West Indies v Australia, 2nd Test, Antigua, 4th day June 2, 2008

'Sir Viv' an expensive embarrassment

Tony Cozier laments the problems plaguing the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium

Ricky Ponting and Ramnaresh Sarwan discuss the wet outfield with the umpires © Getty Images

It is the finest of the fine new and reconstructed stadiums prepared for last year's World Cup but, in the year and a half since its opening, the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium has become an expensive embarrassment.

Its problems were highlighted during its first use for the World Cup's Super Eights and were again on the third day of its inaugural Test yesterday.

"Antigua's reputation, already damaged by low attendances and over-cautious officialdom, hit rock bottom amidst farcical scenes at its new stadium," as reported in the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack after a World Cup match between Australia and Bangladesh. "Despite bright sunshine for most of the day, play was delayed by five hours because of large pools of water on the outfield."

If officialdom cannot be accused of over-caution now (although US$150 for the media for internet use is surely over-pricing), attendances have again been low. And, despite bright sunshine for most of the day, there was once more a protracted delay yesterday, this time of five and a half hours, because of water settling on the ground after early morning rain.

The principal reason for both has been location. Situated on a green field site five miles or so outside of St John's, it lacks the easy accessibility of its popular predecessor, the ARG, where spectators came and went at their leisure from the surrounding shops and offices of the capital. With less than half its 20,000 capacity occupied, its six World Cup matches lacked the vibrant atmosphere at the small, snug ARG.

So it has been for its inaugural Test. The rhythms from Chiki's Disco and the beat of the Iron Band that reverberated around the ARG are muted in the vastness at the new ground that honours Antigua's most famous sporting son. It is a situation that, perhaps, will resolve itself with time. As it was Sunday, yesterday's turnout, while by no means huge, was the best of the match and would have seemed far bigger at the ARG.

At least, for the first time the number of Australian tourists didn't match the locals. The matter of drainage might prove somewhat more insoluble. Since the fiasco of the World Cup, specialists were brought in, according to Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer on radio yesterday, "at great expense" to advise on how to fix the problem.

The offending area was dug up and new underground pipes installed. It made no difference.

Players and spectators had to wait in frustration once more while the super-sopper did its work, with lower tech assistance from groundstaff with sponges, and umpires made intermittent inspections. Locals report that North Sound was never an ideal spot for the stadium. They note that it is in a sunken area in the path of an old water course. Some speak of an underwater spring. A woman who had lived in the area for most of her 70-odd years reportedly pointed out the potential trouble repeatedly on radio call-in programmes. Whatever the causes, they need to be corrected urgently.

Lionel Richie, Kenny Rogers, Keisha Cole, Maxi Priest and other stars are down to perform at the stadium as part of the Antigua Music Festival next week. But it's for cricket that it was built.