THIS IS off-season for tourism in Antigua. Ironic that, when you consider the bright sunshine that those visiting these parts — generally from the USA — seek is available in abundance at this time of the year. This is also hurricane season in Antigua though. It doesn’t take much for that sunshine to suddenly disappear for long periods. Like has been the case since Wednesday night, once it starts raining, it doesn’t stop. They call it a murmuring shower in these parts, one that will keep at you incessantly. And it rained right through Thursday, the eve of the third ODI of the already rain-affected five-match series, leaving the Indian team stuck at their hotel.
Most locals don’t fear the match itself being affected, owing to the impressive drainage facilities at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. But some reports claim that the rain was a result of a tropical wave, which could potentially mean that there’s a tropical storm around the corner leaving the match under a cloud, literally. The Indian team, fortunately, did manage to slip in a couple of hours of practice at the stadium on Wednesday, with all the batsmen getting some valuable time in the nets at the back of the venue. The fast bowlers, too, finally got to stretch their limbs and bowl for half an hour adjacent to the centre wicket. But Thursday was back to being confined to the hotel.
It’s a unique, if not strange, tour for the Indian team. Here they are in Antigua, cut off from all the scrutiny and attention, some with their families, most on their own. Trinidad, at least, has enough of an East Indian presence for Virat Kohli & Co to be pursued for selfies and the odd autograph. But here in Antigua they are getting to experience a rare feeling, of being free and allowed to be themselves.
They suddenly don’t have any fans on their tail. They can walk around the lovely Jolly Harbour area, be it going to the supermarket or to the nearby restaurants, without having to conceal their identity under caps or any other form of semi-disguise. And so far in Antigua, they’ve made the most of it. To boot, the cricket’s been a mere sideshow, thanks to the weather and the lack of competition from the hosts. Sunday’s match was the best illustration as the West Indians slowly slumbered their way past 200 despite chasing a 300+ score. If the weather relents and there is action on Friday, India will once more go in as overwhelming favourites, with little opposition expected from Jason Holder’s young team.
The hideaway feel to the Antiguan leg was utilised to the hilt with a bonding session at Jolly Beach on Tuesday evening. It started with a game of beach volleyball and a team dinner organised at one of the beach restaurants. Some of the Indian players even indulged in some water sport activities, the water scooter being in high demand.
Others preferred to soak in the serene setting, the white sand underneath their feet and the charming Atlantic Ocean in front of them. Kohli and Sanjay Bangar, meanwhile, were locked in a lengthy discussion as they walked the entire length of the beach and back. On Thursday, while some spent time with their books, others stuck to lounging around the steep and step-like setting of the hotel. This is a team that’s spent a lot of time with each other over the last 10 months, spare a couple of new faces in Kuldeep Yadav and Rishabh Pant. And even Kohli acknowledged the value in being part of a tour where the team is allowed to focus more on building togetherness within the camp and letting the cricket take care of itself.
“I think we had enough practice leading up to this game. Not too bothered (by the rain). It is a good opportunity to have a day off and do something together as a team and enjoy whatever we have on hand,” he said. It’s not often you hear about a team getting to “unwind” on an international tour. This is not to say that the Indians have been taking it easy here. But the rain – and it’s incidental that the Indians always land up here around this time – has allowed them time to actually unwind.
“We went to the beach together. You can walk around, it is pretty peaceful. From that point of view, it is quite relaxing for everyone just to be close to nature. It is a beautiful place. Everything for everyone to do. We certainly enjoy coming to tours here,” the skipper said. “It’s important to grab these opportunities and stick together. Guys training together, sticking together, trying to find things to do together, I think it really helps to bond and it really helps you understand each other much better and I think that is a very important aspect of any team.”