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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 March, 2004, 11:07 GMT
Confusion and passion
By Ed King
BBC Sport at Sabina Park, Jamaica

Sunburn is only a few hours away for these rash England fans
Sunburn is only a few hours away for these rash England fans

One American tourist is clearly confused by the exciting events at Sabina Park.

"But if it's such a great game how come it's not international?" pondered Jon, a New Columbia university student on his Spring Break.

He thought cricket was a "little bit like lacrosse" before seeing the action for the first time.

Luckily Bruce, the barman at the Chelsea Sports Bar, one of Kingston's finest establishments, intervened before the conversation progressed any further, leaving Jon in no doubt what all these England fans were here for.

Test cricket has arrived in Jamaica, and everyone in the country, from waitresses to taxi drivers has an opinion - and a prediction.

Current estimates vary from annihilation to a sound drubbing, but no-one is in any doubt. England will be leaving empty-handed.

The Blue mountains rise 7,200ft from Kingston, providing a magnificent backdrop to the stadium.

As a city Kingston has its problems.

Drugs, poverty and anger with the government mean certain areas are out of bounds for visitors, unless you want to sample the inside of a Jamaican hospital.

The rain was unexpected but some were determined to stay
The rain was unexpected but some were determined to stay

But if the surrounding streets of Sabina Park are not exactly salubrious, the warm atmosphere inside more than makes up for it.

Nowhere is this more evident than the Mound Stand, a grassy knoll in the corner of the ground that boasts an enormous sound system, beach, pool and as much beer as you can drink.

Not always a good offer when the Barmy Army - who all seem to have hollow legs and sunburnt torsos - are on form.

Their chants are orchestrated by a Portsmouth fan in an orange wig, and another character sporting an England top hat, with tattered shorts and T-shirt, who goes by the name of Jimmy Saville.

Jimmy originally hails from Oldham, but sold all his possessions to become a professional England fan - he now travels from tour to tour carrying a small blue bag and a yellow toy bird.

He also stands at the front of the stand waving a flag bellowing: "Michael Vaughan's Barmy Army," which gets the expected response from the assembled throng.

If it is a tactic designed to strike fear into the opposition then it fails dismally.

Indeed, most of the entertainment laid on seems solely for the benefit of the Barmy Army - the West Indies fans are far too busy with what is happening in the middle.

Jamaican pride

Devon Smith's boundaries and Fidel Edwards's wickets have been thunderously received.

For all their recent problems West Indies are still a fine cricketing side, and one that gives a great deal of pride to all Jamaicans.

Once they are on the field all those inter-island squabbles are forgotten, with even Brian Lara, sometimes derided in these parts, given a rapturous reception.

A win over England at Sabina Park is not so much desired - it is expected.

The sun and beer will have defeated the Barmy Army well before the scheduled end of the match - and the West Indies hope Vaughan will also be conquered.

Meanwhile Jon from New Columbia is heading west to Negril, wondering why England and West Indies play five day-long games of lacrosse dressed head to toe in white.


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