Jamaica is the largest of the cricket-playing West Indian islands, at over 4000 square miles (compared to Barbados’s 166, for example) and boasting 2.5million inhabitants. It’s also a long way from the other cricket hotbeds, lying due south of Cuba and about 1200 miles from both Barbados and Trinidad.
Sabina Park in Kingston has staged regular Test cricket since West Indies’ first home series, in 1929-30, when the match there was left drawn after nine days so that the England team could catch their boat home. Andy Sandham had earlier scored the first Test triple-century, and England’s captain Freddie Calthorpe declined to enforce the follow-on despite a handy first-innings lead of 563. In 1957-58 Garry Sobers caned Pakistan for the then-record score of 365 not out. It’s usually been a batsman’s pitch – often the highly polished surface is more like a mirror than grass – although the 1997-98 match against England ended in embarrassment for the locals when the umpires called the game off after less than an hour’s play as the pitch was too dangerous. Other notable grounds on the island include the Sir Frank Worrell Ground at the University of West Indies in Mona, and Jarrett Park in Montego Bay (England played here on that same 1997-98 tour), while the Melbourne Club ground, a short step from Sabina Park, is the old haunt of one of Jamaica’s favourite sons, the treacle-voiced Michael Holding
Inner-city clubs such as Lucas, Kensington and Kingston CC, once very strong, have struggled more recently as the urban sprawl has put them more into Kingston’s less attractive inner-city areas, although Kensington’s pitch remains a belter. But “services” clubs, like the Jamaica Defence Force, are strong.
Lots for the tourist, apart from the cricket – highlights include the Blue Mountains, Dunn’s River Falls at Ocho Rios, where you can swim in the pools below a 600ft waterfall (in the nearby sea you can swim with the dolphins, too), and, for the stately-home buff, Rose Hall at Montego Bay overlooks an old-style sugar plantation. Or if you’re a reggae fan, there’s the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston’s Hope Road. Michael Holding told the Daily Telegraph last year (2004): “Barbados hasn’t even got a molehill, much less a mountain. It is small, it has no rivers, it is the least spectacular of the islands. Yet everyone goes there, especially the British, to their Little England. It seems they enjoy that culture, which is why Barbados has the most stable economy… [but] I remember my friend Walter Swinburn, the jockey, coming here for the first time to recuperate after a racing accident in Hong Kong. Previously he had only been to Barbados, but I showed him some of this country and he just could not believe how beautiful it was.”
Less cricket-orientated than Barbados or Antigua – possibly a better destination for a family holiday rather than a club tour, as long as you heed the warnings about which places to avoid.