February 2, 2000

Facilities for Cricket - Not!!!

One of the things which distresses, and embarrasses, me most, as I sometimes travel to other countries around the world to cover cricket, is the lack of proper cricketing facilities, in all aspects, here in the Caribbean. With the 2007 Cricket World Cup slated for our neck of the woods, we need to have started yesterday to put these properly in place.

Comparing everything wherever I have gone in Australia, New Zealand, England, India and South Africa; (I have not yet gone to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh nor Zimbabwe to cover cricket), from the stadia where the cricket is played, to the facilities for the press, paying patrons and even the players, to those in the Caribbean, is really the proverbial comparison of "chalk to cheese."

While press identification passes, and even players identification passes are normally required to be worn by all in most places, the only place I have been asked to produce passes on a regular basis, by the same personnel every year, no less, is in the Caribbean. Although I always have them available, I have never been asked to produce an entrance/identification badge anywhere outside of the Caribbean. That, I suppose, is neither here nor there, since the gate personnel could suggest that he/she is only doing his/her job "properly".

However, I would suggest this. The respective cricket authorities in the Caribbean must become quickly aware, if they are not so aware yet, and place unbiased and cricket-informed people, even professional security people, at the entrance gates, so that everyone is asked for passes, not just the few that someone seems to want to embarrass, for whatever purpose.

Last year, for example, Sir Everton Weekes, of Barbados, of all people, known world-wide as one of our best batsmen ever, was told by a gate man at the Kensington Oval in Barbados; "Sir Everton, I know you played for the West Indies, but I cannot let you into the cricket without a proper pass." There is not much one can say about that, is there? Incidentally, Sir Everton was actually doing commentary then too.

The playing facilities, though, should take the priority. Ask any West Indian cricketer, from the Test team to the Under 19 and even the Under 15 teams, and they would tell you. They too are badly embarrassed when they get to those far away lands and experience the facilities there. Roger Harper's comment when he coached the "A" team's tour to South Africa a few years ago was apt: "When you look at these facilities in these overseas countries, it is no wonder that their players really want to play cricket. Everything is put into place to encourage them to play and play well."

In Kimberley, South Africa, for example, during the senior team's last tour, all of the players were amazed, and many of them voiced that amazement, that such a small place, where Otis Gibson and Keppler Wessells played for Griqualand West in their first class competition, could provide such facilities. Not only at "The Diamonds" were these available, but everywhere. Everywhere, there were at least three indoor net pitches, and at least four outdoor pitches. If my memory serves me correctly, none of these outdoor practice pitches were on the "real" field of play.

The same goes for most of the United Kingdom, except perhaps Trent Bridge in Nottingham, all of Australia and all of New Zealand and most of India. Indeed, the practice facilities at the Adelaide Oval in Australia, in my opinion, are the best in the world, just better than those at the Wanderers, in Johannesburg, in South Africa. Under these conditions, fast bowlers can operate at full throttle while batsmen could really concentrate to make every practice session as close to the game conditions as possible. After all, proper practice is so very important if one wants success in the actual games.

In the Caribbean, with the exception for the Queens Park Oval in Trinidad & Tobago, where there are about four outdoor practice pitches, there are no outdoor practice facilities available at the cricket venue, in very near proximity of perhaps a game in progress. In Jamaica, Guyana, Antigua & Barbuda and most of the other territories, outdoor practice is either carried out on the actual outfield of the Test arena before the international game, or the practice is completely removed from the Test venue altogether. Indoor facilities are, maybe, only available in Antigua & Barbuda.

Everest Sports Club in Guyana and Melbourne Sports Club in Jamaica, among others, are sometimes used for this latter purpose of practice away from the game venue. One must wonder what would happen if a batsman needs a quick ten-fifteen minute "proper" practice hit-up during a Test game, before he bats, as is sometimes required (I have actually bowled to (Sir) Viv Richards, among others, at the Adelaide Oval while they waited their turn to bat). Would he be taxied to the nearest ground with a walkman on his ear, to know when he is in? I am sure that most sports fans see baseball pitchers warming up in their "bull-pens" before being brought to the mound to do their thing. You see my point, I hope.

As far as the players changing facilities are concerned in the Caribbean, very little has changed, except perhaps the occasional coat of paint. The Queens Park Oval in Trinidad & Tobago, the Bourda Oval in Guyana and the Kensington Oval in Barbados, while building new stands, have done nothing to change the cramped changing rooms that I myself once inhabited, with eleven other guys, more than twenty years ago. While Antigua & Barbuda and Jamaica have improved their changing room facilities for the players somewhat, and Arnos Vale in St. Vincent and the new stadium in St. Georges, Grenada provide just adequate room for the players, all of the changing rooms in the Caribbean pale when compared to the rest of the cricket world.

In these days of ongoing professional cricket, when every player has a large cricket case to carry all of the equipment needed, a "coffin", and almost as large as the real thing, and where such things as weight rooms, saunas, steam rooms and baths, and even proper medical rooms, are required at the players' quick "beck and call", as niggling injuries and pained bodies need continuing work and relaxation too, the state of the changing rooms in the Caribbean, for the most important people in the cricket, the players, is appalling. As far as I know, the only weight room in quick proximity of a major cricket arena in the Caribbean is at the Queens Park Oval.

This is 2000AD, folks, not 1000BC.

I have been to many soccer stadiums around the world, and even visited Joe Robbie (Pro Player) American Football stadium in Miami and Giants Stadium in New Jersey. One thing is very obvious when one visits these places. The players, the people who bring in the money, as they are the ones the populace come to see, are pampered, sometimes beyond belief, with facilities.

New Zealand was a revelation too. While all of the cricket arenas have every convenience necessary for the games at hand, the new WestPac Trust stadium, in which the West Indies had the honor, if not the pleasure, of being involved in the inaugural cricket game, is something else, as they, sensibly, went further. Even before it was built, the Trust's management spoke to, and took advice from, the players, both of cricket and rugby, for which it will be used, the press and from the paying public, as to what exactly is required in a facility that they could be using. That is a great sense of "hand washing hand to make hand come clean" (Guyanese proverb). Everyone involved must be exactly that: involved.

The press facilities at the cricket stadia in the Caribbean are simply some of the worst in the world. In a sense, I might even blame some of the press personnel themselves, of which, sometimes, I am one. There is no real Press Association, at least not in the sporting press, in the Caribbean, to organize and keep things running properly in the Caribbean.

Food-wise, it is even funny. At the Queens Park Oval, unless you come equipped with a roti-and-curry, or any such edible gotten from elsewhere, you will probably starve for that day. In Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Antigua & Barbuda, while the victuals are sometimes available, it is normally from a "homemade" commercial venture, with some small vendor trying to make a killing with their exorbitant prices.

While many of our sports journalists have not traveled overseas much, I would really hope that most do soon, so that they could see how the rest of the world really treats journalists there, home and visiting personnel alike. Most overseas cricketing bodies actually walk hand in hand with their press, as they know that the press is there to help them propagate the sport. In the Caribbean, the sporting press is seen as an appendage, sometimes a hindrance.

Anything drinkable, from water to teas to even wines and beer, sometimes, depending on the venue, along with properly catered spreads, are normally available; the entire cost being financed by the home Press Association. I do not know about other sports journalists in the Caribbean who may have gone overseas, but having gone around the world with this cricket, I am terribly embarrassed when cricket tours come to the Caribbean and the commentators and overseas sports journalists come here. I have actually heard, and seen written, many openly complaining as to the facilities here in the Caribbean.

Some of the physical facilities for the press in the Caribbean are a shambles too. For a great example, I have been going to places like Guaracara Park, in Trinidad & Tobago, for about 30 years, first as a player and now as a pseudo journalist. The commentary and press facilities there, among some others in the Caribbean, are so poor, with continually leaking roofs and sometimes lack of electrical power, among other things, that even normal lay persons, men and women not associated with the cricket but who visit from time to time, ask the inevitable question; "Are these the facilities that you guys work in and from? They are pathetic!!"

I have not even touched on the actual preparations of the playing pitches, or the lack thereof. That is another story altogether, as is the lack of any lighted stadia in the Caribbean. In the meantime, Australia will play South Africa, I think, in the new completely covered stadium in Melbourne later this year.

These things are very relevant when we remember that in 2007, not so long from now, the rest of the world is supposed to come to our shores to be involved in the Cricket World Cup. I have heard many already say that "we are not ready for that!!"

Folks, I am here to tell you that we have no choice but to be ready. Caribbean cricket needs a Jack Warner (of FIFA fame), to light a flame under our collective backsides; someone who gets things done, and in the vast majority of cases, done well. We must be ready for the 2007 Cricket World Cup, come what may. It could be a great boon for all of us, if everything is properly put in place.

It is probably already too late for the implementation of much of what we should have already done. However, we must strive to see what we can change now, even at this late stage. Time waits on no-one.