Feature: 2009 – 2017

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R Allen Stanford eyed the Caribbean and West Indies Cricket as a grand prize after reading about cricket in India on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. At this time, his footprint was already dominating Antigua, particularly the financial sector.
He snubbed approaches by the WICB for corporate partnership, borrowed some of the ideas discussed in those meetings, and set up his own league on a custom-built ground at Coolidge.
Accompanied by legendary names in West Indies cricket past, they launched the Stanford T20 Tournament. With much razzmatazz, a regional tournament exposed a cadre of young players around the Caribbean. They then arranged a game between his All Star Team and an England XI. The winning team, the Stanford All Stars, walked away with US$1 million dollars per man!
In less than a year, Stanford’s (Sir Allen by then) empire came crashing down.
Post Cricket World Cup 2007, a lot of speculation surrounded the use and viability of the Sir Viv Richards Cricket Stadium. There had been discussions on whether it was built in the right location, with some suggestions that it was actually situated on a pond.
When the ground hosted Australia in a test match in 2008, there were rain interruptions. However, the most glaring issue was water settling on the outfield. Immediately after the end of the game in June, it was announced that the outfield would be re-laid.
At that time, I was the Chairman of the Board of Management of the Stadium. Timelines were agreed for the work to commence, and the government made the financial arrangements. The contracted Trinidad company assembled its resources and machinery, and we were ready to commence.
Stop 1! A request was submitted by the Antigua Football Association to host a regional tournament. The Board of Management said no, the government agreed that they had enough time.
The tournament was played, and the company quickly prepared to start work after. Equipment was positioned on field, and light work started.
Stop 2! The Seventh Day Adventist Pathfinders wanted to use the outfield for a regional camp. The Board of Management objected, the government agreed that they had enough time.
The bottom line to the debacle that took place at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium, on Black Friday, February 13, 2009, was that the planted grass on the re-laid outfield did not get enough time to grow.
Back in 1998, Colin Croft had earned the wrath of Antiguans for telling the world that the ARG’s re-laid field could not be ready on time to host England. Rallying together, it became a national event to “watch the grass grow,” as crowds converged at the ARG every day for that singular purpose.
The Sir Viv Richards Stadium had been inspected and passed on two occasions by the West Indies Cricket Board, leading up to the 2009 England visit.
The shortest test match in the history of international cricket lasted ten balls, which caused great embarrassment to the country.
The game was abandoned, and the spirit of the ARG was invoked to save the day. Through desperate preparations, a third test was added to the itinerary and the game commenced two days after.
By this time, Chris Gayle was captain, having replaced Ramnaresh Sarwan, who was appointed after Lara’s retirement.
Antigua was blacklisted by the ICC from hosting international cricket, which gave the government ample time to finally get the Sir Viv Richards Cricket Ground up to standard. The entire outfield was ripped up and re-laid.
In early 2013, the Antigua Barbuda Cricket Association, fully supported by the government, approached the West Indies Cricket Board about hosting the visiting English team in 2014.
The argument used and agreed, was that it provided a great opportunity to commemorate 40 years since Andy Roberts, the first Antiguan, played for the West Indies.
The WICB bought in to the proposal, and Antigua was reassigned international games. The previous year, the Stadium had been filled for the first time during the CPL. The outfield had been tested to be amongst the fastest draining anywhere, and there were no concerns.
At Independence 2013, there had been a major upheaval when an apparent recommendation by the then-opposition party for Andy Roberts to be knighted, was not implemented. It was felt that politicians were playing football with Andy’s name, and it certainly didn’t go down well with the man himself.
There has been a long-held belief in Antigua, especially with people from the country areas, that Viv always got preferential treatment, when compared to that meted out to Andy.
The Cricket Association, of which I was the then President, had decided that during the celebrations to celebrate Andy’s 40th year, we would invite all Antiguans who had played for the West Indies at international level, to take part in a parade.
The Association further proposed to the government, that they use the occasion to confer the honour of knighthood on Andy. By this time, totally fed up with the maneuverings, Andy indicated that he would only accept if Richie Richardson and Curtly Ambrose were being similarly awarded!
“Yorked,” and to avoid any further embarrassment, the government agreed to forward the nominations to the Governor General.
On February 28, 2014, during the innings break of the first ODI West Indies vs England, Sir Andy Roberts, Sir Richie Richardson and Sir Curtly Ambrose rose!
After the ceremony, they led a parade of Antiguans who had represented the West Indies in years past in a lap of honour. Included in the parade were: Sir Andy Roberts, Sir Viv Richards, Sir Richie Richardson, Sir Curtly Ambrose, Eldine Baptiste, Winston Benjamin, Hamish Anthony, Kenneth Benjamin, Ridley Jacobs, Dave Joseph, Sylvester Joseph, Kerry Jeremy, Austin Richards Jr., Gavin Tonge, Devon Thomas and Anthony Martin. The only player missing was Adam Sanford, who even though born in Dominica, was living in and representing Antigua, when he played for the West Indies.
Amongst that list, Sir Viv, Sir Richie, Ridley Jacobs and Sylvester Joseph captained the West Indies in international cricket.
That visit by England certainly reestablished Antigua as an international venue and subsequently saw England return in 2015 and 2017. The returns have certainly enhanced the vision of government and the people of Antigua to the magnitude of the sports tourism product.
So twenty years after the government of Antigua and Barbuda welcomed the West Indies Cricket Board to Antigua, a further investment was made. In a joint partnership with the now renamed Cricket West Indies, the Antigua and Barbuda government purchased the former Stanford Cricket Ground.
Over the past two years, Antigua has been fortunate to host the India Cricket Team to a test and ODI’s. India has become the financial powerhouse in the world, and annually hosts its cash-rich IPL.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that Virat Kohli scored the first double-century at the Sir Viv Richards Stadium, after arriving in Antigua with his main mission of getting a “blessing” from Sir Viv.
As we celebrate 40 years of hosting international cricket in Antigua, we can only imagine that 40 years from now, Kohli’s name may be associated with most of the batting records in cricket.
As a nation, we have come a long way. We taught the world to party and enjoy cricket simultaneously.
Forty years from now, 2058, what will be our story?

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