ARTHURTON SCOUTING AROUND FOR TALENT

Keith Arthurton has his own cricket centre, and is the director of the Len Harris Cricket Academy — an indigenous facility at Warner Park. S. RAM MAHESH meets the former Test cricketer at St. Kitts.

May 21: Surely this thing can't be allowed to fly! It's so tiny, only 19 of us fit in — and of these 19 at least one wishes he couldn't. Not me though. I'm all for a spot of dash and adventure even if it's sitting cramped through a half-hour journey from St. Maarten to Basseterre, St. Kitts, knowing full well that the laws of aerodynamics frown on what I'm sitting cramped in.

May 22: Who is he? Brandishing biceps that would make Nadal blush, this character vaults a fence to see West Indies practise at Warner Park — the latest entrant to the world of international cricket. Later, Rahul Dravid greets him like a long-lost mate. Time to play Sherlock. The facts are such (and they are, if I may add, singular): I am in St. Kitts, but no one from this island has played for West Indies. Ergo, it must be someone from Nevis — its twin island. Realisation dawns — it's Keith Arthurton, former left-handed bat and devil fielder. Minus the sun hat, he looks like Carlton Baugh's older brother: a theory I float, but unfortunately everyone's too busy to notice.

Arthurton tells me he has been drafted to set up a feeder system for talent. He has his own cricket centre, and is the director of the Len Harris Cricket Academy — an indigenous facility here at Warner Park. "I will produce a Test cricketer from St. Kitts," he says with what others in his playing days mistook for arrogance. "Give me eight years, and I will continue to produce them till I die." Do his people at Nevis approve? "Don't tell them about it."

Talk drifts to his buddies. "Dravid is a good man. So is Sachin — he's cool man, he's cool. Brian I've never had a problem with. Others might say he is arrogant or whatever, but he is ok in the dressing room. He's usually alone, and he meditates, but he can't be what he is by living an ordinary life. Look at Sachin — these are not ordinary lives." Profound, and I'm not good with profound. I am thankful when he changes tack. "Where's Kambli?" he asks. "He was my man."

May 23: It's a day of three firsts. One is obvious — it's the first-ever international match in St. Kitts. The other two are surreal in different ways. The Prime Minister walks into the press box sans security to check if all is well! Perhaps being the head of a nation of only 40000 keeps your feet on earth.

I step out of the press box to attend to — ahem — a personal matter and discover the view of the ground hasn't changed. "The only stadium in the world," says Ricky Skerritt, former cricket manager of West Indies and current Sports Minister, "where you can catch the action from the men's bathroom."

May 24: This is a hijack-worthy flight. Both teams, both media contingents, commentators — the whole circus — are on it. But, I daren't mention the H word, for a warning at the airport proclaims anyone declaring an intent to hijack would be stopped. I'm very scared.

Scheduled to leave at 6 a.m., the flight has its complement of the bleary-eyed. Dravid and Chappell round the boys — i-Pods and all — when the gate finally opens. I sit next to trainer Greg King, who prudently sleeps through the hour-and-a-quarter journey before we arrive in Lara land.

May 25: Port of Spain strikes me in a way Kingston and Basseterre never will. People in Kingston just hang around: I remember an excellent line from a travelogue on Turkey, describing the inertia of a man in the marketplace. `His very face sits', it read, and every face, I saw in Kingston, sat. Basseterre, I fancied. But, since I spent just three hurried days there and am scheduled to revisit it, I shall reserve opinion.

Port of Spain is a global city. The Queen's Park Savannah, where the famous annual Carnival is held, may now contain morning joggers and the ubiquitous football player, but it crackles with latent energy.

Football is huge — all the more so now with the Socca Warriors in the World Cup. There's a Russell Latapi school; Dwight Yorke and his men peer out from windshields, billboards, road signs, you name it.

Most taxis are converted mid-size luxury cars. Cuisine is an excellent barometer of a city — here, I am as apt to find double (chola batura) and roti, as a variety of bakes, Chinese, and African food, and all this in a broad range of prices from the cheap to the fleecy. Music is this city's soul — fitting, that the steel pan, the only new acoustical instrument this century, was invented here. I discover it the next day.

May 26: What a jamboree! The 12000 at the Queen's Park Oval whoop it up all day. The press box shudders with `kaise bani, kaise bani; when India come to the Caribbean, it's licks by West Indies' — an impromptu rendition by the DJ at the ground. I would translate it if my Hindi were any better. The odd Daler Mehendi number plays as well, but the show stoppers are these smoke cannisters that fire — replete with almighty whooshes — at intervals.

May 27: Is the Caribbean ready for the 2007 World Cup? How much of a logistical nightmare will it be? And how many ex-Miss Universes does it take to run the biggest cricketing show on earth? A press lunch at the Queen's Park Oval seeks to answer these questions. Penny Commissiong-Chow, the most beautiful woman in the galaxy save Princess Leia in 1977, is the Marketing and Communications manager of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago. After her tiara days, she ran a boat company before this opportunity came along.

Penny says, as she must, that things are progressing well. The numbers are far from convincing. The LOC expects an incremental influx of 5000 to 6000 — the figure is derived from the seating capacity at the Oval (6500 reserved for foreigners), and fails to take into account the many Indian that will land up hoping to buy tickets at the venue. Aircrafts in and out of Port of Spain currently don't carry as many; the number of current hotel rooms don't accommodate as many. Solutions include renting a cruise liner for temporary accomodation — something Barbados has done. Things usually have a way of sorting themselves out. Let's hope the LOC doesn't rely entirely on that.