I felt the blow and immediately my ears started ringing, my head started hurting and my vision blurred all at the same time. I had been “tapped” — not electronically the way the Government listens in to phone conversations; not like that moment of true delight and boastful excitement when indoor plumbing came to our homes in the old days; not being earmarked for future growth and development, but hit with an open palm at the back of the head at the point where it joins the neck. It is onomatopoeic, a phenomenon in the English language when the word is the sound — like meow, honk, sizzle and cuckoo.
This was the tap of all taps and was inflicted by my ham-handed friend “Saddlehead” who had a physique like Popeye and who did not know his own strength or the fragility of my skull. Perhaps misled by the frequent references made by our teacher, Miss Rouse, to my stubbornness and her use of the term “hard headed” to describe me, Saddlehead felt that I could take a tap that could fell an ox or two. Perhaps he and Miss Rouse were right since I survived the tap despite being driven a little bit cuckoo. Reflecting on it later I thought that onomtopoeically (if such a word exists) the proper terminology in this particular case should have been that I received a “splat” since I could hear my brains hit against the inside of my skull and then rearranging themselves into a different configuration.
The problem was that I could do nothing about it. If Saddlehead were so minded to mark his victims like old western gunslingers by putting notches on his weapon, his entire right hand would have been totally mutilated with scar tissue on scar tissue. But facing up to him was not the problem. I was wrong, he was right and I was in pain.
Context is everything so let me give you what the media now call the “back story”. In the Trinidad in which I grew up there were two days of Carnival. During the lead-up to Carnival, the radio (there was no television then) ran all the popular calypsoes with the exception of what was called “smut” which we heard only at the calypso tents and from the lips of our peers who delighted in singing them in class to amuse the rest of us in the back seats or to cause Miss Rouse to simultaneously control her prurient interest and the class.
The radio stations, under a state of moral suasion from the religious authorities, notoriously the Catholic Church, stopped playing calypsoes from midnight of the Carnival Tuesday night. In fact, the revellers had to be off the street at that time and could be arrested for going beyond midnight.
If Carnival came from the Latin “carni” and “vale” or “farewell to the flesh” the day after, Ash Wednesday, was for calypso lovers the day of cold turkey — how to stop singing calypsoes or face dire punishment. In other words, catching your Ash.
We made it even worse by “betting” Lent. What this meant was to bet with one or more of your friends that if you were caught singing a calypso, you could be tapped. So there I was singing Sparrow’s “Jean and Dinah”, the lyrics of which were deemed extremely daring and even risqué for those times, and clearly a breach of the Catholic Code of Calypso. In earlier times, I would have been clapped in chains, tortured by the Inquisition and burned at the stake. This time was even worse since I received a tap from Saddlehead. When the Parliament in Trinidad and Tobago was under siege the Prime Minister, ANR Robinson, had said, “Attack with full force.” I am not sure where he was in those earlier days but somebody told Saddlehead, “A tap with full force”— and he did.
This was the beginning of my career as a gambler and the results remained fairly consistent over the years. Gambling is a major headache. I hear people talk about being able to afford to gamble but the essence of gambling is that you always commit yourself to a little more than you can afford otherwise it is not really gambling in the strictest sense of the word.
A few years ago, while at the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) I learnt how much gambling had infiltrated the world of cricket. When we were young we bet on the results of a game and the stake was generally alcohol — a beer or two. We would bet on which bowler would get the most wickets or which batsman would get the most runs.
The laws against bookmaking in India and the development of “spot” has taken cricket betting into a different universe. Now the big bets are on events like whether a bowler would bowl a no-ball or a batsman hit a four or get bowled on the fourth ball.
There is big money involved. If, for instance, I bet that the first four WI bowlers would be Badree, Bravo, Samuels and Simmons and not, as expected, Badree, Rampaul, Bravo and Sammy, I can win a lot of money because that is against the odds. This is why insider information is so important and the ICC has put so many barriers on communication between players and other people.
So when I heard that two men attending the final England vs West Indies One Day International (ODI) in Antigua were caught supposedly engaging in fraudulent betting activities I was not surprised. Cricket is now a multi-billion dollar business and the underground cricket economy might be more lucrative and larger than the legitimate one. The 67-second delay in transmission from the Caribbean to India makes it easier to bet on a sure thing if you place the bet by cellphone. The police ejected them from the ground but, personally, I would have first sentenced them to a tap from Saddlehead and then jailed them — not in any ordinary place but in a Digicel.
• Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the ICC was investigating strange
betting behaviour in the last Ashes series in Australia. Someone had bet a dollar on England to win at least one test match