Some days before travelling to Jamaica, one had tried to get a measure of what the country was thinking about the India-West Indies Test series from a friend in Kingston. This friend, a fitness fanatic who works double shifts as a security officer, gave a long list of reasons why Jamaica is bothered about things more important than cricket --- corruption, crime, dwindling economy that has seen the Jamaican dollar plummet to around 120 against the US dollar and the increasing difference between the lower middle class and the upwardly. Cricket features bottom of the heap. Few are bothered, more so after West Indies’ abject surrender. “Just be done with it” seems to be the common concession among many here.
The only ray of hope for this country where number of homicides has reportedly jumped 20%, the highest in last five years, is their heroes. While cricket is not its only supplier, Chris Gayle remains a crowd favourite. One’s taxi driver from the airport too happened to be a Gayle, Boddy Gayle. “Relation of Chris?,” one asked. “Don’t think so, won’t mind though,” was his reply just as the taxi passed a small hoarding that announced the arrival of cricket in Jamaica.
The bigger hoardings though were hogged by Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Jamaica’s latest swimming sensation Alia Atkinson. Athletics was, is and looks set to remain the heartbeat of this nation. And not just because Bolt is expected to win three consecutive Olympic gold. But also how Bolt has moved a nation with every lightning stride he has taken from a humble beginning in Trelawny to world fame. And when the same man reportedly insists on doing advertisement shoots only in Jamaica so that his countrymen get employment for a few days, fanfare turns to blind worship.
Cricket, at least here, gets overwhelmed by such stories. There are very few characters left in the game. And the results have especially wrecked hearts in Tests. Still, unlike the last time MS Dhoni was here during a triseries involving Sri Lanka, there is a quiet buzz around the city about what this match could offer. “Some of my friends have been planning to go to the Test together,” Hirender Singh, an Indian engineer currently working in Kingston, told HT. There are a few things people are looking forward to. Perhaps a better performance from Virat Kohli. Or whether Antiguan pacer Alzarri Joseph, aged just 19, could actually make the eleven after being included in the squad.
But many are also deterred by the recent history of Sabina Park. Between 1953 and 2002, West Indies won six and drew three of the nine Tests they played against India here. Now the last two Tests, in 2006 and 2011, have been won by India. This Test threatens to go that way too. Any other result however could help cricket gain some lost ground in a country where they once flourished.