Antiguan flavour

Andy Roberts...saddened by the present state of West Indies cricket.-V.V.KRISHNAN

At their peak, Andy Roberts, the complete fast bowler, and Sunil Gavaskar, the master technician, were engaged in some fierce duels in the cricketing arena. Decades have passed, but the mutual respect the two share has not disappeared. Over to S. Dinakar.

At a typically Caribbean airport, simple and basic, the images of Antiguan greats stare at you from the walls.

These are big names — Vivian Richards, Andy Roberts, Curtly Ambrose and Richie Richardson.

Not to forget some of the lesser cricketers such as Winston Benjamin, deceptively quick, and the committed wicket-keeper batsman Ridley Jacobs, who would easily have been stars in the present West Indian team.

Charlie, the man at the front desk of the hotel I had checked into, is depressed by the state of cricket in the West Indies.

“I used to follow cricket till the days of Brian Lara. Now I do not watch cricket any more. West Indies is losing most of the time. The team is not reliable. I will not be coming to the match maan,” he concludes.

Although the cricketing scenario in the island saddens me — the popular West Indies was to cricket what Brazil is to football — the sunshine and the beach at the lovely Dickenson's Bay lifts my spirits. On view is a compelling mix of sun and sand.

This is not quite the peak season for tourists in this island of great charm and beauty but the pristine beach is buzzing.

The water changes its hue at different times of the day even as speedboats streak across. The view is often spectacular.

Not too far away, I can spot the cruise ships. It's big time in Antigua when one of these monster vessels anchors in the island waters.

It brings thousands of tourists, who light up the island for the next day or two. Those at the busy market in St. John's, the capital, have a smile on their faces, the casinos are filled to the brim and the parties along the beach are in full swing.

During peak season, as many as six to seven cruise ships can be present in the Antiguan waters during any given time. But then, this is a period of the year when the island gets just one or two such ships in a week.

Antigua is among the more expensive islands in the Caribbean. It also has a flavour of its own.

At the local casino, an enthralled audience listens to Ambrose and Richardson as the duo wields the guitar with much finesse.

Beanpole Ambrose also makes an appearance at the media centre at the Vivian Richards Stadium and he is immediately mobbed for photographs.

Not much later, Andy Roberts watches the proceedings with good friend Sunil Gavaskar. It's a vignette that is timeless.

At their peak, Roberts, the complete fast bowler, and Gavaskar, the master technician, were engaged in some fierce duels in the cricketing arena. Decades have passed, but the mutual respect the two share has not disappeared.

Roberts still has those brooding, probing eyes that appear to look inside you. When he set his sights on the batsmen, he sized them up in a jiffy. The great man is saddened by the present state of West Indies cricket. “There is no commitment. They are not willing to work hard. They are only playing for money, not for the team,” he says. These are strong words from a man who has seen it all.

Antigua is a small island — a four-wheeler at a reasonable speed can travel from one end to the other in an hour — but houses a popular medical college owned by an expatriate Indian.

I come across students, many of them of Indian origin, at a local restaurant. They are a cheerful bunch.

There is at last some cheer too for West Indies cricket. The host loses the series but sweeps aside India in the fourth ODI on a juicy surface.

Perhaps, Roberts' stinging words spurred the team into action.

Finally, it is time to leave the island of the cricketing giants. When will Antigua rise again as a buoyant force in the game?