In April this year, a decision was taken to name the north stand at the Brian Lara Cricket Stadium after Sachin Tendulkar. It’s learnt to have been a suggestion that came straight from Lara. However, the plan was stalled with both the Trinidad & Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) and the opposition party of the island, the East Indian-run UNC, expressing their discontent with views that ranged from “what has Tendulkar ever done for Trinidad cricket?” and “have they ever named a stand in Indian after a West Indian?”. Just like that, the Brian Lara stadium was back in the news, and as always for the wrong reasons.
The Brian Lara stadium is finally complete and set to host the CPL final on September 1 this year. Nobody really knows or can say with conviction anyway about when Trinidad actually decided to build a stadium eponymous with the most famous son of their soil. Some say it was conceived in the late 1990s, others that the foundation stone was laid somewhere at the start of the millennium. Everyone though remembers when it was supposed to be complete—the 2007 World Cup.
But one thing’s sure, rarely has the Brian Lara Cricket Stadium in Tarouba—which is some 52 km, and a good hour-drive from Port of Spain—ever done much but incite debates or spread a lot of bakanal—Trini for confusion—around Trinidad.
If Brian Lara is one name that unites every race, religion and region in Trinidad, then the stadium that’s named in his honour tears the island apart at the seams, along every line from political to racial. The original plan to build a government-owned stadium was floated to take cricket away from the historic Queen’s Park Oval, which is owned by a private club and has hosted international cricket since the inception of West Indies cricket.
“The Queen’s Park Club has always been a white-run establishment with many considering it as part of the colonial hangover. The government back then felt that it was time they stopped paying the club to host cricket and had a venue of their own,” says a local.
The stadium was developed by the Urban Development Company of Trinidad & Tobago (UDeCOTT) and Harish, the present manager of the stadium, joined the company as a 19-year-old some 10 years ago. And he insists that the venue was completely ready and set to host matches. But then when the UNC came into power, they didn’t allow the stadium to be opened, and Harish quit the project in early 2011. That is before he came back in September last year once the African-run PNM party came back into power and decided to finally go ahead with the launch of the stadium.
“I’ve come back to pretty much the same setting. The stands and the field (the grass has been imported from Tallahassee in Georgia, USA) were ready for use six years ago. But things are never that straightforward in Trinidad,” says Harish.
The stadium itself is a good drive, as you go past the heavily-Indian populated town of Chaguanas and then vast open expanses of green and hordes of abandoned sugarcane plantations. It’s similar to the Pune stadium in terms of how it pops up out of nowhere in the horizon off the Southern highway. It’s a state-of-the-art facility with storeyed stands and a grass-bank with the obligatory area for a lime—D’Party Stand as it’s called here.
The insides still leave a lot to be desired but Harish insists the gaps in the ceiling and the scattered debris will be fixed in time for the big match. The media box actually has a provision for journalists to Telex or Fax their copies, complete with desks in the back where you could mechanically write your copies, which probably gives away how long the construction has been in limbo. The venue was designed by an American construction company and the costs are said to have gone up from the original 500 million to 1.3 billion TT dollars. The burgeoning cost has been a bone that the naysayers have picked on incessantly over the years.
You’re also told by one local, who’s clearly not in favour of cricket being shifted out of the Oval—which is the eventual plan—to Tarouba that, “the earth moves in these parts and is not safe” and also that the PNM went ahead with launching the Lara stadium rather than opening the Children’s Hospital, which you cross, which has been left unused.
Meanwhile, a local in favour of the venue insists that since most of the young kids playing cricket come from the southern and central regions, from Chaguanas to Princes Town, it’s prudent to have a venue here so that they don’t spend money and time traveling to Port-of-Spain. And the debate rages on, as it will continue to years to come.