The first time you see coral fish swimming alongside or underneath you ‘live’ as opposed to in an aquarium or on television is often an experience not unlike your first kiss, or your first glass of champagne.
Zimbabwe’s current tour of the Caribbean is about as physically demanding as you can get culminating with three ODIs in the space of five days at the beautiful Arnos Vale Stadium on the island of St.Vincent. The tour began with a solitary T20 in Trinidad before moving to Guyana for the first two ODIs where the possibilities of viewing underwater wildlife are hindered by visibility of around five centimetres thanks to sediment which pours into the sea from the Amazon.
Right next to St.Vincent, however, the island chain known as the Grenadines offer some of the best snorkelling opportunities in the world. And the schedule offered just a couple of hours to take advantage.
After a journey from Guyana which began with a wake-up call at 3:00am on Sunday following Saturday’s second ODI and which lasted 13 and a half hours to cover a crow’s-fly distance of approximately 400 kilometres, the only thing which appealed to anybody in the tour party on arrival was a flop in the ocean, something to eat and bed.
But after training on a Monday morning, the afternoon was free and the opportunity presented itself for four hours of what tourists traditionally come to the Caribbean to sample. Some gentle negotiations with a friendly skipper (thanks Earl) resulted in a giant, motorised catamaran with a fully stocked, complimentary fridge, gentle reggae in the cabin and a full complement of masks, snorkels and flippers.
Several of the squad had never sampled tropical waters before, never mind snorkelled in them. Bowling coach and former captain, Heath Streak, assured some of the more nervous that there was nothing to worry about and teased them into the water with the promise that it was far more embarrassing not being able to jump or dance than being uncomfortable around water. To the whooping delight of everybody, barely 15 minutes had passed before the likes of Chris Mpofu, Timmy Maruma and even coach Walter Chawaguta were swimming amongst the yellow, red and blue fish. Stuart Matsikenyeri may even have a future as a diver when he’s finished with cricket.
On the way back to St.Vincent from the island of Bequia, up on deck as the sunset, some of the boys were in for more of a surprise having confused ‘fruit punch’ with ‘rum punch.’ Even those who were expecting it were a little taken aback by the potency of Earl’s special cocktail mix.
The perfect end to a very special afternoon would have been a victory over the West Indies in the third ODI on Wednesday. Instead, they were hammered by 141 runs. But they have nothing to ashamed of. The Zimbabwe squad has a common purpose and a shared desire not experienced by national teams from their country for over a decade. They will rise to the challenge. They are too close, and too determined, not too.
Oh, and they paid for the trip themselves out of their daily allowance. How many international teams would have done that?
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