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Back to the Future?

Posted in England in West Indies 2009

The transformation of the Antiguan Recreation Ground from run-down football stadium to Test match venue in the space of 48 hours has been little short of remarkable.

The last time the West Indies played Test cricket here was back in 2006, when they salvaged a draw against India. Since then the stands and the outfield have both gradually declined as the Sir Viv Richards Stadium rose from the swamp lands. Indeed, international football has been played across the ARG square, which gives a good indication of the supposed futile hope of cricket ever returning.

Antigua Rec

However, the one thing that has not decayed is the atmosphere. Even as England practiced here last week, there was still history in the air; ghosts of legends and records drifting through the rickety old stands. The talk then was of how wonderful it would have been to have played the Test here, how close the crowd would be, the short boundaries, the classic caribbean tempo bouncing off the stands. No one for a moment thought there would ever be an opportunity again.

Fast forward a couple of crazy days and here we are, sat inches from the playing area, in the open air, stands filling up. The hefty PA system is throbbing to my right, the England flags to my left - draped over the old stands in some bizarre cross between a patchwork quilt, shopping line, and the Knights of the realm charging over the hill.

Antigua Rec England Fans

Yesterday evening I watched an old gentleman painting the players' names ready for the old famous scoreboard. I observed a giant tarmac roller punishing the outfield into some kind of level playing field.

I witnessed sightscreens being built and then painted in a few hours. It was like a rennaisance before my eyes - not just of a famous old venue, but for Caribbean cricket in general.

It feels as if the game has come back to the people, back to centre of town, back to the shacks and huts that line the streets selling jerk chicken, rum and quips with a smile.

How long this will last in anyone's guess, but I feel very privileged to be witnessing something quite remarkable - Test cricket back at the ARG. You never know, the disastrous last few days may well have given West Indies cricket the opportunity of rediscovering what makes the game and their game in particular so great.

Now all we need is Gravy hanging off the stand and the world will be a better place.

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