The Caribbean flavour seems to be missing March 28, 2007

Missing out on 'our' World Cup

Fazeer Mohammed

As with most other countries where cricket is embedded as part of the culture, West Indians have their own unique ways of enjoying the game © AFP

All this sterilisation and cellophane wrapping are making it difficult to feel the feeling of this World Cup.

Yesterday was really the opportunity for the tournament to come alive in a truly Caribbean way. A brand-new Sir Vivian Richards Stadium hosting the first Super Eights clash matching hosts West Indies against defending champions Australia seemed to be the perfect way for this event to really take off and start living up to all the expectations as a true carnival-style celebration of cricket.

Given that this is a global event, and with all the attendant security implications, it is understandable - even more so in light of the murder of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer - that a number of systems will be in place to ensure the safety and security of all concerned with the event.

We can't very well expect to do everything the way it's normally done for regular international matches in our part of the world, so maybe it's really nobody's fault, but a lot of the atmosphere associated with West Indian cricket was noticeably absent.

For a start, to have the flavour of the big event you need a big crowd. No stadium, no matter how spectacular, can create the sense of occasion without fans packed to the rafters. It is unthinkable that West Indies would be facing the might of Australia, or anyone else for that matter, in a one-day international on home soil with anything less than a full house, full of noise, colour, humour and excitement.

Many among the thousands present yesterday certainly made their voices heard, but the sight of such an impressive venue on such a significant cricketing occasion, with hundreds of empty seats, detracted from the spectacle. The explanation given for similar situations elsewhere in the preliminary group phase of the tournament was that sponsors have not taken up their full allocation of tickets.

Yet that is clearly only part of the story. The pricing of those tickets is obviously also a factor, even if most are prepared to concede that such a premier event will naturally be pricier than fixtures on the regular international schedule. The cost seems to be enough of a deterrent for hundreds of fans, for whom the chance of seeing the best in the game is not sufficiently attractive a proposition to encourage them to part with the additional money.

There is more to this than dollars and cents, however. As with most other countries where cricket is embedded as part of the culture, West Indians have their own unique ways of enjoying the game. It has been suggested by officials of the various local organising committees (LOCs) and other officials and administrators that we should look beyond the restrictions imposed and appreciate the bigger picture that this is a global event from which we all stand to benefit in the short, medium and long terms.

Having an international flavour, interacting with the many visitors and spreading a positive image of our part of the world-especially with tourism revenue in mind are all worthy ideals. But for all of that, cricket is part of the culture of the English-speaking Caribbean, a culture that involves generous quantities of food and drink of various types, liming with friends and revelling in an overall atmosphere that includes conch shell blowers, an assortment of loud-mouthed exhibitionists and even nutsmen, whose unerring accuracy in hurling their packs of 'salt' and 'fresh' to customers several rows away is cause for lusty applause.

All of this may be dismissed as trivial, and that we should be mature enough to recognise the need to amend our way of doing things so as not to offend visitors, create a security risk or cause an incident, however insignificant [like a foreigner getting hit on the head with a pack of nuts], that could result in legal action being taken against the ICC.

But if we can't behave how we normally behave at cricket, unless of course it is reckless and dangerous, how could this ever be described as 'our' World Cup? In fact, we were told long ago by Chris Dehring, the Organising Committee CEO, that this is not a West Indian event but an ICC event being held in the Caribbean. So we have to play by the rules of the sport's governing body if we want a piece of the action, even if it means sanitising the event to the extent that people feel alienated from the cricket even if they're sitting in the stands as the play unfolds.

All of the public relations efforts to promote this World Cup as 'our' time to shine are just a lot of mamaguile, designed to get us out there and buy tickets by the thousands and put on our best behaviour for our international guests, as if these territories haven't been hosting people from all over the world for decades.

It was no surprise to hear that the LOC in Trinidad and Tobago had to persuade the ICC to amend some of their restrictions for the matches at the Queen's Park Oval, for there was already a lack of enthusiasm for those matches anyway.

That enthusiasm should have been up a notch yesterday at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, given the grandeur of the occasion and the importance of the match-up, but it's obvious that a great number of people are not too enthused with the restrictions placed on them for 'their' World Cup.