Fields of Dreams

Georgia Popplewell looks at the playing grounds where the West Indies will meet Australia for this season’s Test series

The International Test Cricket season is always awaited with eagerness by cricket-mad West Indians. And with the top-rated Aussies as opponents in the Caribbean this year, we can be sure of an exciting series.

The West Indies is perhaps the most bizarre of the world’s cricketing “nations”: no other country faces the challenge of picking their “national” team from among citizens of different countries. Play itself is a question of hopping up and down the archipelago, so that the different islands get a piece of the action. The 1999 season also sees the addition of Grenada and their spanking new ground at Queen’s Park to the one-day circuit.

Perhaps not as well-appointed as their foreign counterparts, the cricket grounds of the West Indies make up for what they lack in finish with an abundance of character (and characters). Jamaica’s Sabina Park features a beach complete with bathing beauties. The Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad is the home base not only of raucous West Indian patriots, the Trini Posse, but also of colourful vendors like peanut-seller Jumbo.

Clive Lloyd sharpened his cricketing skills watching matches from a tree at Bourda, on the edge of the Guyanese capital, Georgetown. Bourda’s signature wooden stands are not as elegant as they used to be, but this is still a great — if somewhat rainy — venue to experience the game. The stands at Barbados’s Kensington Oval have witnessed some of the highest (and lowest) moments in West Indies cricket. Kensington is the centre of the growing trend in cricket tourism, hosting increasing numbers of British cricket fans each year. It’s also the home of Mac Fingall and his tuk band, and the late, great, and dapper King Dyal.

The Antigua Recreation Ground is the newest of the Test venues, though it has perhaps had the strongest influence on the way cricket is presented in the West Indies today. The party element, without which modern West Indies cricket is now unimaginable, was introduced single-handedly by deejay Chickie, who turned up at the ARG with his tape deck in 1981 to entertain himself and some friends. Today, Chickie and his sound system are perched on a platform on the edge of the Trouble Decker stand and the party is already rocking before the start of play, while the local characters Gravy and his rival Mayfield duke it out in mock boxing matches on the outfield.

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When asked which was their favourite West Indian cricket ground, most members of the foreign TV crew covering the last Test said St Vincent’s Arnos Vale. With its seaside location just adjacent to the airport (you pass over it as you fly into St Vincent), it isn’t difficult to see why the TV people are taken with this charming little ground.

Whatever the ground, the cricket between the West Indiea and Australia is never less than gripping. Here are the tour dates:

Saturday, April 24: Barbados

Sunday, April 25: Barbados