Pavilions at the Oval

The Oval – memories of my first visit

By Omilla Mungroo. We were driven to the Oval that morning by my friend’s uncle; from the countryside of Trinidad to its capital city, Port of Spain. It was near 4 a.m. when we left home: long winding country roads swerving into a straight highway.

The old man talked almost all of the way, and probably forgot that his windows in his van were down, and stuck, I suppose, since we could not put it up no matter how hard we tried. He did not even notice what we were trying to do, and we resigned ourselves to being mercilessly slapped by the biting cold air that early dawn. Teenagers nowadays would make some noise and have their own way, but we were just thankful he was taking us.

It was still dark when we arrived. The Queen’s Park Oval lay sprawled, bare, waiting for excitement. I remember seeing small, scattered heaps of people, small families, groups of twos and threes and fours, lying around on strewn cushions, along the cycle track where we would view the match from later in the morning. We soon found out that these people were from the south of Trinidad.

One race at Queen’s Park Oval

Cricket in this country encouraged unity of the many different races of people living here. Even if one had a quarrel with his neighbour in the morning, after a match where the West indies won, they would be celebrating together. Africans, Indians, Chinese, Syrians, Europeans, mixed races, all became one race at the Queen’s Park Oval supporting one team.

Unorthodox spectator that I am, I was supporting both teams because I just love the game. I wore a white t-shirt with two coconut palms on it, and a moss green pair of shorts. The t-shirt supported the West Indies and the green shorts, Pakistan.

It was our first visit to the Oval, and I did not think my friend grasped the significance of this for me. The flood lights were on in the still dark of dawn, but I felt almost enchanted by the ambience that greeted me inside the walls surrounding the oval. I did not think that such quiet could become the noise that lived through a match between the West Indies and the then world champions – Pakistan.

Sign outside the Oval
Pavilions at the Oval.

Earthquake during cricket match

This visit was in 1992, and Pakistan had already well beaten England to win the World Cup by 22 runs!

The Oval is where I had watched many cricket matches before, but only via television, for all my short life. Now I was actually going to be a part of it. I was also going to see the fastest bowler in the world at the time, Waqar Younis, in person! As the thought flashed through my mind, I reached in my bag to feel the new autograph book that I bought especially for that occasion. Yes, it was in my bag.

I also remembered writing a short piece in my English class about a one-day match where an earthquake had suddenly disrupted the game. It happened when West Indian batsmen Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes were at the crease; both on their way to scoring centuries each! Of course I was looking at the game at home with my grandfather at the time, via live television coverage. So, we felt the earthquake at home too.

My English teacher had actually read my piece for the class and stated that this student must pass English. It was plain to see she enjoyed reading it. I longed to visit the Oval even since then!

Excitement rose fast when the players came out

It took us a while to find a comfortable spot. My friend’s uncle was a regular at the Oval, and he advised us to sit near the Guinness Stand.

Then the hum began. People streamed inside like schools of fish! It was jam packed before we even thought of breakfast. Excitement rose fast when the players came out to warm up. As we looked for the visitors, Wasim Akram, Inzamam Ul Haq, and Waqar Younis, the sun had risen very quietly, unnoticed, until we felt its sting.

The crowd grew quickly and umbrellas went up almost at once. I thought it was the most eerie thing – to see a quiet, empty, near holy place filled to capacity and buzzing with excitement, without even recognising when it happened.

Then we saw them as if for the first time when the match was ready to start. The first person I recognized was Inzamam Ul Haq, as the Pakistanis walked onto the pitch amidst the cheering crowd. Then louder shrieks and shouts blasted through the air as our West Indies team followed.

Brian Lara had not broken a record as yet but I was enthused at the thought of actually seeing him in person. He somehow had the makings of genius even then. I am proud to say I got his autograph long before he broke his first record! I also got the autograph of a debut player for Pakistan, Basit Ali, who did not last very long on the team.

A moment with my bowling hero

Whistling, clapping, jesting, everyone made some sort of noise, and the first ball was about to be bowled.

I could not help but stand very still when my then bowling hero Waqar was sent to field near the boundary in front of us! Of course all his young fans in that part of the crowd shouted his name out. My friend was jumping up and down and clapping, screaming his name wildly, her long straight hair hanging crazily about her face.

For a short moment I felt he was looking straight at us and then I froze altogether because although I was wearing my sunglasses, I felt he could see straight through to my eyes! We stared at each other for a full minute I thought, before he turned his back to us. I felt like the only person he saw in that whole crowd. Then the first ball was bowled.

No doubt, it was going to be a great match!

October 2014 – Issue 12

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