ST JOHN’S (ANTIGUA): Antigua is a beautiful, idyllic island inhabited by people with an affectionate chord that makes one forget home for some fleeting moments. In capital St John’s, not even as big as Connaught Place with roads half as wide, everyone knows each other by name. Every private car licence plate has ‘Antigua Barbuda, Land of Sea and Sun’ etched on it. Nothing stays open after 5 pm apart from restaurants, but the nights here are rumoured to be special because of a few clubs hosting some of the best exotic dancers in the Caribbean. In short, it’s a true getaway.
It’s easy to be swayed by Antigua’s laidback life but cricket, especially the longer format, doesn’t seem to fit well here. From the permanently shut Sticky Wicket stadium that was once the stomping ground of Allen Stanford — the businessman is serving a 110-year term in the US for fraud and running a Ponzi scheme — to the general apathy towards Test cricket, everything points to the possibility that Virat Kohli won’t have to think about the 12th man when he goes for the toss on Thursday.
The fact that the hugely popular Caribbean Premier League is being held at the same time as a marquee series that is supposed to make up for an accidental snub in the past shows the place of Test cricket here. Infact, the concern is more genuine when it comes to how the weekend carnival will pass off.
Sheena, a shopkeeper, was very clear about her priorities .“If it had been a T20 match, I would have watched it. Maybe even an ODI. But who has the time to watch a Test, that too for five days and the possibility that there might not be any result?” she said. There is not a single billboard on the road from the VC Bird International airport to the city centre that announces a series of such magnitude. And the only people who seem to know the details of the tour are, for obvious reasons, the odd porter at the airport and immigration officials.
More surprising though is the fact that there exist people in Antigua who don’t know who Sir Viv Richards is. Taxi driver Linden Richards — who also claims to be an ICC umpire –quickly tried to explain that his friend, seated beside him, was not from Antigua. Nevertheless, it was another proof of how cricket is on the wane in this part of the world. “It’s also about the insularity of cricket nowadays. One can’t justify many of the decisions, like why Denesh Ramdin was kept out of this squad,” said Richards, a self-confessed fan of Amitabh Bachchan movies like Sholay and Silsila.
He tried to sugarcoat the reality with a promise that people would come to watch the Test ‘at the last moment’. The reality at grass roots seems no different. Belonging to an era when a Calypso was penned in Sunil Gavaskar’s name, Richards doesn’t want to give up believing that Test cricket can still wield a special charm in Antigua and the rest of the West Indies. But he didn’t overlook the obvious too. “Everything needs an overhaul, big time.” Till that happens, Test cricket in the West Indies might have to stare at a few more years of obscurity.