In December 2009, I was fortunate to visit the island of Antigua and visit the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, the Allan Stanford ground, Sticky Wicket, and the Antigua Recreation Ground – the ARG. I wrote an article that was published on cricinfo, but I was never able to post it alongside the photographs to demonstrate exactly what I saw. Here, for the first time, is my account with photographs of those three grounds. (When it was written, Allan Stanford had been exposed as a crook and was in jail and the England Test had been moved from the Viv Richards Stadium to the ARG after a poorly prepared pitch).
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THE GROUNDS OF ANTIGUA: A COMPARISON
7th January 2010
Unsurprisingly, it is a warm day in Antigua, and the West Indies’ cricket season is slowly beginning to build up. In the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, a structure that cost approximately $60 million to build, and held the shambolic ten-ball game between England and the West Indies last year, the Leeward Islands are playing a warm-up game. The groundsman at the Antigua Recreation Ground, Keith Fredericks, describes them as the “future of West Indies cricket” with a sense of pride in his voice. Watching a few of the shots played, the signs of potential are out clearly visible, though a near run-out suggests there are still problems in running between the wickets.
The Viv Richards Stadium, “the one so much money was poured into”, is nice, as far as large stadiums go. Cricketers will enjoy playing here in the future in front of what is hopefully a large crowd. However, the ground also strikes me as unfinished and soulless. The linoleum flooring is not cut properly at the top of the stairs in the stand, and bits overhang the edge. Inside, only a quarter of the framed photos are hanging above the captions, which are almost too small to read properly. Those that do hang are hanging askew and are carelessly positioned. On the wall, a wire for the television is sticking out. Pride, clearly, was not put into the finishing touches.
The photos of West Indies heroes hang askew
One of the first games of the season
Maybe, and hopefully, once this stadium starts hosting matches again, after a year-long hiatus, the income will help create some atmosphere into this characterless ground. For the cricketers that come here, inspiration of the achievements of former players is severely lacking. As I look around, I’m glad for the youth of the Caribbean cricket injecting some energy with their exuberant appeals and desperate dives at the boundary edge. There is some hope for this ground yet.
Walking into the Sticky Wicket, the Allen Stanford answer to cricket stadiums, there is a clear difference between the sharp, empty white walls of the Viv Richards ground and the cream and pale green walls of this pavilion and restaurant. The ceiling is red, reflecting the West Indies colours, a very patriotic symbol. Why does the Viv Richards ground have yellow and blue seats? The walls at the Sticky Wicket are littered with photos of West Indies greats. Photographs of achievement, pride and success. West Indies success. Caribbean success, and the feelings of national patriotism that goes along with it. These photos are lined up perfectly with the ceiling, positioned with care. In the cupboards too, there is cricketing memorabilia. Some West Indies based; caps and shirts. Other bits are clearly bought with Stanford money; bats from previous World Cups, signed by all of the players from South Africa, Pakistan and New Zealand. The acquisition of these bats stinks of private auction and e-bay, for Stanford was never known to be a great cricket fan.
Nonetheless, the mementos are clearly lacking in the multi-million dollar stadium down the road. This building has created a bit of cricketing history, however distasteful that history is. In one of the cupboards are the programmes and posters of Stanford’s disastrous Twenty20 for $20 million tournament, in which England lost and the ECB lost all credibility. On the wall, there is still a photograph of Stanford surrounded by West Indies cricketing legends. The building feels as though it hasn’t changed since Stanford last stood here. The restaurant is running smoothly, with two waitresses and three chefs working in what appears a relatively busy lunchtime, considering it is a Tuesday afternoon. The vibrant flowers in the driveway are in full bloom, and the staff are clearly happy to be working here. Someone is still paying the staff, and the building hasn’t fallen to ruin.
The outfield is another story. It appears watered and mowed, but it is sandy, the grass is coarse and uncomfortable underfoot and ants’ nests litter the grass. This may as well not be a cricket pitch; you certainly would not want to dive for a ball here lest your foot get caught in the sand. Nowadays, the ground feels more like a resort with a big field of grass in the middle which you could perhaps play sport on if you felt like it. The large stumps by the door remind you that this ground’s main purpose was cricket, albeit cricket at its most un-cricket. The big screens stand still, as do the lights, which caused many fielders problems (they are lower than usual due to the airport runway nearby). The buildings are attractive, the staff attentive and the pavilion does feel like a building dedicated to cricket. What this place will be used for in the future is hard to say. It would make an attractive exclusive resort or hotel. It could be taken over by the WICB and used as a practice ground. Maybe local school teams could play here.
The magnificent entrance to the Sticky Wicket
Neatly lined-up tributes to a great West Indies past
The outfield, believe it or not.
The WICB would in no way encourage it to become a top ground like the Viv Richards Stadium, after all. I would rather it became a resort, as not far from the city stands the ARG – the Antigua Recreation Ground. This ground was used as a practice ground by both the West Indies and England teams in 2009 and hosted the moved Test match in that same series at very short notice. It is not the prettiest ground in the world, nor is it the most comfortable – a chair made the most concerning noise as I sat down – but of all three grounds, it feels like a proper, traditional cricket ground.
It is full of character, soul and history (Sir Vivian Richards scored the fastest ever Test century here, and this is the home of Brian Lara’s record-breaking 400 runs). This is also the home of Keith Fredericks, an incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated groundsman. It is the home of the legendary entertainers Gravy and Chickie, the DJs who have entertained countless crowds and maintained the party atmosphere. It is a favourite of many; Sir Ian Botham was delighted when the Test match was moved here, and Curtly Ambrose describes it as his favourite ground. Many ex-players are both secretly and publicly unhappy with the new Viv Richards stadium.
Standing on the square, on the spot where Brian Lara kissed the ground as he brought up his 400 runs, I can see why this ground is such a favourite. It may not have the biggest capacity (a temporary stand was rented from Miami to accommodate the Barmy Army one year), it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing (though the hills in the distance are spectacular) and it is clearly not the WICB’s favourite cricket ground on the island of Antigua, but it is easily my favourite of the three I have visited today. I’d go as far as to say it is among the best grounds I have visited in the world, and I would have loved to have seen a game here. It would be a shame to see this ground with its record-breaking achievements being dedicated purely to football, or even worse, left to fall to pieces.
For the sake of Keith Fredericks, if no one else, I desperately hope it can be saved for the use of international cricket once more. No one would benefit more than cricket fans around the world, who could come here and visit and say that they have seen the same spot where the best in West Indies cricket created history. Inside the pavilion is the honours board, filled with impressive names from the cricketing world. Can the WICB not honour this outstanding piece of cricketing legend by allowing it the right to games, both international and domestic? Or has the WICB truly put all its eggs in one basket with the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground? The answer appears clear; the ARG will probably be ignored in the near future. This is a very, very sad state of events indeed.
Some of the ARG records. Brian Lara's 400 is visible here.
Me walking along the ARG outfield. So green compared to the disregarded Sticky Wicket
The ARG - On par with Lord's as one of the best grounds I have visited.
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