Magazine article The Spectator

Storm Clouds Gathering

Magazine article The Spectator

Storm Clouds Gathering

Article excerpt

The 2007 Cricket World Cup could be a defining moment for the West Indies, says Michael Atherton, not just for it's cricket team, which is no longer the force it once was, but for the region itself. The sheer logistics of organising a tournament across nine countries is a potential nightmare, but one that could provide a platform for the future

A SMALL GATHERING in a rum shack; the whack-whack of dominoes slapped down on a wooden table; the crackling of a radio in the background and the whooping of joy, with its inevitable attendant analysis, as news of the latest West Indies cricketing triumph filters through.

A typical, if hackneyed, Caribbean scene?

Not any more. Not only are there few cricketing victories to cheer, for the first time ever this year there was no radio coverage of first-class cricket in Jamaica and some of the other cricket-playing islands. Simon Crosskill, a local radio commentator, explained why: 'The final nail in the coffin of regional cricket is the poor standard . . . and the fact that very few listeners under the age of 35 show any interest at all.'

If cricket in the Caribbean is not in crisis, then it is close to being so. The West Indies team didn't win a Test match in 2006, although it performed more creditably in one-day games; the West Indies Cricket Board is millions of dollars in debt; there is a near-permanent impasse between the West Indies Players' Association and the board over retainer contracts, all of which is resulting in the loosening of the ties that have traditionally bound the people of the Caribbean to its favourite game.

Those are the reasons why the Cricket World Cup, scheduled to take place across the Caribbean in March and April, is the most important sporting event ever to take place in the region. And since C.L.R. James's seminal account of cricket in the Caribbean, which makes it impossible to consider the game in isolation from a wider social and political context, it is possible to argue that it will be the most significant regional event since the independence movement swept through five decades ago.

There is much at stake: a chance to give the West Indies Cricket Board a massive financial windfall to pay off debts and place cricket on a sound financial footing; an opportunity to develop a world-class cricketing infrastructure from which future generations of cricketers ought to be assured; a platform to reignite a passion for the game in the region and, more daringly perhaps, a chance to move to greater political and economic integration.

That is one possible consequence of the unique logistical challenge that the organisers face. What other major sporting event has taken place over nine independent countries thousands of kilometres apart? Because the prospect of moving vast armies of supporters, officials and players is a nightmare, for the first time a single visa will be required to hop from island to island. This is simply to avoid horrendous queues at immigration and customs after each change of venue, but if it proves to be successful, then it could be the start of something much more significant.

The organisers have long been gearing up for their challenge. New cricketing venues are under construction in Antigua, Grenada, Dominica and Jamaica (all with the help of Chinese money), in Guyana (Indian government funding) and in St Kitts and Nevis (a stadium built through joint co-operation, amazingly enough, between China and Taiwan). …

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