Excerpts from Mike Selvey, SportBlog (The Guardian UK)…
Weep For The Ghosts Of Calypsos Past In This Lifeless Forum
Antigua was the very soul of Caribbean cricket, but the crowds have vanished from a sterile new stadium.
I am writing this sitting on a bum-numbing wooden bench 12 rows back in the lower tier of the Double Decker stand at the Antigua Recreation Ground and, if I shut my eyes, I can still sense the spirit of Caribbean cricket that existed here before the International Cricket Council got hold of it, ran it out of town, then sanitised it out of existence.
Of all the cricket grounds around the world at which I have seen international matches none has given me the joy that this place has. In front of me, protruding from the stand so that it almost hovers over the boundary, is the platform on which Chickie Baptiste would stand his giant disco speakers and girls would gyrate along with Labon Benjamin, the clown Gravy, who cavorted in the rafters, defying health and safety, risking life and limb. When Chickie cranked it up and the Double Decker crowd jumped to the rhythm, the whole stand oscillated.
I have a pal who came to watch here and sat in this very seat for all five days of a Test. On the opening morning he knew no one: inside half an hour he had been assimilated into the posse. So each day he arrived to meet the Professor (a professor, oddly enough) and his gang, a case of beer under one arm and a bottle of brandy in his hand. The brandy was gone before play began, they lunched royally on stew from the large pot the Professor brought and they became firm friends.
All the while, despite the distractions, the cricket took centre stage. The noise was an enhancement rather than an intrusion, as was the constant competing percussive brilliance of the Iron band, musicians whose rhythm came from beating metal pipes, or hubcaps, brake drums, door panels…
It has gone now. Rather than plough strong investment into upgrading the ARG sympathetically, to preserve cricket’s integrity here, Chinese money, grabbed eagerly, has produced the new stadium out of town. Of its kind it is a fine facility and a fitting monument to the greatest batsman of the modern era. But what of the other heroes? It has a north end and a south end, as bland as that. Where is the character? Where is the recognition of Antigua’s cricket heritage immortalised in calypso: Richie Richardson (“Who is dat man flashin’ blade in de han’?”), Ambrose (“He mek de batsman shiver when he run up to deliver”) and Andy Roberts? The stands named after Richardson and Roberts still look down on the field set up for net practice.
This still should be their epitaph. Instead Antigua has a white elephant that will see, if it is lucky, one Test match a year and little else. There is talk of enticing baseball teams down from the States. That is the legacy that the World Cup could leave on the island. Baseball. I shut my eyes once more, feel the vibes and want to weep.
… read the entire article at SportBlog (link here)