South Africa’s readmission, a near-death experience and a Bajan boycott made 1992 a summer to remember for greenhorn scribe Telford Vice.
“Ladies and gentlemen we have a problem,” the captain drawled dawdlingly into the cabin from speakers that sounded like 1950. “We will return to Norman Manley International Airport.”
The ladies and gentlemen thus addressed bloody well hoped so.
Among them were the West Indian and South African squads, their assorted suits and tracksuits, travelling supporters, and us, the press. All had gasped – or had tried to gasp but, for some, there was no gasp where their gasp should have been, just a frantic, frozen silence – when, shortly after take-off from Kingston, the aircraft had shuddered and dived to starboard so steeply that some still swear they saw a wingtip kiss the Caribbean itself. Perhaps we had laughed too loudly when Jamaicans told us BWIA did not denote British West Indian Airways and was instead a coded question: But Will It Arrive?
It was April 8, 1992.
Behind us lay the first one-day international. Ahead lay two ODIs in Port of Spain and a Test match in Bridgetown, South Africa’s first after 22 years of apartheid-induced isolation. Or did they? All we could see ahead, behind and all around was the incredibly blue and extremely close ocean. But the captain was true to his word and we returned to Norman Manley International Airport without further incident.
For one reporter aboard the almost ill-fated flight, a man who at that point had been a journalist for all of seven months and was on his first trip out of Africa, this was but an episode in a day he will forget only when he can no longer remember his own name: Telford Vice.
By then, I had been told that, like two other reporters on tour, I did not have a seat on that flight. No amount of waving my valid ticket could change that: “Ahm sorry. De plane, she full. Try again tomorrow.”
I had been asked to produce the immigration form I had been handed on arrival in Kingston, a wretched bit of blue paper I could not find – a thing that, in the course of searching for it amid my belongings strewn onto the pale green floor of Norman Manley International Airport, had led to the screen of my laptop becoming detached, violently, from the keyboard, rendering the thing useless.
“Oh, you don’t got it,” the friendly bloke behind the counter said when I confessed to the no doubt serious crime of having lost my immigration form. “Here you go – fill in annuder one.”
Just then I looked up to see Ali Bacher frogmarching three dastardly travelling supporters, who had decided they would fly to Trinidad a day earlier than their tickets stipulated and leave people like us to “try again tomorrow”, back through the airport. I would have a seat after all.
Should I stay or should I go? Without a working laptop, what would be the point? One day is fine the next is black…
As I climbed up the rear staircase of that ancient Boeing 707 the considerable figure of Geoffrey Dean, then of the Daily Telegraph, was effing and blinding and shaking his fist at the unacceptable indignity of being left behind. How he had made it all the way to the apron and to within a few feet of the plane itself without a boarding pass was a question I didn’t want to ask myself. And now this, a near miss with death.
Soon, as we sat safely returned to the transit lounge, the players broke out a pack of cards – why is it that whenever two or three are gathered in the name of cricketers, a pack of cards is never far away? – and an hour melted into four. By the time we reboarded the plane, it was night. By the time we arrived in Trinidad, it was past midnight. By the time we arrived at the Trinidad Hilton, reception was deserted.
But the instant Craig Cozier, carrying his and his father Tony’s luggage, called out, “Cozier is here!” a dozen and more bellhops and concierges and their managers came vaulting over the front desk in giddy adulation and all but carried the Coziers up to their rooms. The rest of us took the lift.
Cricket? There was some – Andrew Hudson’s wonderful 163 in Bridgetown and the two-on-one interview he hobbled out of the dressing room on sore legs to give me and Dean after we missed his press conference; Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh taking all 10 wickets in the second innings (eight of them on the final morning) to power West Indies to an epic victory; a scrawny Jamaican with a mean cut jib who, on debut, counted Hansie Cronje among his four wickets and batted for more than three-and-a- half hours for his 79 not out in the second innings. His name was Jimmy Adams.
But there was also a boycott of the Test by Bajans unhappy that one of their own, Anderson Cummins, had been left out despite his World Cup heroics of just a few weeks previously – “No Cummins no goings” read the banners – and a barracking from a fan in the Three Ws stand for Tony Cozier as he sat in the press-box: “Cozier support de boycott but he here!”
There was also Bacher clambering into the stands at Kensington Oval to talk some sense into the head of a South African stupid enough to wave the flag of the apartheid republic – which was still two years from its welcomed death – in this, of all places.
And there was Richard Streeton, his hat angled against the sun, his pipe perfumed with Plumcake tobacco, dictating perfect, shimmering, beautiful copy down the phone line to some lucky person at The Times. I sat in the row behind him, utterly intimidated because – thanks to my mutilated laptop – I would have to do the same to someone at the Cape Times who would ask, “Square-leg! Are you sure?”
I had been sent on this awfully big adventure after watching grainy coverage of South Africa’s hasty return to the international arena in the shape of three ODIs in India, and then by staying up at all hours to wonder just how big their 1992 World Cup bubble could get. “South Africa to win need 22 runs off 1 ball,” was how big, as the SCG scoreboard told us in the semi-final against England.
So, by the time I reached Jamaica, my eyes were wide. By the time I went home, I was scared of nothing. Twenty-four years on nothing has changed, on both counts.