Windies hope World Cup will revitalise cricket

Published: Wednesday, June 28, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Basseterre:If sport is a metaphor for life, then the passion and pain of the struggling West Indies cricket team are an apt reflection of the region which will welcome the 2007 ICC World Cup.

Long gone are glory days when the islands in the sun churned out terrorizing fast bowlers like the late Malcom Marshall and master blasters like Viv Richards.

The men in maroon caps are now in a perpetual rebuilding process, as political squabbles set players against administrators.

"It is a life of passion and pain when you watch the West Indian team," said Stephen Price, commercial manager for the March 11 to April 28, 2007 World Cup.

The search for revival is mirrored economically in many of the nine territories hosting World Cup games early next year, from larger states like Jamaica and Barbados, to the smaller St Kitts and Nevis and Antigua.

The loss or decline of traditional industries like sugar cane farming and banana exporting hit many developing local economies hard, leaving some reliant on foreign aid.

That is why success is so vital for the world's premier One-day tournament, overdue a stop in a region which sent teams out to win the first two championships in 1975 and 1979 in England.

"This is an important moment in West Indian history," said Price.

"This is the biggest thing to come to the Caribbean, we want to show the world that we can put on a show."

Already, the World Cup in 2007 means more than just cricket.

"Its impact stretches far beyond sport, it's crucial to our development," said Charles Wilkin, chairman of the St Kitts World Cup organizing committee.

Regional governments hope to coax tens of thousands of supporters of the 16 competing teams, from cricket powers like England, South Africa and Australia, to minnows Scotland, the Netherlands and Canada, to help boost tourism.

The 2007 World Cup has seen tens of millions of dollars poured into new grounds and facelifts for storied homes of West Indies cricket.

Antigua's Recreation Ground will be replaced by a stadium named after Richards, the island's favorite son.

Kensington Oval in Barbados, which will host the final, has undergone a 67 million dollar upgrade to boost capacity to 28,000.

Financing for several projects, including part of the 11 million dollars spent on Warner Park in St Kitts, has come from foreign aid from Taiwan.

West Indies cricket stars hope the World Cup will energise a new generation of champions, and bring sell-out crowds back to grounds.

"It will be a once in a lifetime experience for the people of the Caribbean and we are really proud to be the hosts," said West Indies batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan, fresh from a Test match ton here against visiting India.

There are also hopes the World Cup will boost a game which has seen its popularity ebb in the region.

Brian Lara's side currently languishes in eighth place in both the official International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings and the one day international championship standings.

The prolific Lara matured in a successful West Indian side, but the 37-year-old has recently propped up a team on the decline, and is now in his third spell as captain.

But a victory in the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy in England spurred hopes for World Cup success.

Organisers are surprised at early demand -- with ticket applications from 110 nations.

"The World Cup, we know, will bring back the masses to the game," Price said.

Some early concerns have emerged over organization, with reports of hotels hiking room tariffs and anxiety there will not be enough space for fans, team officials and media.

Organizers are promoting a scheme to provide thousands of bed and breakfast spots -- which they say will offer an authentic slice of West Indies life.

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