In the 1960s, recently expatriated fans queued in their thousands for a chance to watch touring teams. But for last week's Texaco Trophy one-day international, West Indian support was sparse. It may be the price of the tickets; it may be that it is more comfortable to watch the match on television; it may be that the sons and daughters of those 1960s fans do not find cricket a turn-on.

Another factor may be the plummy recorded announcement that greets new arrivals at the ground: "Banners, flags, musical instruments and excessive amounts of alcohol may not be brought into the ground." The final prohibition seemed to us to be barely enforced: everywhere, sweating fans staggered down the aisles, their coolers heavy with beer. But banners, flags and musical instruments were all but non-existent, which was a shame: we'd much rather listen to a blast on a conch shell than the inevitable dreary, beery renditions of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot".

Still, those West Indian fans who showed up were in good voice. We settled down with a group in the Gover Stand at the Vauxhall End, and it became clear that we had picked an influential bunch. Soon after the start of the England innings Shivnarine Chanderpaul took a few moments off from twelfth-man duty and clambered up into the stand for a quick chat with his friends.

A very knowledgeable crowd they were, too. The chap next to us reeled off a non-stop commentary: "Short outside the off-stump . . . Hmm, full toss . . . I've never seen an outfield this fast. If they set 250, that'll be a good target . . ." Excuse us, but which part of the Caribbean are you from? "California."

The banter was non-stop, especially when the West Indies pace bowlers were getting some stick. "Ambo! What's with the full toss, man? Timber! Timber, man!" Mark Ramprakash had the temerity to swipe Ian Bishop for six. The advice was immediate: "Bounce 'im, man. Bounce 'im in 'is nostril!" The England total was looking worrying. "No, man, when the strokes start to be played, we fly past 'em." A fan waved a newspaper featuring the headline "Lara will provide the key".

But Lara was low-key. His entry was greeted with quiet respect from the fans: they realised how important he would be in chasing the enormous total. And when he failed to dominate, the West Indian fans poured scorn on the English bowlers' tactics and the umpires' refusal to call a stream of no-balls. "Leg-side, man. Leg-side! Negative bowling!" "Dicky Bird? 'Ee a pussy."

The unthinkable happened: Peter Martin bowled Lara. Heads were hung, shoulders patted, consolatory cigarettes passed round, as if at a funeral. Richie Richardson played and missed. "Skipper! My skipper done played a battyman shot, man."

It was left to Junior Murray to lead the charge, to the delight of the Grenadian sector of the crowd, two highly excitable young ladies. He is, they informed us, the first Grenadian to play for the West Indies, and his every blow was greeted with exclamations of pride and delight.

Murray and Keith Arthurton (seeing the ball "bigger than a breadfruit", according to one observer) brought the West Indies to within range of the target. But then Arthurton fell, and Murray eventually ran out of partners. As the ladies from Grenada sadly packed away their binoculars, another West Indian fan produced a cunningly secreted horn and, dignified in defeat, blew a slow "Last Post".

THE Rio de Janeiro football club Flamengo did not stint in the welcome for Edmundo, their $5m signing from Palmeiros. Edmundo was greeted by the city mayor, two elephants, a tiger and a chimpanzee when he arrived in Rio. The striker, whose nickname is "Animal", was then taken on top of a fire engine through the streets of the city to Flamengo's ground, where he was presented to ecstatic fans. Follow that, Rangers...

HATS off to the Japanese yachtsman Minoru Saito, the 12th and last finisher in the BOC Challenge round the world yacht race, who sailed into Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday, 29 days behind the winner. En route, he sprang a leak, his mainsail was destroyed, his steering was damaged, he was caught near Cape Horn in a hurricane, his generator broke, and he was without a radio for four weeks. Enjoy that beer, Minoru.

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