West Indies v England, 2nd Test, Antigua, 1st day February 13, 2009

Antigua's lost legacy

Andrew Miller looks at Antigua's lost legacy on a day which saw a Test match at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium abandoned after just 10 balls

North Sound, still under development a few weeks before the 2007 World Cup © Cricinfo Ltd
In the aftermath of the 2007 World Cup, which tore the very soul from West Indies cricket through its corporate nature and unsympathetic execution, no host island came in for more criticism than Antigua. By abandoning the atmospheric and massively historic Recreation Ground in St John's, the scene (among other highlights) of two Brian Lara world records and Viv Richards' 56-ball century in 1985-86, the island authorities inadvertently provided a perfect microcosm of the flaws of the entire tournament. The soul of the game had been abandoned, and to what end, no-one was able to understand.

The Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound is, superficially at least, a fine piece of architecture and a credit to the great man whose name it bears. It boasts two well-balanced grandstands at the north and south ends, and the midwicket flanks are given over to grassy banks and a swimming pool beneath the scoreboard which has been especially popular with the English and Australian tourists who have passed through the ground in the two years since its inception.

But, in every other respect, the venue is a disgrace. The only Test to have been successfully staged on the ground, against Australia in June 2008, finished in a draw every bit as dull as many that afflicted the ARG in its 25-year history, while the positioning of the ground, in a scrubby wasteland about as far from the popular hubs of St John's and Falmouth Harbour as humanly possible, is a travesty. The joy of the ARG had been its vibrant centrality - any hint of a big event, usually involving Lara, and the local offices would empty in a trice. Nothing of the sort has been possible in North Sound - the very epitome of a white elephant.

Incredibly, not a single match has been played at the venue since Australia came to visit in June. In that time, the outfield has been dug up and re-laid - the bulldozers and diggers were clearly visible from the road-side during England's visit for the Stanford Super Series in November - and all along the word on the street has been that the authorities were struggling to get the ground ready in time for this match. England certainly didn't like what they saw. They dispatched a letter of complaint to the ICC on the eve of the game, therefore it beggars belief that the WICB was able to drag its heels right up to the 12th hour and beyond.

And yet, at the same time, it is not at all surprising. The WICB is not a body that learns lessons in a hurry. It was on their watch that the last shortest match in Test history was staged, at Sabina Park in 1997-98 (which at 10.1 overs was almost exactly six times as long), and England of course were again the visitors for that match. Instead of concentrating on the very pressing logistics of this contest, they have spent their last few months embroiled in boardroom battles - not least with Antigua's richest citizen, Allen Stanford, who was enraged by their duplicitous behaviour ahead of the Super Series, when they effectively attempted to sell the same product (the West Indies cricket team, aka Stanford Superstars) to two separate bidders.

Ironically, this series had been shaping up to be the grand redemption that West Indies cricket so desperately needed. Sabina Park, at the very least, had been forgiven of its 1997-98 sins after playing host to last week's stunning victory in the first Test, and after winning the toss this morning, Chris Gayle bowled first in spite of his own concerns about the conditions, because he saw an opportunity to inflict further psychological scars after that incredible 51 all out. The stage was set for a brilliant and captivating match. Except, of course, the stage was not set at all.

Where now for North Sound (to call it the Sir Viv stadium is an undue slight on a great Antiguan)? Ironically, today's failings were a direct consequence of the problems that surfaced during the 2007 World Cup - in particular, during Bangladesh's Super Eight fixture against Australia, which was reduced to 22 overs a side on a blazing hot day, because the drainage was totally inadequate. The island's only supersopper remained parked up at the ARG, and the beleaguered groundstaff were reduced to mopping up the overnight rain with torn-up strips of mattress.

With any luck, the upshot of this sorry saga will be a redemption of sorts. The news that the ARG - the old, tatty, rotten, run-down ARG - has been thrust into the breach provides, in theory, some sort of closure. A chance to gloss over a sorry mismanaged chapter of West Indies history, and return the game to its rightful roots in the island's capital.

Except, unfortunately, the damage may already have been done, and the soul may not be reclaimed in a hurry. The main stand of the ARG was already utterly run down during the World Cup two years ago, and it beggars belief how they expect to get it Test-match ready inside two days.

An island of 70,000 people which bred four greats of the game in a single generation - Richards, Richie Richardson, Andy Roberts and Curtly Ambrose - may already have kissed their legacy goodbye. Other hungrier islands - among them St Lucia, Grenada, and Antigua's nearest neighbours, St Kitts - would dearly love to welcome England for future Test matches. Unlike Jamaica, which had enough political clout to recover its lost status 11 years ago, Antigua has an awful lot of respect to claw back.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo