Bidding farewell to Antigua Recreation Ground

Published: Wednesday, June 7, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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St John's:For the last 25 years, the Antigua Recreation Ground, nestled in between the hustle and bustle of this capital city has provided several thrilling moments in Tests.

After all, it was here that Brian Lara broke the world record for the highest individual Test score - not once, but twice.

In 1994, he eclipsed Sir Garfield Sobers' 36-year-old mark of 365 not out with 375 against England.

A decade later almost to the day, Lara scored an unprecedented Test quadruple hundred against the same opponents to regain the record from Australian Matthew Hayden, who only held it for a few months after his epic 380 against Bangladesh.

Sir Vivian Richards, the former West Indies captain and batting supremo of the 1970s and 1980s, and the most famous son of the soil, has also etched his name in the record books at the ARG, as it is affectionately called by locals.

Richards, like Lara, had a special love affair for England's bowling and battered the fastest hundred in Tests, when he took 56 balls to reach the milestone in the inaugural Test at the ground 20 years ago.

One of the most exhilarating moments in West Indies cricket however, came just three years ago, when West Indies successfully chased down what looked like an impossible victory target of 418 to beat World No. 1 Australia in a Test.

It's not only the game and its stars that have brought fame to the ARG. There's no more electric atmosphere on match day at any other Test venue in the World.

The concept of the Caribbean party stand had its genesis at the ARG, where popular local disc jockey Nigel "Chickie" Baptiste has been like an institution in the other double-decker stand in the north-eastern corner.

It is not strange to see spectators attending matches at the ARG swaying their hips to the infectious rhythms during play and for hours after each day.

The party stand concept has been copied elsewhere in the Caribbean, and the England&Wales Board once toyed with the idea of trying it at internationals matches around Britain.

Sadly, the ARG appears to have outlived its usefulness and looks likely to have hosted its final international match between the West Indies and India this week.

The ARG, like many others around the Caribbean, has fallen victim to the rigorous demands of the 2007 ICC World Cup in the West Indies which has prompted the Antigua&Barbuda Government to construct a new, ultra-modern stadium.

Located in the district of Northsound about 4-1/2 miles outside of the capital, the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium will seat 20,000 for the six matches it will host in the Super Eight round of the competition, and scaled down to a 10,000-seater for its legacy.

Andy Roberts, whose name has been immortalised at the ARG with the naming of a double-decker stand in the north-western corner, has had a long love affair with the quaint little ground.

Roberts was given responsibility for supervising the preparation of the ARG pitch for first-class and international matches, following his playing days for the national team, the sub-regional Leeward Islands side, and West Indies.

"I hope moving away from the ARG would not be forever because we don't know what success we may have at the other ground," he cautioned.

"It is a good distance outside of the city, and you may find the ARG may be utilised for Test matches somewhere along the line, maybe not the near, but the distant future, especially if the opponents are Zimbabwe or Bangladesh."

Roberts feels that the ARG has contributed to the game not only in the West Indies, but also internationally.

"I think the atmosphere at the ARG makes it one of the most exciting places to play the game anywhere in the World," he said.

"People enjoy the ARG for the brand of cricket because you always get a lot of runs being scored, so the ARG has left its mark on the international scene, and I don't think you will see anything like it again anywhere in the World."

Sir Vivian spoke of his fondness for the ground which has been a part of his life for a very long time.

"It is such a vibrant place, seriously vibrant, and it is small, intimate and there is something very special about the whole place," he said.

"In my case, I attended the Antigua Boys' School a few yards away, and my father, Mervin, worked at the prison across the road, so you can see my close association with the ground.

"When I was a little boy, before we were able to afford a ticket, we used to jump up in the trees around the ground and watch matches."

Recounting his blistering innings, Richards quipped it was a fluke, but the occasion was right.

"Being able to accomplish something, let alone play your first Test on home soil, it was just something very, very special," he said.

"I also remember Richie Richardson, another Antiguan, and myself taking on Australia at the ground, and both of us getting hundreds. It was thrilling for many people to see two brothers of the soil accomplishing this right where they were born.

"All this kind of stuff sends shivers down your spine. There are so many things that you can say about the memories of the ARG, and I want to thank Andy for preparing such excellent pitches for us batsmen."

Significantly, West Indies have lost only three times at the ARG, drawing with India in the opening of their four-Test series here on Tuesday night.

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