High hopes for cricket tournament in Antigua & Barbuda

by Ron Fanfair
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Curtly Ambrose, Richie Richardson, Andy Roberts & Viv Richards

By RON FANFAIR
While the United States and West Indies are co-hosting the International Cricket Council (ICC) Twenty/20 cricket tournament this month, Sir Viv Richards maintains that the Caribbean vibes make the region and, in particular, Antigua & Barbuda, the best place to attend games.
“We are the most vibrant cricket-watching crowd in the world,” the former West Indies captain said at an event in Brampton last month to promote the twin-island nation as a preferred destination to travel to for games. “Apart from the cricket and what that offers, we have 365 beaches – one for every day of the year – which is unique.”
Antigua hosts Group matches on June 9, 11, 13 and 15 and Super Eight games on June 19, 20, 22 and 23.
One of the Five Cricketers of the 20th century, Richards is optimistic that the West Indies will be competitive in the ninth edition of the one-month-long tournament.
“I believe we have a wonderful chance to go all the way,” he said. “When you look at the personnel, I think this will be a special tournament for the West Indies.”
Richards was a member of the West Indies teams that captured the first two 60-over World Cups in 1975 and 1979. He played a major role in both championship victories.
The ‘Master Blaster’ effected three runouts in the first and scored a brilliant unbeaten 138 in the second.
While some former players are not proponents of the game’s shorter version, Richards supports the entertaining Twenty/20 format.
“I am not knocking Test Match cricket because that is the foundation,” the 2009 ICC Hall of Fame inductee said. “Some of the best T-20 players are the best in Test cricket. T-20 is a format to have some fun and I don’t have anything against that.”
A fierce competitor in his playing days, victory still excites the 72-year-old Richards as was evident last March when he enthusiastically ran onto the field from the Quetta Gladiators dugout after Muhammad Wasim Jr. hit the last ball for six.
“It is just when you win after getting into a tight situation,” he said. “When you can hit the last ball for six to win the match, it brings coaches off the bench and I did enjoy that. It was exciting stuff. At the end of the day when you can cross the line as a winner, it is all good for the team.”
Richards has been mentoring the Gladiators since the start of the Pakistan Super League in 2016.
The first cricketer to score 1,000 runs and take 50 wickets in One-Day Internationals also relished the West Indies drawing a Test series in Australia last January. Playing in his second Test, fast bowler Shamar Joseph was the architect of the win, claiming 7-68 in the Aussies second innings.
It was the West Indies’ first Test win in Australia since February 1997 when the Caribbean cricketers won by 10 wickets at Perth.
“It was good to see,” said Richards who is the only West Indies captain not to lose a Test series. “The amazing thing about it is that when we drew that series in Australia, it was as if we won it. I feel we have to move beyond that. If we can get our stuff together, we will be okay and not just feel good about drawing a series.”
With family ties in Toronto, Canada’s largest city is one of his favourite destinations. His daughter, Matara, and grandson reside in the Greater Toronto Area.
Richards was the second Antiguan & Barbudan to play Test cricket. He was joined at the event by the twin-island nation’s other knighted cricketers – Richie Richardson, Curtly Ambrose and Andy Roberts who made history in 1974.
With a population of about 86,000, Antigua & Barbuda has produced more great cricketers per capita than any other nation in the world.
“We are proud people and anything we do, we always want to be the best at it,” said Ambrose who claimed 405 wickets in 98 Tests at an average of 20.99. “People look at us and say we are from a small island. Maybe yes, in size, but when it comes to heart and determination, we are as big as any and bigger than most.”
Settling for second best, said Roberts who replaced an injured Keith Boyce in the third Test against England in Barbados 50 years ago, is not in the Antiguan & Barbudan DNA.
“If you are an Antiguan and you represent the West Indies, you have to strive to be the best player on the team,” he said. “That is the example I set when I started and Viv, Richie and Ambie followed me.”
Richards said that the knighted cricketers stand on the shoulders of other countrymen who did not get an opportunity to represent the West Indies.
Opening batsman Sir Sydney Walling, the first Black Antiguan captain in 1934 who went on to lead the Leewards Islands and the Combined Islands in 1948; fast bowler Hubert Anthonyson who represented his country in five sports; off-spinner Eustace ‘Tuss’ Matthews and opener Oscar Williams were all good enough to play Test cricket for the West Indies.
“The small islands did not get a look in back then and one of the things that was crucial in helping Antiguans & Barbudans to move on was the fact that Andy was the first from our homeland to represent the West Indies,” Richards said. “When he was selected, I was in a bar in my community playing bingo when he came in and said, ‘Viv, I am leaving for Barbados tonight to fill in for a player (Boyce) who is injured’. When he said that, I felt uplifted and I mentioned to those sitting next to me that ‘he is the first and I will be the second’.”
Asked about his career highlight, Roberts singled out West Indies’ triumph in the first World Cup in 1975 and the 2-0 Test victory in Australia in 1979-80. It was the Caribbean cricketers’ first Test series win ‘Down Under’.
“Most West Indians were very surprised because we lost the Test series (1975-76) by a 5-1 margin,” he said. “We had our revenge a few years later.”
Roberts played a significant role with the bat in West Indies being unbeaten in the tournament. Replying to Pakistan’s 266-7 off 60 overs in a Group Match, the West Indies were 203-9 with 16 overs remaining when he joined wicketkeeper Deryck Murray. The last wicket pair put on an unbeaten 64 to help their team win by one wicket with two balls remaining.
Under Richardson’s captaincy, the West Indies won 10 straight Tests against England.
“Whitewashing our colonial masters 5-0 (1984) in England, blackwashing them 5-0 (1985-1986) and following in the footsteps of Viv, Clive Lloyd and the late Malcolm Marshall are my highlights,” said the ICC Match Referee who scored nine of his 16 Test centuries against Australia.
After the retirement of Richards, Marshall and Jeffrey Dujon in 1991, West Indies were underdogs when they arrived in Australia in 1992 for five Tests and an ODI triangular series that included Pakistan.
The Caribbean cricketers won the Test series 2-1 with Ambrose taking 33 wickets, including 7-25 off 18 off overs in the first innings of the last game.
“No one gave us a chance to beat Australia and we did,” the 1992 Wisden Cricketer of the Year said. “That was my finest moment.”
For Richards, playing at the Antigua Recreation Ground where, as a young boy, he jumped the fence to gain access to the ground to see games, and scoring the fastest Test century at the time off 56 balls in 1986 at the same venue, is one of his two career highlights.
The other is hilarious.
After scoring a Test century in Australia, the crowd’s loud ovation surprised him.
“I was caught up in my own little world saying, ‘Well done Viv to myself and making the sign of the cross’ when my partner at the other end said, ‘Hey Smokey, turn around and have a look’,” Richards recalled. “Coming towards me was a woman in her birthday suit. As she got closer, she asked if I could sign one of her breasts.”

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