The prospects of a trip to the Caribbean

SOMEONE only has to mention the Caribbean to set me off. I hear the wail in Bob Marley's voice, hear the beat of the steel band and smell the gentle breezes that keep the temperature at a level fit for ordinary north-western Europeans.

TED CORBETT

Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, said that "the Islands earned the right to stage the World Cup." If it is a success it will be the most memorable event. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

SOMEONE only has to mention the Caribbean to set me off. I hear the wail in Bob Marley's voice, hear the beat of the steel band and smell the gentle breezes that keep the temperature at a level fit for ordinary north-western Europeans.

Frankly, I love it all from Georgetown, Guyana by way of Port of Spain and the rain forests of Trinidad right up to that turbulent town Kingston, where the pirate tradition still lives even if the modern day gangsters don't wear eye patches or carry swords on their hips or parrots on their shoulders.

So I am already savouring the prospects of the trip next spring when England play four Tests and seven one-day internationals against West Indies; when, I hope, Brian Lara still has the power and the skill that once allowed him to set two world records in a couple of months and made him the greatest left-handed batsman the game has ever seen.

But is it the right part of planet earth to stage a World Cup with 16 teams? I wonder.

It is a lovely, romantic area where for most of the year the heat, the music, the palm trees on the beach, the gentle rollers coming in from the calmest of seas and the charming people make it ideal for holidays.

You can dream — and thousands of British people do so each month — this is the life you would love to live if only the need to work did not get in the way of a better standard of laziness.

But efficient it is not. And that is a quality ICC will need in bundles if they are to make a better fist of the 2007 World Cup than they did of the recent tournament in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Let me tell you two stories of efficiency Caribbean-style.

Eleven years ago we went on a seven-month odyssey that included India's series in Australia, the World Cup won by Pakistan and the Australian tour of West Indies. Even as we planned this world tour we realised we might be tired at the end and built into the itinerary a short break on the north coast of Jamaica to catch our breath before we plunged into the English cricket season again.

As the tour finished in Barbados we made our way to the airport where we found that the plane would be eight hours late. We went on a coach tour round the island, we rested, we had lunch and finally we set off — ten hours late actually — for Kingston.

When we arrived, loaded with all the luggage accumulated in months on the hoof, we found that the comfortable, roomy hire car we had ordered had been rented to someone else. So we crammed ourselves and our suitcases into a vehicle the size of a small desk and set off for the north coast in the dark, guided by a map which might fit easily into the palm of a child's hand. It also lacked any sort of detail.

On our bewildered way through Kingston we drove into a traffic jam which was being controlled by a large number of gentlemen who looked as if they had backgrounds that might not get them automatic entry into the clergy.

Just as I was wondering how long we might survive, one of the tougher characters spotted us. `Hey, white guy' he shouted, `where you think you going'.

I told him. `Come on you guys,' he bellowed to his buddies. `Let's clear the way. These guys got a holiday to start'. And off we drove, over hill, down dark unlit roads for four hours, asking the way from people whose accents sounded strange to our untuned ears until we finally arrived at the hotel.

There, two servants made us comfortable and refused any tip even though it was 2 a.m. "You don't want to start the holiday tipping us," said one.

Wonderful, hospitable, caring people. But running a World Cup of maybe 50 matches, with inter-island travel on just one airline, with hotel space that is often inadequate for an England tour? Maybe not.

Life can be difficult on those islands. We once found that we had to be at the airport for an 8 a.m. flight, with the prospect of no breakfast and a journey complicated by the need to give another reporter a lift. Once again, we had a car far too small for all our gear.

Eventually, an hour before take-off, we had carried out the day's tasks and felt the need for a coffee. The airport cafe{sbquo} was clearly unused but in the distance we could see a restaurant that appeared to be open.

I went in. "Could I have two coffees and two of those sandwiches," I asked. The girl behind the counter did not move. I repeated my order. She looked blankly at me.

After five minutes the owner emerged. I said "I seemed to be having trouble placing an order for breakfast". "Hey, girl," he said, "put on the kettle, make the man two coffees." She did so, although her reluctance was blatant.

The owner and I got into conversation. Why, I asked, didn't he get himself a girl who was more willing? "She's the best girl I ever had," he replied. Why didn't he take the franchise for the airport cafe{sbquo} surely a business that was bound to succeed? "Don't you think I got enough problems here" was his answer.

So there are even more problems for anyone who hopes to organise a big event in the Caribbean. Service can be outstanding but just as often food stands on the counter getting cold while the waiters chatter, security men at the airports ask you to open your hand luggage and then lose interest in searching it, and, worst of all, there is just one way round the West Indies.

You can sail, if you have the leisure, or you can fly by British West Indies Airlines, or BWIA which has been translated in various ways, such as But Where Is Antigua? (Of course, long haul flights are often passed by word-conscious passengers who invent insulting acronyms for airlines: BA is Bloody Awful, for instance and you may care to add to the list. So BWIA is not alone but its solo position in the Caribbean makes it especially vulnerable).

I guess the wise men at ICC are aware of the potential for a disaster and will work out ways of getting round the biggest traps. Malcolm Speed, their chief executive, says the islands have earned the right to stage the World Cup. Let's hope so.

Their president Teddy Griffith announced that they were taking their task with "the utmost seriousness and resolve" when the signing of the host agreement was staged in Jamaica House, Kingston a couple of weeks ago. He went on to say "we have moved from symbolism to reality. Now is the time for performance and delivery and that is all that really matters henceforth."

He went on: "The World Cup in the West Indies goes way beyond cricket. It's about travel and tourism, it's about entrepreneurship. It's about cultural development, regional integration and a lot more."

The Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, a wise man who loves his cricket, assured his listeners that the West Indies would be ready for the World Cup and that it would be hosted to the highest standards.

There is a lot of hard work ahead before the World Cup 2007 gets underway but if it is a success it will be the most memorable of them all on islands where all the people love cricket and where it seems natural to play with exuberance and vivacity and joy.

By the time that World Cup is staged the England one-day captain may well be one Andrew `Freddie' Flintoff. Arrangements are already in hand to make him Michael Vaughan's vice-captain this winter in the West Indies and recently he took charge of the England team during a one-day warm-up in Bangladesh.

If Flintoff proves his worth as a captain — and I hope he is given plenty of opportunities since he admits he is a slow learner — I can see the day when Vaughan wants big Freddie to lead the one-day side.

As the Australians have shown, there is no need for both Tests and one-dayers to be led by the same man.

Conservative thinkers are offended by the idea and it is certainly neater for one man to lead both teams but there is a logic to suggesting that the burden should be halved.

What a leader Flintoff would make. If the Caribbean is the right place to stage the game, it needs a cricketer with Freddie's life force to exhibit what can be achieved.

You know, I am beginning to look forward to a trip to West Indies in 2007, with even more pleasure than usual.