Nothing excites Antigua like a game of cricket – every scrap of spare land, from parking lots to wasteland scrub, bears a set of makeshift stumps. Cricket season is welcomed with a fanfare and Antigua cricket legend Sir Vivian Richards is worshipped by his homeland for his international batting prowess.
Hailed as one of Antigua’s greatest sporting heroes and internationally known as the “˜Master Blaster’ of world-class cricket, Sir Vivian Richards is a legend in every sense of the word. Playing for the formidable West Indies squad for seventeen years (from 1974 to 1991), Richards has earned his place as one of the greatest batsmen of all time. He even played football for the national team in their qualification campaign for the 1974 World Cup finals, but fortunately hung his boots up when Antigua lost all four matches.
Today, Sir Viv’s sporting tenacity and passion mirrors the fiercely loyal devotion of Antigua’s sporting fans – and no more so than for cricket. Though official matches are held on Thursday, Saturdays and Sundays, you can see cricket played everywhere and at any time, from make-shift boundaries on the soft sands of the beach to a scrap of scrubby urban wasteland. The Antigua cricket season runs from January to July, with the calendar punctuated by regional and international matches.
During his middle years as captain, Viv Richards led a West Indian team that dominated world cricket: carrying the hopes, pride and fortune of the island around the globe with considerable charm and charisma. It’s little wonder that he is held in such high regard in Antigua today, his bat has even been placed in the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda; he has a cricket stadium that bears his name, and Richards himself remains involved in the Antiguan, West Indian, and International cricket scene. Other big-name cricketing giants from Antigua include fine world-class talent like Andy Roberts, a fast bowler who emerged as an international star during the mid-Seventies to enjoy fame during the heyday of West Indian cricket in the early 80’s. Former captain Richie Richardson also became one of the game’s most punishing batsmen in the decade following his 1983 debut. And Curtly Ambrose came to world attention in 1998 to attain bowling supremacy all over the world – a tally of 369 Test Wickets and 221 ODI wickets is no mean feat for a 13-year career.
Viv Richards has served as the inspiration for cricketers throughout the West Indies for over thirty years now – when you hear small kids playing on the pavement in St. John’s using an oil drum for wickets, one will always declare him “the Master Blaster”. The Antiguan scored over 8,500 runs at an average of 50.23 and, in 2000, was voted one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the 20th Century. Cricket adopted new, high standards under Richards’ talismanic leadership, and his teammates watched him strike fear into the hearts of bowlers around the world when he strode out of the pavilion. With him as a mentor, they raised their game.
For cricket nuts, Antigua is certainly the place to be when the cricket’s in town. It’s an island where cricketing history has been made and games have been watched that are second to none – Antigua doesn’t just host cricket, it has the game coursing through its veins. At school level, in colleges and in cricket clubs and academies around the island, they hope to have the next Viv Richards in the making. Richards himself grew up watching cricket matches from treetops outside the Antigua Recreation Grounds before he starting practicing his batting on the beach with his friends. He never once imagined then that he’d be swollen with pride having been called up to earn a maroon cap and join the West Indies team.
Though he still occasionally picks up a cricket bat, Viv Richards has a serious passion for golf – playing off a handicap of four. When he’s in Antigua, he’ll play up to four times a week at the Cedar Valley Golf Club – a championship facility blessed with lush vegetation and mind-blowing panoramic views. Wherever Sir Vivian Richards goes in Antigua he is besieged by cricket fans and is often seen signing autographs and flying the flag for a sport, and a country, that he loves. He swaps stories with local kids, gives batting tips to youth players and scribbles his autograph on Antigua and Barbuda branded cricket bats for tourists. In St. John’s, a statue has been erected in his honour outside of the 10,000 capacity ultra-modern cricket facility in his name, the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. Built to host the ICC World Cup 2007, the cricket ground is an impressive international cricketing venue with modern amenities.
Visitors keen to soak up the history of Antigua cricket should pay a visit to the Antigua Recreation Ground. In 1980-81 it became the 52nd international test venue and it remains one of the most atmospheric and exciting stadiums in the world to watch a match. For an insight into the Antiguan cricketing connection take a trip to the Antigua and Barbuda Museum to see the infamous cricket bat of Sir Vivian Richards and some other interesting cricketing artefacts.
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Have you experienced the exciting world of Antigua Cricket? Are you a Vivian Richards fan? Let us know in the comments section below.