Richards looks to T20 to lay ghosts of 2007
Sir Viv Richards believes that next week's ICC World Twenty20 will provide Caribbean cricket the perfect opportunity to lay the ghosts of the 2007 World Cup, and he is optimistic that the lessons learnt both at the IPL and by Trinidad & Tobago during their successful run in last year's Champions League Twenty20 will give West Indies an excellent chance of progressing in the tournament.
"It's a great opportunity to make some amends for the hiccup that we had during the World Cup that was held in the region," Richards told Cricinfo. "It was a disaster in my opinion, there were so many things that went wrong, but you don't want to look back too much. We have an opportunity to move forward now with this new exciting format, and the support in the West Indies will be passionate enough for the world to enjoy."
The 2007 tournament was a crushing disappointment on almost every conceivable level. The ICC's draconian regulations led to a clampdown on musical instruments and other factors that have made West Indian cricket so vibrant over the years, while the ticket prices were simply too steep too allow any significant levels of local support.
The death of Pakistan's coach, Bob Woolmer, during the early weeks of the tournament cast a further pall over the self-styled "carnival of cricket", while the early exit of such big-name teams as India and Pakistan took much of the anticipation out of the protracted latter stages of the competition, which was eventually won by Australia in a farcical finish in near-darkness.
This time, however, Richards expects a rich fortnight of entertainment in a compact schedule across three venues in Guyana, St Lucia and Barbados. "It's going to have much more of a Caribbean flavour this time and rightly so," he said. "I definitely know the tickets will be much more affordable, so that will lead to more relaxed individuals. This is a trial to see how much we've learned from last time."
Guyana was one of the venues that came in for some criticism in 2007, with much of the area outside the purpose-built stadium still awaiting completion come the start of the competition. But three years later, Richards is confident they'll put up a good show on behalf of the region. "They wouldn't put it on the agenda if it wasn't ready," he said. "They are a passionate cricket-loving nation and they always attract good crowds, which is one of the reasons why they were chosen."
Richards' own island of Antigua will not be hosting any games, however, but such is the lure of Twenty20 cricket, he was sure that there would be plenty interest in the tournament , especially given how much Sir Allen Stanford's involvement ramped up the profile of the game's newest format. And he also believed that the West Indies team would respond to the home expectations.
"There is excitement in Antigua," he said. "Remember the attendances we got for the Stanford 20/20. That was even before the IPL, and it was a real success, with big crowds throughout. Our grounds may not be as huge as the grounds in India, but they were a credit to our island. And for that US$20million purse [against England], the professionalism that the team showed proved that they can be successful. With this shortened version they can go places."
One team that has shown the potential of Caribbean cricket in recent times is Trinidad & Tobago, who were the surprise package of the inaugural Champions Trophy in India last year. With passion and panache, and stars such as Kieron Pollard and Ravi Rampaul, they made it all the way to the final of the competition, before losing to New South Wales, spearheaded by a pumped-up Brett Lee.
"Trinidad were great representatives of the region, and it shows the region can compete at the very highest level," said Richards. "That performance was a huge success, not just for Trinidad but the whole Caribbean region. For any young guys who saw that, it's the sort of motivation they need to gain confidence, to believe that they can also be part of that success.
"With the way things are in the world at the moment, it's good for this tournament to be held in the Caribbean," said Richards. "When a team goes away from home in soccer, when they get a draw they feel happy about themselves. But now West Indies are at home, with the public behind them, and lots of experience gained in India at the IPL, I'm sure they can be competitive."
Sir Viv Richards is a Johnnie Walker Responsible Drinking Ambassador and is part of a global "Walk with Giants" program, with the message: 'Be a giant, and don't drink and drive'
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo