Fazeer Mohammed
Writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain
Trinidad & Tobago Express

West Indies v England, 3rd Test, Antigua

ARG: A home away from home

The Antigua Recreation Ground is what an established Test cricket venue really is: a home away from home

Fazeer Mohammed

February 18, 2009

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The revived ARG has evoked a lot of nostalgia, more so due to the ramshackle surroundings © Getty Images
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When you're dealing with such a doltish and eccentric game as Test cricket, sanitised, cellophane-wrapped brand new superstadiums - with or without sandy outfields - just don't work, at least not in the Caribbean.

In this era of boxed food, texting and broadband, sitting down five whole days for a single event that may still not have a definitive result at the end of such a marathon vigil is tantamount to madness.

Try as the ICC might, there is no way that this traditional form of the game will ever take hold in any of its new frontiers simply because it has to be part of the culture, part of the everyday rhythm of life in your part of the world since you knew yourself.

That's why even the man after whom the blighted Sir Vivian Richards Stadium was named is happy, like almost everyone else, to be back at the Antigua Recreation Ground (ARG). Be it ever so ramshackle and chaotic, there's no place like home.

And this is what an established Test cricket venue really is: a home away from home. It is a place to catch up with friends from near and far and find out what's been happening with them since last year's Test.

It is a reassuringly familiar setting, amid so much high-speed change almost everywhere else, to pause and place the action out in the middle in the context of watching and reminiscing about so many great deeds of many years gone by.

After a forgettable World Cup experience, you would think that the authorities had finally realised that, as much as they would like to take the sport to the level of the slick, attractively-packaged events that, for example, football and basketball are, Test cricket just cannot fit into that mould. Twenty20 certainly, and maybe even one-day internationals with a push. But Test cricket? No chance.

Whether you want to call it subsidising elitism or pandering to the whims of misty-eyed former subjects of a monarch 4,000 miles away, the fact remains that there is still enough interest and sentiment associated with the five-day variety to keep it going for some time yet and in the surroundings to which we have grown accustomed.

No-one is saying that there should be no development at all. Surely, though, it is not nearly as challenging to blend modernity with tradition at a cricket venue as it is for our financial experts to get a real idea of the scale of the economic challenge facing us for the next few years.

 
 
Cricket people aren't the only ones who should run cricket. Yet those who run cricket should appreciate first and foremost that they are custodians of a rich legacy and therefore need to maintain that connection between those who play it and those who watch it from the stands
 

Look, it is as simple as making people feel a part of the exercise. On Sunday morning at the ARG, instead of welcoming everyone and thanking them for their understanding of the situation and continued support of West Indies cricket, the first words booming out from the public address system were something about the ICC's policy on abusive or racist comments. Next came a warning about encroaching onto the field of play.

Think about it. Gross incompetence to a staggering degree has caused so much dislocation, expense, inconvenience and embarrassment to so many people who had planned their business around the scheduled days of the Antigua Test, yet instead of a sincere expression of gratitude, we're being told don't do this and don't go there.

Again, you can understand the administrators' appreciation of the legal ramifications of undesirable behaviour. But come on, they're not addressing a ground full of lawyers, just ordinary cricket fans from all walks of life and many parts of the world who just want to experience the game they love.

On Monday at lunchtime, the presentation of ICC Hall of Fame caps to Sir Viv, Andy Roberts and Michael Holding at the ARG was done like a private event, right in front of the media centre. Yes, it was broadcast live on television and radio and the three great West Indians subsequently walked around the ground to the continuous applause of the fans, but the actual function itself was conducted in virtual secrecy from the vast majority in attendance, as if it was none of their business.

Cricket people aren't the only ones who should run cricket. Yet those who run cricket should appreciate first and foremost that they are custodians of a rich legacy and therefore need to maintain that connection between those who play it and those who watch it from the stands. It is a legacy not only of great heroes and great deeds, but of chicken foot souse sold from a Crix biscuit tin at the Queen's Park Oval, of roast corn and tamarind juice at the ARG, and flying fish cutters at Kensington Oval.

Try selling those items at those venues in sealed containers with "Nutrition Facts" plastered all over them and people will watch you like if you gone mad.

Every country where Test cricket has been part of the culture for decades has its own variant of that tradition and venues housing it that are as identifiable with the game as the memorable matches played there.

From Eden Gardens to the MCG, Newlands to Lord's, these are names evoking images of gladiatorial contests that enrich our appreciation of a sport that is the very antithesis of life in the 21st century.

So often we are reminded that cricket is big business with no room for sentiment anymore. Thankfully, the last few days at the revived ARG suggest that there are still enough nostalgic dinosaurs around to make a difference.

Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad

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Fazeer Mohammed Fazeer Mohammed's claim to cricketing fame is that he once played in the same 2nd XI at the Queen's Park Cricket Club in Trinidad with Brian Lara. It was only a brief association, as one was on the way up and the other refusing to come to terms with the depressing reality that his limited ability would take him no further in the game. It certainly has been for the good of the game that Lara never allowed such severely critical assessments to stunt his development. In allowing his fellow countryman to blaze a trail on the field, Mohammed has opted to follow West Indies cricket from the media centre since 1988 as a journalist, and since 1992 as a radio commentator.

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