The island’s biggest carnival is about to kick off, but Coronation Avenue is suspiciously dim-lit. A passerby pointed out that one side of the road lined Her Majesty’s Prison and one immediately knew why. One had no idea what was there to the left of Coronation Road, until a security guard outside its gate declared it was the Antigua Recreation Ground (ARG).
A tapestry of images flooded one’s mind --- Brian Lara getting to a Test world record 375 against England in 1994, and setting a fresh mark again by scoring a round 400 a decade later. This is also the ground where Viv Richards hit the fastest Test century against England in 1986. In short, this is the ground of world records.
But the ARG has got nothing to do with cricket now. The ground was preparing for the first night of gathering of all the carnival rallies, so entry was selective. The media card helped. Once inside, there was no problem getting inside the clubhouse as well. But the condition of the clubhouse, the famous Double Decker Stand and the ground in general was disappointing. The DD Stand looked almost in disrepair. A big stage at the centre of the ground blocked the view of the other side. But one could gauge how intimidating it would have been for visiting sides to play here. Or, how perfectly at home were Lara and Richards.
A stadium that began operating in 1981, ARG somehow didn’t stand the test of time. Once West Indies were awarded the World Cup in 2007, it was decided to build the present stadium at North Sound, around 10km from St John’s. It didn’t go down well with many. Located centrally, in St. John’s, the ARG was the cricketing equivalent of a heartbeat the locals couldn’t miss. No wonder people were overjoyed after the ARG was asked to host a Test against England in 2009 on two days’ notice, after the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium was found unfit to play. That was the last time the ARG witnessed action.
Now, apart from the pavilion, the crumbling stadium doesn’t reflect its old world charm. The stands that once used to seat one of the noisiest crowds in the West Indies are now creaky with rust forming on the pillars. The ground that houses the main carnival stage and a few makeshift bars and shops itself is unkempt. Inside the pavilion, the honours board still stands though. On it glow the words ‘world record’ at two places. Few grounds can match that even now.
Richards is central to the identity of both the stadiums in Antigua. His father Malcolm, a former warden of Her Majesty’s Prison, used to oversee preparations at the ground by its inmates. “Some of the stands are pretty old now. It’s not very safe nowadays,” Richards told HT.
What he said next wasn’t good news. “I hear they will pull down the dressing room. There are plans of restoration definitely, but now the ARG will be used only for carnivals and festivities.”