Hoot! Hoot! Clap! Clap! Hoot! Hoot! Clap! Clap! Hoot! Hoot! Hoot! Clap! Clap! Clap! Hoot! Hoot! Hoot! Clap! Clap! Clap!; went the cacophony of air-horn and human percussion for four days across Bourda Oval, Georgetown, Guyana! The red, white, and blue dressed Pepsi Man (Joseph) paraded the stands with his incessant trumpeting exciting the crowd only too pleased to follow his lead, during the 1st Test between Australia and the West Indies.
Guyana may not be in the Caribbean that we dream or expect, and though being a South American nation that excels at cricket, the Guyanese know how to celebrate the great game as just West Indian 'islanders' do. The 1st Test of the 2003 series between Australia and West Indies was by no means sold out but you could be excused for believing it was with the buzzing crowd rocking to the tunes thumping out from innumerable sound systems blaring from around the ground.
It was said the Test Series got off to a 'bad start' by playing in Guyana, a statement easy to believe if you have never been here. Georgetown does not have the beaches or coastal ambiance of Barbados and Antigua but since we were in Georgetown for the cricket, it mattered not there were no white stretches of sand for the atmos in the ground was on par with what to expect at the 3 other Tests. Notwithstanding, Guyana has many geographical attributes Barbados and Antigua could only wish for.
Quintessentially, Caribbean test venues are very similar, but you do know when you are at one and not the other, whether because of the crowd, the food, the beer, the music, or backdrop. When you are in Bourda Oval however you do know you are not at an island venue, and when you take in the full picture of following the game to South America, you should be pleased you've come here and not just Barbados or Antigua.
'Bourda' as it is shortened to, only holds 8000, so even with what we would call a small crowd by Australian standards, this crowd was large. The rickety wooden stands rise high over the ground, putting you on top of the action. An open terrace runs the full length of Eastern side and is home to the first scoreboard I have ever seen that displays each team's 1st & 2nd inning batting scores for the entire game; never do you have to 'recall' how many runs Steve Waugh got in the 1st inning! This vast terrace is met at the North end by the Media Centre and Lance Gibbs Stand, and the South end by the Rohan Kanhai Stand. Kenny Wishart and Clive Lloyd stands are on the Western side with the Laparkan Stand, a small high rise, wedged between Clive and Lance.
It is, to say the least, a beautiful little ground. It is antiquated, a basic firetrap with tiny exit stairwells leading from the back of the stands, but possesses an intense charm from yesteryear. This is something we may not experience again as a new stadium will be built for the 2007 World Cup to replace this famous Test venue that most can only recollect from aged video footage. Bourda's main drawback for the humble spectator is the fence keeping everyone on the right side of the terrace; the security measure made higher and stronger after crowd invasions marred the end of the Australia v West Indies One-Day International in 1995.
From our vantage in the upper level of the Laparkan Stand (at third man to the right-hander) the only vision impairment in the front few rows were Joseph with his horn when passing and the travelator of vendors keen to flog us anything from beer to bikinis, if not West Indians coming to greet us! Many West Indians travel game-to-game, so very often the same smiling faces appear when you least expect them. And when they do, you don't mind them stopping in front of you for a handshake, a fist pump, or brief conversation on the status of play, if you can hear them through the sound systems.
Bourda was the first ground I'd been where the public announcer had to ask the DJ's running the sound systems to only play music between overs. In Australia, you can't bounce a beach-ball across the terrace, so heaven knows what they would do if someone smuggled in a 12-speaker sound system. The first 30-mins of the game was hard to follow with the sound system in the Laparkan stand blaring endlessly, but once the jam was pumped only at the end of each over or when a boundary was hit, the game was the full focus.
The 55 Australian's booked to join 'The Flag' in Guyana swaggered to the music, whilst absorbing Guyana's finest El Dorado 15-year-old rum and a classic test match. It seemed one-sided once Brian Charles Lara won the toss and elected to bat only to be bowled out for 237, but it was still full of surprise and opportunity. Australia smashed 489 with the great Justin Langer hitting a wild 146, Ricky Ponting 117, and Adam Gilchrist 77. To take positive's from a loss, the West Indies captured 9-204 either side of the incredible 248-run partnership between Justin and Ricky. Still, the two lads did their job with the bat and our bowlers did theirs.
With a 252 runs lead, it was looking like a 3-day game but the Windies for a brief moment looked to do a 'Calcutta 2001' on us by chasing down the deficit, getting a good lead, and then bowling us out. Brian Lara whacked a superb 110 and with Daren Ganga's classy 113, the pair easily erased the 252 deficit and went to stumps on Day 3 at 5-389; a generous lead of 129 and plenty of time left to play. Sadly, Day 4 was a different story as Jason 'Dizzy' Gillespie ripped through the Windies weak lower order. An injured Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who hit the 3rd fastest hundred in test history in the first innings, was out for 31, and the rest of the side wasn't worth a mention; Dizzy routing them for 5-18, and yours truly winning the sweep after wagering A$2 on the Windies only making 22-runs for the morning.
Set 147 to win, out of touch Matthew Hayden left us for 19, leaving the two current masters Alfie (79) and Punter (41) to wrap it up for Australia in the 43rd over. The Day 4 crowd of just 2000 was disappointing as the Windies were in a great position and could've used greater support. They needed Shiv to help reach a lead of 200+, which would've been a lot harder to chase, but that's all part of the game and post-game analysis over local beverages many of which were shared late into the night at the Dutch Bottle Cafe even though an early-start day trip to amazing Kaieteur Falls was on the cards to replace Day 5!
Guyana deserves more tourism and if any good words said here can help, I'll be pleased to see more people touching down in Georgetown. Much the same way Zimbabwe was a tremendous experience during the 2003 World Cup; thus I can't wait for the 2004 Test Series in Africa's former bread-basket. I hope Australia plays in Glorious Guyana on their next Test series but until then we look forward to 'Tremendous Trinidad' in 5 days' time.