Hey, white boy

Pursued by vagrants and suitors, English journalist James Fuller takes to the cricket field in rural Trinidad

Illustration by James Hackett

I’m a lifelong lover of cricket. As soon as I arrived in Trinidad and Tobago with my bride-to-be, I set about finding myself a team to play with. I had no idea what lay in store for me on the village cricket grounds of south Trinidad.

It was a chance, somewhat drunken meeting with the captain of a Rio Claro side that earned me a trial. Under the influence of a dozen Caribs, it seems, I talk a very good game.

In rural south Trinidad, outside the oil and gas plants, white faces do not abound. As the only foreigner in the south-east zone (a competition of around 300 players), I soon became an object of fascination. The combination of large crowds, a few drinks, and an English cricketer of restricted ability on conspicuous display, proved nerve-wracking.

For my first ball in my debut game, I bowled a low full-toss which was summarily despatched for four, to whoops of delight from the boundary. My second was even worse, a waist-high ball down the leg side; the batsman’s eyes ignited and he launched it high into the clear Caribbean sky for six.

“White boy, we lovin yuh bowlin,” cackled two voluminous ladies at the base of the bleachers. “We lovin dat. Ohhh . . . meh God!” They rolled around in fits of laughter jabbing each other.

West Indians are noted for their relaxed attitude to time and life. My friend the “skipper” kept telling me that we needed to reach the ground by noon for a 1 p.m. start. We would do some stretches, warm-up routines, fielding drills and the like. I made the mistake of believing him. Time after time I arrived at midday, only for the rest of the team to wander up ten minutes before (or after) the game started.

This wouldn’t matter unduly, except for a group of vagrants attached to a bench beneath the leafy banyan tree on our home ground. Each time I puttered up in my 22-year-old Toyota Cressida, they greeted me with sentences including the words “white boy”, “dollar”, “drink”, and “gimme”.

One day as I foolishly arrived at noon for another match, and found my newfound friends eagerly awaiting me, I decided to walk into town. Strolling past a rumshop and on towards Royal Castle and KFC, I wondered how to spend 45 minutes in Rio Claro without eating fried chicken. Then I became aware of a muttering, stumbling presence behind me; one of the vagrants had decided I was a prize worth pursuing.

I picked up the pace, but a hundred yards later a blur of rampant hair and shredded clothes was still in hot pursuit. I shifted gear again, but the vagrant scuttled on resolutely. He had remarkable stamina for a guy who spent his daylight hours passed out under a tree.

I only shook him off by taking the roundabout at speed and shooting down a side street, where I skulked for ten minutes at a veggie stall lavishing undue attention on a wilted bundle of bhagee.

Fielding near the boundary, I was often drawn into conversation. In a game at Moruga, on the south coast, I was fielding at long-off and began chatting to three men smoking under a tree. One of them, carving a hole through the industrial-strength smog in front of his face, said: “Hey, white boy, yuh lookin for some real strong ganja?” The haziness of his eyes suggested that he knew what he was talking about.

But the most bizarre experience of my season was still to come. As I went to the Cressida to put my boots on before the start of play, an Indian man and his bespectacled daughter walked past. “Hey, white boy” (it appeared my name had circulated by now), “my daughter real like yuh, yuh know.” The man gestured at his daughter in case I’d missed her. She bowed her head coyly.

“Really.”

“She comin to watch yuh play cricket,” he continued, arms outstretched and waving up and down like a magician’s assistant.

“Really, that’s lovely.”

The father observed me for a couple of seconds and then upped his game.

“She real intelligent, yuh know. She go to UWI and study engineerin.”

“OK.”

“She have money too. She have a house dong de road,” he said pointing to the bottom of the hill. “We comin back and watch yuh play.”

The sales pitch at an end, the pair made off down the hill, never to be seen again. Maybe somebody had told them about my debut game and those first two deliveries.