ANTIGUA OR Aunty-ga, as the locals pronounce it, is probably the most tranquil of the major cricket-playing islands in the Caribbean. Life in the land of 365 beaches is slow and the people “lackadaisical”, a term they use a lot for themselves. Every vehicle, without exception, carries a number plate with “land of sea and sand” inscribed boldly below the registration number. And they take both very seriously here. The island itself is a consortium of villages and parishes with tiny independent houses located conveniently apart along the hilly inland terrain. The constant threat of hurricanes means you won’t find a single structure higher than two storeys anywhere on the island.
Most of the houses are made of wood, and the torrential rains from September to November ensure that their base is a few inches off the ground to avoid flooding. St John’s, the capital, is the only one counted as “Town”, with a central market to boot. If Goa was a country, this would be it, but with much cleaner beaches, whiter sand and water that’s actually turquoise. But so genteel is the pace of life here that the name of their official rum — and yes, every island takes great pride in having one — doesn’t quite fit the general disposition of the island. Nothing in Antigua, after all, resonates with being “Cavalier”.
In the past though, there was one event that quickened pulses and, at times, even the energy of Antiguans — whenever the West Indian team was in town for an international match. That though is no longer the case. For all their lethargy, Antiguans also end up being the most forthright of the islanders in the Caribbean. They say it as they see it, and when there’s a point to be made, they make it. “We cared about them when the West Indies used to play cricket. Now I don’t know what they’re doing,” says one local. He’s not the only one completely unaware of Antigua hosting an ODI this week.
The WICB and the local authorities, though, are pulling out all stops to ensure that the two ODIs here aren’t played in front of empty stands. Tickets for the North and West stands are available for 20 EC (Eastern Caribbean currency which is used in Antigua, Dominica, St Lucia and some of the other islands) but for 15 additional EC, ticket-holders will also get a replica West Indies team jersey, which is being talked up as a major deal-breaker. There will also be interactive programmes for fans, who will be allowed target practice with balls on the sidelines of the match.
The approach to the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium isn’t easy either. Taxis are expensive and buses, though frequent, are rickety affairs on the up-and-down, narrow roads of Antigua. North Sound is a good 45-minute drive from where the Indian team is based, and half an hour from St John’s. The locals have, of course, moved on from the convenience of watching cricket at the Antigua Recreation Ground (ARG), considering it’s been a decade since cricket moved to North Sound. It doesn’t help that the only Antiguan in the West Indies squad is young Alzarri Joseph, who’s been roughed up by the Indian batsmen in the series so far.
“It doesn’t help that the Carnival is in August and a lot of people are busy rehearsing for it,” explains Justin, who’s been busy every night over the last month practising for the band competition that takes place before the big fete, with the winners performing on the main stage. It’s a politically-charged region with every Antiguan possessing a strong view about every issue in the land. Radio shows tend to be blusterous affairs, with anchors not holding back while putting their guests on the spot. You hear one famous radio anchor promising to quit his job if the present government doesn’t take a stand over hygiene standards in restaurants.
“Oh, he’s done that before,” the taxi driver tells you, “But he never quits.” Carole Beckford, WICB manager of communications and marketing, meanwhile, was grilled on the Morning JoJo show regarding the poor turnout at the Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad last week and the lack of buzz around a tour involving the most popular team in the world. She’s cut off repeatedly as she tries to defend the board’s position and is put on the spot when she talks about there having been a 60 per cent turnout for the second ODI in Port of Spain. She’s left with a lot of explaining to do. By the looks of it, she might not be done with it by the time this weekend’s over. It doesn’t look like Aunty-ga is waking up any time soon, not for the cricket anyway.