A report by Dean Wilson for London’s Mirror.
Former fast bowler Angus Fraser remembers his Test heyday in the Windies and his love for the Caribbean.
“Cricket Played Louder” is the ubiquitous hashtag for the local T20 tournament in the West Indies also known as the Caribbean Premier League.
But it wasn’t all that long ago that the loudest cricket in the global game was a Windies home Test match where the bass of the sound system, the blare of the conch shells, and the roars of a partisan crowd made for an intoxicating and noisy combination.
There were characters such a ‘Gravy’ in Antigua in the stands whipping an easily encouraged crowd into a frenzy, but his job was made all the easier by what was taking place in the middle, either West Indian batsmen thrashing the ball to all parts or their fast bowlers terrorising the target at the other end.
The grounds were intimate and intimidating, especially if you were a new young batsman trying to make out which bowler had become a dot in the distance as they began their run up.
Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop, Curtly Ambrose. The pace was indeed like fire and places such as the Kensington Oval or Sabina Park played host to hot sweaty parties, with some high octane cricket thrown in.
In 1986 with the Windies at the peak of their powers an England team that included Graham Gooch, David Gower, Allan Lamb, Sir Ian Botham and Mike Gatting failed to score a single century between them in five Tests and lost them all in a humbling whitewash.
In 1990 England were 1-0 up with two to play and could almost touch a piece of history before losing the series 2-1, but in 1994 normal service was resumed with the Windies 3-0 up after three matches to seal the series before they arrived in Barbados, but what happened next is still talked about by those who were there.
From 46 all out in Trinidad to a 208-run win at the famous Kensington Oval thanks to twin hundreds from Alec Stewart and 8-75 in the first innings from Angus Fraser.
“I loved playing cricket in the West Indies,” remembers Fraser. “It was such a vibrant place to play the game and every country you went to it was a week long celebration of cricket.
“The West Indies were the yardstick through the 1980s and the early 1990s and it was hard to beat them but you gave it a good go and the crowd would respect you for that.
“It was noisy and full of atmosphere and you didn’t get abuse as such you got the mickey taken. ‘Hey Fraser you look like a big cow, full of runs and ready for milking!’ or ‘Hey Fraser you’re just like a Volvo. Easy to drive!”
“The shame now is that the grounds are almost certain to have more England fans than home fans. The game has taken a dip and that is reflected in the support, and yet it is also true that England have won just once in 50 years out there.”
That solitary win came in 2004 when Michael Vaughan’s team had their own pace merchants with Steve Harmison’s 7-12 in Jamaica a highlight as too Matthew Hoggard’s hat-trick in Barbados.
Brian Lara’s 400 not out in Antigua prevented the whitewash, but the 3-0 win was a huge moment and Joe Root is expecting to follow in his mentor’s footsteps.
But before the celebratory rum punches start to flow it is worth noting that this is still a proud region full of proud cricketers who might not be as dominant as they once were, but who can still pack a punch of their own.