There can surely be nothing more designed to confuse the non-devotee than cricket? This is the game, as my Canadian wife never stops reminding me, that can go on for five days and end in a draw.
There’s a famous piece explaining cricket to a foreigner: “You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out and when he’s out the next man to go in goes out…”
The explanation goes on forever (as does the game, according to my wife). Yet, I have to admit to being a bit of a cricket obsessive, with the sport often shaping my travel plans. You see, cricket is almost invariably played in rather wonderful destinations. You can follow the England team round Sri Lanka in a tuk- tuk, island hop across the West Indies, drive across Australia, take a train across South Africa… you get my drift? Going on a cricket tour is just a fabulous holiday with a little bit of cricket thrown in.
The place I really want to go to watch a game, however, is Guyana. If you don’t know – this is the only English-speaking country in South America and forms part of the West Indies in terms of cricket affiliation.
For a comedy show I once rang various embassies round the world pretending to be a prisoner who, having won the lottery was planning a world tour upon his release. I got embassies to pitch to me why I should visit their country? The man for Guyana didn’t have much to offer. He said his country was full of “swamps and snakes” and suggested I try somewhere else. It’s possible he didn’t like the idea of a convict visiting his country, but this would be strange, because Guyana has a dark history.
Ten years ago I wrote a travel book called The Dark Tourist (recently shamelessly stolen by Netflix) in which I visited unusual travel destinations. I got the idea from an article I’d read about Guyana. The country was clearly having trouble attracting tourists, so the Minister for Tourism got creative. As well as being the site of Devil’s Island – the infamous prison in Papillon – the country was also the site of the Jonestown Massacre, where 900 members of the followers of cult leader Jim Jones had built and lived in a mini-town in the Guyanan jungle – a place that has lain dormant since the tragedy.
The Minister for Tourism was now proposing to turn the place into an “experience” hotel. The UK newspapers all tut-tutted about the crassness of the idea. But I remember thinking that, if I could combine this with a Test match in the capital, Georgetown, then it might just be an interesting holiday. This spurred me on to write my book, but I never visited Guyana. England are playing there this winter, however, so it might be time to start working on the wife…