The infectious lilt in Thomas Jeremy’s voice makes him sound remarkably like the man Yuvraj Singh claims, in a TV commercial, to have trained in Indian cuisine.
A gentle question — just to be sure — and the officer at Trinidad and Tobago Tourism responds with a booming laugh: “It ain’t me maan. But don’t worry, we’re well prepared.”
The wait for cricket’s biggest carnival is nearly over — and countries that are tiny specks on most world maps are preparing to hold the attention of nations with a collective population of over 1.5 billion.
Come March 11 and World Cup 2007 will kick off — for the first time in the West Indies. For the lucky ones actually making their way to the islands, Jeremy and his counterparts at tourism departments of other Caribbean countries promise “one breathtaking party”.
According to the two Indian companies appointed official travel partners for the Cup — SOTC Sport Abroad and Friends Globe Travels — over 5,000 Indians will be at the grounds cheering for Rahul Dravid’s boys.
With 51 matches in 48 days on eight islands involving 16 teams, even the most ardent fan will struggle to catch all the action from the stands.
But there’s plenty else to see, experience, and savour along with the matches, although no guarantees can be given on the gobi parantha or lassi.
The actual play starts two days after the inauguration, with the hosts taking on Pakistan in Group D on March 13 in Kingston, Jamaica. Those looking to start their Cup “campaign” right with the opening match can reach the venue either via London or the US.
“The cheapest fare now — about Rs 55,000 (one-way) —would be on the US route. Fans need to reach New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, from where they can fly to Newark, which has daily flights to Kingston,” said Rajiv Mathur of Friends Globe.
The “breathtaking” experience starts from the aircraft window even before you land in Kingston, nestling between the Atlantic Ocean to the south and St Andrew Mountain to the north. Don’t miss the natural harbour, the world’s seventh-largest, or the famous beaches at Montego Bay — “Mobay” to Jamaicans. But be on your guard — Jamaica’s third-largest city has a high crime rate.
For those who would watch Andrew Flintoff take on Shane Bond in Group C’s big-ticket game on March 16 in St Lucia, here’s a tip. All the Caribbean islands are connected by cheap flights from two local airlines, Liat and Caribair.
The trip to St Lucia would probably be hurried. India plays its opening Group B game against Bangladesh on March 17 in Trinidad and fans who want a relaxed trip should skip the England-New Zealand match, suggests Mathur.
All India’s league matches are at Brian Lara’s hometown — Port of Spain in Trinidad & Tobago (Tobago is Trinidad’s sister island some 30 km to its northeast).
After Bangladesh, India will hope to steamroller Bermuda on March 19 and be in prime form when it faces Sri Lanka on March 23. For those looking to start with India’s matches, London’s Gatwick Airport has regular British Airways flights to Port of Spain.
While enjoying leisurely strolls on the city’s beaches, don’t miss out on the delicious coconut water and the sight of Venezuela’s coastline, just over 10 km away.
A three-hour flight could take you to St Kitts, where Australia takes on South Africa in Group A on March 24.
It’s now that the nail-biting moments start — the top two teams from each group compete in the Super Eight.
India is likely to have to play Australia, South Africa, Pakistan, England, New Zealand and the West Indies (having already met the Lankans).
If the Men in Blue can beat Sri Lanka and top their group, they play their first two games in Guyana, home to many of Indian origin (including President Bharat Jagdeo).
In between these matches — on March 28, and April 1 — visitors are recommended to go see capital Georgetown’s wooden buildings, wide avenues and canals built by the Dutch when they ruled Guyana.
India’s next match in this scenario would be in Antigua — home of “King” Viv Richards — on April 4. Fans will then have some time before the next three — in Grenada on April 12, 16 and 18.
Gambling is legal in Antigua, and its capital, St John’s, boasts the best casinos in the Caribbean. The country is also famous for water sports and has hundreds of secluded bays and inlets fringed with coral reefs and white sand beaches.
Grenada, with a population of less than one lakh, offers simpler charms: quaint lanes running through the sleepy towns and villages, and lush green mountains rising from the island’s centre. Its cascading waterfalls and mountain lake are must-sees.
The Indians may secretly be hoping they finish second in Group B, so they play their matches in Antigua on March 31 and April 2 before slugging it out in Guyana on April 7.
They would then be able to get used to the conditions at Bridgetown, Barbados — where the final will be held — in their last three Super Eight matches, on April 11, 15 and 19.
If Dravid’s side manages what Sourav Ganguly’s team did four years ago, be there to see the team in a celebratory huddle either in Jamaica — the first semi-final is on April 24 — or in St Lucia the next day.
Make the trip to St Lucia anyway — you have three days till the April 28 final — to see the Pitons. Rising like elongated pyramids from the city of Soufriere, the Pitons are a pair of dormant volcanoes with emerald green slopes. You have the rare opportunity of driving up to the crater.
Near the capital, Castries, is the Rodney Bay Marina, with modern yachting facilities and stylish villas that are a unique blend of British and French architecture.
Barbados, said to have the best golf courses in the Caribbean, would be a good place for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team-mates to get their swing just right for the final.
Try water sports and sip on cocktails, but Barbados Tourism officials say a visit would be incomplete without a stop at one of the rum shops dotting the countryside.
If the Men in Blue go one step further than 2003 — as all of India will hope — the advice may just come handy.