January 7, 2010

West Indies Cricket

The grounds of Antigua: A comparison

Cricinfo

From Sarah Robinson, United Kingdom



International cricket has to return to the Antigua Recreation Ground © Getty Images
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Unsurprisingly, it is a warm day in Antigua, and the cricket season in the West Indies is slowly beginning to build up. In the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium, a structure that cost approximately $60 million to build, and held the shambolic ten-ball game between England and the West Indies last year, the Leeward Islands are playing a warm-up game. The groundsman at the Antigua Recreation Ground, Keith Fredericks, describes them as the “future of West Indies cricket” with a sense of pride in his voice. Watching a few of the shots played, the signs of definite potential are out there. Watching a near run-out suggests the definite potential for more West Indies running mistakes is also out there.

The Viv Richards Stadium, “the one so much money was poured into”, is nice, as far as large stadiums go. It is doubtless that cricketers will enjoy playing here in the future in front of what is hopefully a large crowd. However, the ground also strikes me as unfinished and soulless. The linoleum flooring is not cut properly at the top of the stairs in the stand, and bits overhang the edge. Inside, only a quarter of the framed photos are hanging above the captions, which are almost too small to read properly. Those that do hang are hanging askew and are carelessly positioned. On the wall, a wire for the television is sticking out. Pride, clearly, was not put into the finishing touches.

Maybe, and hopefully, once this stadium starts hosting matches again, after a year-long hiatus, the income will help create some atmosphere into this characterless ground. For the cricketers that come here, inspiration of the achievements of former players is severely lacking. As I look around, I’m glad for the youth of the Caribbean cricket injecting some energy with their exuberant appeals and desperate dives at the boundary edge. There is some hope for this ground yet.

Walking into the Sticky Wicket, the Allen Stanford answer to cricket stadiums, there is a clear difference between the sharp, empty white walls of the Viv Richards ground and the cream and pale green walls of this pavilion and restaurant. The ceiling is red, reflecting the West Indies colours, a very patriotic symbol. Why does the Viv Richards ground have yellow and blue seats? The walls at the Sticky Wicket are littered with photos of West Indies greats. Photographs of achievement, pride and success. West Indies success. Caribbean success, and the feelings of national patriotism that goes along with it. These photos are lined up perfectly with the ceiling, positioned with care. In the cupboards too, there is cricketing memorabilia. Some West Indies based; caps and shirts. Other bits are clearly bought with Stanford money; bats from previous World Cups, signed by all of the players from South Africa, Pakistan and New Zealand. The acquisition of these bats stinks of private auction and e-bay, for Stanford was never known to be a great cricket fan.

Nonetheless, the mementos are clearly lacking in the multi-million dollar stadium down the road. This building has created a bit of cricketing history, however distasteful the history is. In one of the cupboards are the programmes and posters of Stanford’s disastrous Twenty20 for $20 million tournament, in which England lost and the ECB lost all credibility. On the wall, there is still a photograph of Stanford surrounded by West Indies cricketing legends. The building feels as though it hasn’t changed since Stanford last stood here. The restaurant is running smoothly, with two waitresses and three chefs working in what appears a relatively busy lunchtime, considering it is a Tuesday afternoon. The vibrant flowers in the driveway are in full bloom, and the staff is clearly happy to be working here. Someone is still paying the staff, and it hasn’t fallen to ruin.

The outfield is another story. It appears watered and mowed, but it is sandy, the grass is coarse and uncomfortable underfoot and ants’ nests litter the grass. This may as well not be a cricket pitch; you certainly would not want to dive for a ball here lest your foot get caught in the sand. Nowadays, the ground feels more like a resort with a big field of grass in the middle which you could perhaps play sport on if you felt like it. The large stumps by the door remind you that this ground’s main purpose was cricket, albeit cricket at its most un-cricket. The big screens stand still, as do the lights, which caused many fielders problems (they are lower due to the runway near by). The buildings are attractive, the staff attentive and the pavilion does feel like a building dedicated to cricket. What this place will be used for in the future is hard to say. It would make an attractive exclusive resort or hotel. It could be taken over by the WICB and used as a practice ground. Maybe local school teams could play here.

The WICB would in no way encourage it to become a top ground like the Viv Richards Stadium after all. I would rather it became a resort, as not far from the city stands the ARG – the Antigua Recreation Ground. This ground was used as a practice ground by both the West Indies and England teams in 2009 and hosted the moved Test match in that same series at very short notice. It is not the prettiest ground in the world, nor is it the most comfortable - a chair made the most concerning noise as I sat down - but of all three grounds, it feels like a proper, traditional cricket ground.

It is full of character, soul and history (Sir Vivian Richards scored the fastest ever Test century here, and this is the home of Brian Lara’s record-breaking 400 runs). This is the home of Keith Fredericks, an incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated groundsman. It is the home of the legendary entertainers Gravy and Chickie the DJ who have entertained countless crowds and kept up the party atmosphere. It is a favourite of many; Sir Ian Botham was delighted when the Test match was moved here, and Curtly Ambrose describes it as his favourite ground. Many ex-players are both secretly and publicly unhappy with the new Viv Richards stadium.

Standing on the square, on the spot where Brian Lara kissed the ground as he brought up his 400 runs, I can see why this ground is such a favourite. It may not have the biggest capacity (a temporary stand was rented from Miami to accommodate the Barmy Army one year), it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing (though the hills in the distance are spectacular) and it is clearly not the WICB’s favourite cricket ground on the island of Antigua, but it is easily my favourite of the three I have visited today. I’d go as far as to say it is among the best grounds I have visited in the world, and I would have loved to have seen a game here. It would be a shame to see this ground with its record-breaking achievements being dedicated purely to football, or even worse, left to fall to pieces.

For the sake of Keith Fredericks, if no one else, I desperately hope it can be saved for the use of international cricket once more. No one would benefit more than cricket fans around the world, who could come and visit and say that they have seen the same spot where the best of West Indies cricket created history. Inside the pavilion is the honours board. Can the WICB not honour this outstanding piece of cricketing legend by allowing it the right to games, both international and domestic? Or has the WICB truly put all its eggs in one basket with the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground? The answer appears clear; the ARG will probably be ignored in the near future. This would be a very, very sad state of events indeed.

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Posted by che campbell on (January 9, 2010, 3:43 GMT)

I agree with the comments and being a fan just seeing the action on television really depicts that a true west indian crowd relish a good time and good cricket long live the ARG and a thumbs down to to incompetent administraters.

Posted by sam shillingford on (January 8, 2010, 18:37 GMT)

You should come to the Windsor Park Stadium in Dominica to see what a cricket Stadium looks like and you will be overwelmed.I invite youto come soon or better see the one day against the South Africans in May of this yesy.

Posted by Teetus on (January 8, 2010, 13:47 GMT)

I really enjoyed this piece and do hope that something can be done to preserve the rich West Indies and Antigua/Barbuda history. Also, as local, I think we need to show more pride in maintaining and keeping clean the ARG and realise that we have 3 exceptional records there;Fastest Test Century(Viv Richards), Highest Individual Test Score(Brian Lara) and Highest Successful Run Chase. LONG LIVE THE ANTIGUA RECREATION GROUNDS!!

Posted by mit on (January 8, 2010, 8:24 GMT)

Don't expect the WICB to do anything sensible and popular.

Posted by Charlie on (January 8, 2010, 4:56 GMT)

Having been at ARG in 2003 like Grant but went to VRS in 2007 for the World Cup, it will be a shame that ARG maybe lost to test cricket. I would rate it as a better cricket ground than pre-renovation Kensington in Barbados which was pretty special as well.

Posted by Tim on (January 8, 2010, 4:23 GMT)

Great piece. I feel administrators focus on the bottom line far too much these days. Cricket is built on tradition and moving from the ARG to that concrete thing was a huge mistake. I think they probably know it too but have to keep playing out of the new stadium to justify its expense.

Perhaps an option could be to play local games and test matches at the ARG, and take the short forms to the new stadium? It would be a genuine shame if a ground like the ARG was lost forever.

Posted by Grant on (January 7, 2010, 16:54 GMT)

Enjoyed the article...I have not been to the newest cricket pitch but I did enjoy the ARG tremendously - was able to see the Windies beat the Aussies with the world record chase of 418 - it seems that there was always a chance of something spectacular happening there. It was such a fun time walking through the town with all the other fans filtering in and out of the ARG and pretty much every seat was right on the pitch. Some might not like the comparison but I found the ARG to be to cricket what Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are to baseball but progress is progress I guess...

Posted by nick on (January 7, 2010, 16:51 GMT)

Lovely piece, really brought back memories for me - the ARG is a great ground and it's a pity that it can't be renovated in some way - the Viv Richards ground may be the future - but it's a soulless place. Sticky Wicket is great - for a meal and a drink - maybe a social place for expats? I look forward to adding to my memories of ANtigua - thanks again

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