Cricket: Calypso clamourin the court of Lara the king: How did it feel to be an Englishman in the packed stands at Port of Spain? Robert Winder reports

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The Independent Online
IN TRINIDAD, they like having a good laugh at the English. 'You wouldn't ask English man to sing Calypso,' said the radio, 'and you wouldn't expect English man to wolf down hot pepper . . . but you can trust English man to make a good cup of tea.' Over the top, a cartoon-posh English voice goes 'I say, frightfully good, smashing, spiffing, I say.'

It was hard to tell, in Port of Spain at the weekend, what was more fun: cheering local heroes or jeering at the English. When Haynes made a hundred the crowd yelled and waved (to celebrate winning bets, if nothing else); but when Matthew Maynard dropped his second sitter and Angus Fraser clomped after the ball in a wild, unsteady circle, the crowd burst in hysterical glee.

Cricket at Queen's Park Oval is not quite like anything in England (on Saturday the gates were locked at 8.30 am). There are hoardings for Chelsea FC and London Irish RUFC; and the Queen's Park members are spectators of the old school - sedate, polite, with blazers and straw hats (not much different from the nobs at Lord's). But in the feverish Port of Spain atmosphere they seem like members of a school so old it closed years ago.

Anyway, in the hot open stands the crowd has interests of its own. On Sunday, the slow handclapping began after an hour; a precise chant (Lara, Lara, Lara) drifted above the general clamour. The West Indies were going well, 60 for none, and it looked as though our bowlers needed something stronger than those bottles of water Fraser was hoarding at fine leg. Those who saw the West Indies score 313 in St Vincent opened Chablis ('brought from England, honest, here, have some') and prepared for the worst.

But the huge local crowd was dying for a wicket. Brian Lara, Trinidad's brilliant new star, was the man of the moment; all week they had been looking forward to watching him swank his way to a century. 'If Lara he wake up in a good mood,' they said, 'England better be watchin' out, gonna be

b-i-i-g trouble.' In Jamaica his car was nicked at gunpoint, so he was also featuring in surveys on the crime wave. 'England have crime too,' one man said. 'But they ain't have Lara.'

All the magazines featured his face, and the kiosks behind the high, bright grandstands were selling Lara hats, Lara T-shirts and Lara wristbands along with coconut milk, shark'n'bake, barbecued chicken and grilled corn. On Saturday, he stroked a few boundaries before flicking across one from Fraser - but Sunday would be different. In the Carib Beer Stand, the men on glass bottles and pipes were shouting (Lara, Lara) and clapping their hands. Simmons and Adams jogged singles, England fans read the paper ('Bloody 'ell, United lost. . . I said United lost. . . against Chelsea of all people') and the chanting grew louder. Lara, Lara, Lara, Lara.

Simmons seemed to hear. He widened his stance and hoicked three balls from Caddick for 6, 4, and 4. But then Adams wristed Salisbury straight at Atherton, and the stands quivered. For a minute you couldn't hear the salesmen scuttling along with sweets, nuts, drinks, candy floss, popcorn, papers, lottery tickets, ice creams and pies (Piemanagain, Piemanagain]). Even 'the best nutsman in the world' stopped chucking his paper bags into the upper tiers. It was all Lara, Lara, Lara.

And there he was. A little guy with a maroon cap, neat and dapper, tip-tapping to the wicket on his toes, bat at his side as if it wasn't worth swinging it yet. He failed again, but that's cricket. Caddick bounced one outside off stump, Lara nicked it, and for one awful instant there was near-silence.

And later, when Alec Stewart started smacking the ball towards the big cedars beyond the ropes, someone tried to start a chant of their own. Stew-art, Stew-art. It didn't catch on, for some reason.

(Photograph omitted)