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T20 World Cup Diary: Cricket, rum and Bajan hospitality – true spirit of Barbados

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One bright Saturday afternoon in the heart of Barbados, surrounded by the remnants of old sugar cane plantations, I found myself savouring a grilled chicken sandwich in the yard of a cosy fast-food joint in the village of Bridgefield. English is the language of choice here in Barbados, and with the currency firmly pegged at two-to-one to the U.S. dollar, life hums along under the almost unbroken spell of sunshine.

The air is alive with the sounds of remixed Rihanna hits — the island’s most celebrated native talent— bouncing across the gravel courtyard, where brightly dressed locals gather, their shirts and dresses a riot of colour, their sunglasses reflecting Barbados’ vibrant energy.

The bustling markets in the capital, Bridgetown, are an open invitation to engage with the locals, who are typically warm and eager to chat. In no time at all, Marc St. John, my cab driver for the day and a native Bajan, had filled me in on everything from the island’s passion for sports to the trendiest hangout spots. “Sports are in our blood here. We follow all kinds, but if you’re Bajan, cricket is a must,” John shared. “Are you here for the cricket? Man, the England-Australia match will be something else. Can’t wait to see Joff in action.” It turned out that John had once been a schoolmate of England pace ace Jofra Archer at Christ Church Foundation School in Oistins.

Marc St. John, a cab driver, had once been a schoolmate of England pace ace Jofra Archer at Christ Church Foundation School in Oistins.

Marc St. John, a cab driver, had once been a schoolmate of England pace ace Jofra Archer at Christ Church Foundation School in Oistins.
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

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Marc St. John, a cab driver, had once been a schoolmate of England pace ace Jofra Archer at Christ Church Foundation School in Oistins.
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Born and raised in the rural parish of Saint Philip, about 40 minutes east of Bridgetown, Archer embodies his Bajan heritage with pride. His homecoming was marked by a rained-out T20 World Cup match against Scotland, where he managed to bowl two overs for 12 runs. Despite the weather, the occasion was significant, with the Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, inviting Archer to a hospitality box. This match marked his first international appearance on home soil, and the Bridgetown crowd greeted him with a heartfelt ovation.

“You could say he bleeds cricket,” remarks his childhood friend, John. “While football was more popular among our classmates, Jofra’s dedication to cricket was unwavering. He would participate in practice sessions and match-day games, often knowing that the buses home would be scarce late at night.”

READ | Roland Butcher rolls back time and life, addresses state of West Indies cricket

Archer’s love for the game is matched by his affection for his bulldogs and two pet parrots, Jesse and James. Last year, as he recovered from an elbow injury, he even played for his former school side in Barbados. In a three-day match, he took four for 18 for Foundation against Lords. The Barbados Cricket Association Division One scores even listed him as having scored 11 runs with the bat for his former school, Christ Church Foundation. John says there is no envy or disgruntlement due to Archer’s decision to play for England instead of the land of his birth. “We were delighted to see him doing so well,” he says.

England’s Jofra Archer signing autographs after the T20 World Cup game against Australia

England’s Jofra Archer signing autographs after the T20 World Cup game against Australia
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

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England’s Jofra Archer signing autographs after the T20 World Cup game against Australia
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Cricket is deeply embedded in the fabric of this island nation, home to a population of roughly 281,000. The finest players are commemorated at the Kensington Oval in downtown Bridgetown: Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell, and Clyde Walcott, collectively known as ‘the Three Ws,’ who hailed from Barbados.

ALSO READ | ENG vs AUS: Failed matchups, innocuous lengths and a faltering batting order set up England’s heavy defeat

The last three years have been remarkable for the island, which is just 21 miles long by 14 miles wide. In 2021, 55 years after gaining independence from Britain, Barbados became a republic and swore in its first president, Sandra Mason. This historic event ended nearly 400 years of British rule and severed ties with Queen Elizabeth II. Barbados joined Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dominica, which became republics in 1970, 1976, and 1978, respectively.

Charles, Prince of Wales (right), receives the Order of Freedom of Barbados from President Dame Sandra Mason (second from right) during the ceremony declaring Barbados a republic and inaugurating its first president at Heroes Square in Bridgetown on November 30, 2021.

Charles, Prince of Wales (right), receives the Order of Freedom of Barbados from President Dame Sandra Mason (second from right) during the ceremony declaring Barbados a republic and inaugurating its first president at Heroes Square in Bridgetown on November 30, 2021.
| Photo Credit:
AFP via Getty Images

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Charles, Prince of Wales (right), receives the Order of Freedom of Barbados from President Dame Sandra Mason (second from right) during the ceremony declaring Barbados a republic and inaugurating its first president at Heroes Square in Bridgetown on November 30, 2021.
| Photo Credit:
AFP via Getty Images

“We love to love our visitors,” says Sam, a key-maker who is stationed at Kensington Oval for the duration of the T20 World Cup. “We’ve got everything, man… you want cricket? We have the Oval.. all beaches in Barbados are free to the public… you wanna surf? Head to Soup Bowl off Bathsheba Beach.”

According to local lore, rum was invented in Barbados, and if you ask Sam, it’s available almost everywhere — even in gas stations. Rum and cricket are its twin lifebloods. Coconut trees, tropical drinks and foam-crested azure waves further add to the allure of this tiny coral gem nestled between the Caribbean and the Atlantic. May its spirit continue to endure.

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