That cricket still evokes a strong emotional connect in the West Indies, cannot be doubted. Walking up to the immigration official for a temporary visa, to cover the first leg of the limited-overs series between India and the West Indies, makes it evident.
“My young son is a cricket fanatic, he was glued to the game in Chennai,” says the official, acknowledging how the sport rules lives, while stamping the passport. She was referring to the Indian Premier League (IPL) final on May 28, which saw Trinidad’s popular all-rounder Dwayne Bravo turn out for MS Dhoni’s victorious Chennai Super Kings. However, the focus remains on the man who had a rare failure that night — Bangalore Royal Challengers’ hit-man, Chris Gayle.
The Jamaican invokes strong feelings. The omission of the in-form Gayle from Saturday’s opening Twenty20 international, at the Queen’s Park Oval, and the first two of the five-match ODI series, is a subject of heated discussion.
The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has demanded the Jamaican appear before them and explain his strong comments in a radio interview after he was left out of the initial part of the just-ended Pakistan tour. Gayle, who had just recovered from injury, packed his bags for the IPL in April and finished the biggest selling point of the league this season. But some fans, at least in Trinidad, wish he had been as consistent while playing for the West Indies.
“He has not been this consistent playing for the West Indies,” said taxi driver, Chroysanthus, not entirely impressed despite Gayle finishing with the orange cap in the IPL. He complained the players had attitude problems that did West Indies cricket no good. Hotel receptionist, Mylyn, was sure her family would be at the ground, but wasn’t confident if the hosts would win, especially in Gayle’s absence.
Cricket is not the only subject being dissected. The suspension of Jack Warner, Trinidad’s FIFA vice-president, over corruption charges, in a major row leading to Sepp Blatter's fight for re-election is also being debated. But for the depleted but freshly-crowned ODI world champions, who land late on Wednesday, the major worry will be the weather. The first major showers of the season lashed the island late on Tuesday, and the forecast is more rain till the weekend.
Apart from the sky, India players will keep in mind the country’s past record. In 1983, soon after their shock World Cup final win over the West Indies, India faced the mighty Caribbean side in a full series, at home. The result was a rout, thus avenging Lord's stunner.
Times have changed. While India have risen, especially the confidence in their ranks, the West Indies have lurched from one problem to another. Still, the Suresh Raina-led team will be aware of a more recent World Cup record in their first port of call.
The last time India came to Port-of-Spain, for the 2007 World Cup, they returned home with heads bowed after being shown the door in the first round. Although injuries, illness and senior players opting out have weakened the team, a good performance will at least temporarily halt the club versus country debate.