Lara’s 400 ground in dire straits

Elton Robert objected, as he prefers peace in Saint John’s over cricket at the Recreation Ground.

Elton runs a fast food shop at Saint John’s, known as the capital of Antigua. I asked him if he was disheartened when cricket in Antigua moved away from Saint John’s Recreation Ground and shifted to Sir Vivian Richards Stadium at the outskirts of the town.

Elton Robert was almost surprised at the question, “Why would I feel bad? It’s good that cricket moved away from here.” Now it was my turn to be surprised.

I asked him, “Why?” Elton, a little agitated, answered, “Do you know, what would happen if there was cricket here? The entire city would be in a gridlock. There would be people everywhere in this small town. If England played here, there would be 5-6 thousand from just the Barmy Army. The town’s peace would be disrupted. The people of the town are relieved that cricket has moved away. Whoever wants to watch the game, can go over there to see it.”

It was tough to accept what he said. There's a matter of heritage that exists! This middle-aged man should know more than me about the heritage of the Antigua Recreation Ground.

This is the ground where Lara made 375 in a Test match, an unbeaten 400 and before that Viv Richards struck a Test century in just 56 deliveries. All of them were world records at the time, Lara’s 400 is still the highest ever Test innings. Every cricket legend from Antigua– Andy Roberts, Vivian Richards, Richie Richardson, Curtly Ambrose– grew up playing at this ground. How could memories of this ground fade away in such neglect?

Cricket hasn’t been played at the ground since 2009. The outfield is in such poor condition, that it would be more apt to call it a paddy field. Cricket is in exile from the ground that was once ‘home’ to the likes of Roberts, Richards, Richardson and Ambrose and the place where Lara achieved greatness. Andy Roberts stand, Ritchie Richardson stand and the manual scoreboard are standing still. But people of Antigua are not bothered by it in the least!

It’s true that Saint John’s, situated at the heart of Antigua, is not a big locality. The locals call it a ‘town’ but the roads here are very narrow. The houses and the shops are right at the edge of the streets. Cars have to either hit the break or move to the side to make space for cars coming from the opposite direction.

There is no parking space, so the people used to park their cars on the side of the road and make their way to the ground. It’s not difficult to see that hosting cricket at a place like this will cause chaos. That’s why the ground had become a headache for the residents of Saint John’s.

In comparison, there is no shortage of space at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, constructed at the outskirts of the town. Every modern facility is also available there.

After cricket’s exile, the Recreation Ground hasn’t been as well looked after. The ground now hosts football and other events. Next month, a big carnival will take place here, preparations are going on for that. The stadium is getting a fresh coat of paint. But preparations were being made to destroy another part of history for the festival.

One of the ground workers pointed at the famous double-decker gallery at the ground and told me, “We will break this gallery and build a new one.”

The poor state of the outfield makes it evident that this ground no longer is suited for cricket. Green has disappeared from the outfield. In fact, it would be more appropriate to call it a paddy field than a cricket ground. Seeing wheel tracks in places, I wondered if people were learning to drive in the outfield! A local told me, it’s not that. Many are now parking their cars in the ground, that’s what created the tire tracks.

Due to such multipurpose use, Recreation Ground has lost its original identity. A day will come when no one will recognise it as the ground where Lara made 400. A chapter of history will disappear.

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