19, pretty sure it’s 19. My current job is to count players on the bus; we need 22. David Warner is one of them, Daren Sammy another. In my new role as Head of analytics for St Lucia Stars, I thought I’d have a lot of firsts, counting players on the bus never even occurred as one.
So I count, 20, 19 again when someone leaves the bus, then 20, a few minutes later 21 and 22 get on. Standing to get a good look I count and check again, one more time. From my seat at the front is hard, players slump, and tall players obscure the shorter ones. Then I walk down the bus, and I count that way, before standing in the middle of the bus and counting again. I tally until players look at me with a face that suggests I’ve registered their attendance nine times. So I count them all one last time. This is in my control.
There is 22, I’m pretty sure, certainly sure enough to tell the driver we’re ready to go. When it turns out, everyone is on the bus; I’m as relieved as I was when my sons were born and almost as happy. The bus heads to the ground, everyone on their chosen seat once you select a place, it’s yours, I go with the second row from the front, until smaller buses mean I have to cram into the front. I’m learning all these cricket shibboleths quickly. Like gifts over 750USD have to be declared to the ICC.
The night before I had a big decision to make: where to sit in the dugout. The team arrived and went into the change rooms, the coaching staff went on the ground, and here I was in the dugout, I didn’t even know which one was ours. When I work it out, I look for a seat. The first spot is too close to the camera and would obscure my view. So I moved a few feet down, but there is a bow in the wood, and I think will annoy me, so I move to another place and settle there. I wasn’t sure what would happen once the game started, but I was happy enough with my spot.
There was still two hours before the game, and there was little else to do other than walk out on the ground and look the pitch. On my way out I trip over the padded boundary triangle. I feel like an idiot, but later in the day, I see about 14 people do it, it's just higher than you think, apparently something to do with the shape of the triangle. I have a new found appreciation of players who grab a catch on the boundary, throw the ball up, and make it back into the ground without tripping and having the ball land on their head. In the middle, I nod when people talk about the pitch, and offer up my thoughts on the selection conundrum of the day.
Coming into the series I looked at the pitches over the last three years, looking for patterns and performances. It suggested Trinidad was an excellent place to bowl spin but at the ground the day before I talked to the curator who said he’d taken over the pitch and it was now far better for quicks and batsmen. My first instinct was that he was tricking the opposition guy, but he was right, in the last 12 months the kind of players who were effective had changed on this ground. And when I saw the pitch, that’s what I saw, something that would help all players, not just spin bowlers.
Back at the bench Mohammad Khan (the Stars GM) and I chat nervously. The first game of the season is weird as a fan, as a member of the support staff, it’s filled with endless possibilities meaning your brain can’t even really function right. I take some notes on our warm-ups, but quickly have to put my notebook down because Daren Sammy is having throwdowns, and he keeps flicking the ball off his pads and missing the net. I field them as best I can, but when he strikes them because I’m behind the padded triangle, they fly up.
This is all new to me. Where do I sit, what do I say, who do I say it to? Should I wave hello at opposition players and coaches I know? Should I power my laptop off, being that is no power supply near the game? Should I have memorised the super over rules and is that even my job? What should I even be writing notes on? Will my handmade scoring system spreadsheet work? What information am I missing from it? Will, the bowlers, follow the plans from my part in the bowling meeting, if they do and get smashed, will they listen again? Will we win, how will it feel to win, lose, tie, win the super over, lose the super over, win the count back after the super over?
On the bus, I had time to count, to check, to make sure, to ensure accuracy as best I could. When the game starts, and I’m on the bench trying to provide analysis, there’s no time; there’s no thorough examination, there's just sixes, wickets, and everything in between, all with a deafening soundtrack of crowd and music. What happens on the ground is out of my control.