Every Friday in Gros Islet, a massive street party starts up. People spill out onto the streets from overflowing bars, the smell of succulent meat being grilled on open-air barbecues is everywhere, and the music throbs from every direction. With a massive number of tourists flocking to this party island, security is paramount, and the police patrols are frequent and visible. What's stunning is that the uniforms on duty are just as likely to have a beer in one hand, a fag in the other and be moving with the music alongside the patrons they're protecting.
No one bats an eyelid. That's St Lucia for you.
What's been a surprise for those watching the games that have happened so far is just how flat the atmosphere has been here. In what's meant to be the party capital of the cricketing world, seeing gaping empty stands was disconcerting.
The ICC, after the absolute fiasco of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, has righted many wrongs, starting with pricing tickets at an eminently affordable $5 a pop. Their marketing campaign bearing the slogan “Bring it!” also ensures that the overzealous anti ambush-marketing experts have been forced to rein themselves in and allow people to bring their usual drums, conches, trumpets and assorted musical instruments that are such a feature of the region.
And yet, there were barely 3000 at the ground when India played their first game.
The problem, quite clearly, is starting games at 9.30 am local time. With India being the largest market, and the official broadcasters having forked out serious cash for these matches, there's really no option but to start matches at a time that corresponds to prime-time viewing – 7 pm India time.
Last year, the IPL’s last-minute shift to South Africa was made possible by the fact that it was TV audiences and not fans at the ground that were the most important stakeholders of the game. The flip side of that is in evidence here in St Lucia in that the locals have essentially being kept out of their own party. Not deliberately, of course, but if you make it so inconvenient for someone to attend, it's as good as not inviting them in the first place.
For the players, who have little say in these lofty matters, the early starts don't make a huge difference. “Night games are more pleasant because the sea breeze sets in and you don't feel the heat so much. The one advantage is that I trust my eyes more than the lights, even as a biker I always feel that way,” said MS Dhoni.
“For the local people, it could be a bit disappointing, as they enjoy more under lights. But in more important matches as the tournament progresses, the turnout will get better irrespective of the start time,” he said.
Whether that's wishful thinking or the optimism of a cricketer pitted against the harsh reality of those that call the shots, only time will tell.