Carnival set to begin as Oval gives grounds for optimism

Excitement is building as the World Cup looms and a revamped Kensington Oval will be a fitting stage for the final, writes Stephen Brenkley in Barbados
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The Independent Online

The talk here in Barbados yesterday turned to the Cricket World Cup. It turns to little else. A young woman on the bus tried to explain what it means.

"It makes my heart glow," she said. She is hardly alone. The sense of pride and anticipation in the Caribbean is patent. This is the biggest thing that has ever happened here. Or at least, as the great Wes Hall put it, the greatest thing since independence from the United Kingdom 41 years ago.

How radiant the glow will be depends hugely on the next few weeks. The whole of the Caribbean is engaged in a race against time. This an obligatory sideshow which accompanies all major sporting occasions but it is rather complicated in the West Indies by the fact that the ninth World Cup is being played in nine different countries, many of which seized the moment to build or radically develop stadiums.

Concerns over the completion of at least three of them have been raised this week by the venue development director, Don Lockerbie. Additional worries continue to be expressed about ticket sales, accommodation and transport.

To be at the sparkling, re-fashioned Kensington Oval yesterday was not to be surprised at how little has been achieved but how much. As was graciously pointed out, it perhaps ill becomes a reporter from England to start poking about asking impertinent questions about the completion of sporting arenas considering the fact that the new Wembley is now four years behind its initial reopening date.

It is a pleasure to record then that the new $70 million [£35.9m] Kensington Oval in Bridgetown is already magnificent. It is a modern ground with a clean feel that pays tribute to the old venue on whichit stands and yet seems to reflect what might be the way of Caribbean life.

The ground, to be officially opened today with a Twenty20 match between a West Indies Legends XI, led by Sir Viv Richards and a World XI captained by Alec Stewart, is a few metres from the finishing tape. The roof on the Three Ws Stand is not yet complete because of its complicated design but unless confidence can be so misplaced that it can never be found again, it should be next month.

There may be grounds for some doubts about newly laid pitches but we shall not know until a few balls have been bowled. The best advice to the players is that they get on with it and adapt accordingly. Winners in one-day cricket tend to be those who think quickest on their feet and that will never have been truer than in the imminent tournament.

Otherwise, Barbados is ready. That was apparent in every pronouncement made by Wes Hall yesterday. It is entirely fitting that this island will stage seven matches in the tournament, including the final. Five of them, admittedly involving either the hosts or England, are sell-outs.

Barbados - population 270,000 - has given the world Sir Garfield Sobers, the three Ws (Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Clyde Walcott and Sir Everton Weekes, the only surviving member of the trio), Hall, and more recently Desmond Haynes and Joel Garner.

There was a feeling in the air yesterday that they felt at last they were getting their due with the staging of this tournament and they were not going to muck it up, roofless or not. During a spirited media session in which Sir Garfield vented his spleen a little and the English got it in the neck awhile, Haynes interjected at one point that one of the reasons for the comparative decline of West Indies cricket was that they had never been given the chance to stage a World Cup.

The mood round the rest of this vast region is hardly less dynamic but in Trinidad they are seriously adrift. This is especially embarrassing because Trinidad is the home of West Indies captain, Brian Lara, but Lockerbie, who has been candid about progress, was pretty gloomy. "It's the stand that's the most behind and we need Trinidad to step up to the plate," he said.

There were concerns when the West Indies Cricket Board won the right to stage this World Cup that the event might be blighted by petty jealousies and enmity between the respective cricketing countries, as they have sometimes affected the direction of the team. They seem to have risen above it all, although the West Indies board itself continues to find harmony elusive.

Hall said: "If we in Barbados succeed in providing a successful event, as I'm sure we shall, there will be no wishing that other places do not. What we really need is to show that the Caribbean can stage an effective World Cup."

If the Kensington Oval is a yardstick, his wish would seem to be possible. Its chief architect, Dipesh Patel, said he wanted the ground to provide an echo of the coastal landscape of Barbados. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't but it feels right. "We wanted to maintain the feel of the ground. This couldn't have been designed for anywhere else," Dipesh said.

It will be some place to watch cricket. Sir Everton said: "I came here when they started this job and it reminded me so much of when I was eight or nine. The pavilion was down and the grass was growing wild and I could see myself in a corner of the ground because we weren't allowed in the middle even then, playing with two or three friends. I think they have done a wonderful job here. It still feels like home."

Today's match is important in only one regard. It will test the ground's readiness. More than 13,000 spectators will attend. They have to be transported to the ground, admitted, entertained and catered for.

There is some way to go and the scepticism of the world outside remains to be overcome, and perhaps that is the most difficult feat of all. The distinct feeling to be garnered at Kensington Oval is that it can and will be done. Hearts will glow.

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