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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 08:35 GMT
Putting Antigua on the map
St John's - a key cricket venue of today
St John's - a key cricket venue of today
Back in the old days Antigua was a tiny island nobody had heard of. Then Sir Viv Richards came along...

Report by BBC Sport Online's Oliver Brett

Prior to Viv Richards' arrival on the scene, West Indies cricket stars predominantly came from four distinct parts of the Caribbean.

Players tended to hail from Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana - and those four nations were consequently the principal venues for home internationals.

Pre-Richards, cricket in Antigua was always popular.

But it was never thought such a tiny island - even now, it has a population barely reaching 80,000 - could be expected to produce players of a high enough standard to represent the whole of the West Indies.

A cricket-mad Antiguan gets in the mood
A cricket-mad Antiguan gets in the mood

"If you look at a map of the world," explains Antiguan journalist Sam Brown, "Antigua occupies no more than a dot.

"It's not supposed to be a country that you would know about. I think Sir Viv Richards put Antigua in the public view."

Richards made his Test debut in November 1974. Six-and-a-half years later, St John's Recreation Ground staged its first Test match.

And the script was complete when England's beleaguered bowling attack of Dilley, Stevenson and Botham saw Richards hit 114 out of 468-9 declared on the second and third days.

Rain

The match would probably have resulted in a win for the West Indies.

But it rained throughout the fourth day and England survived to record a draw - though the home side had already wrapped up the series.

By then, of course, the whole cricketing world was beginning to enjoy the Richards phenomenon.

The spin-off for Antigua was that this small island was starting to be accepted in West Indies cricket circles.

Richie Richardson - another stylish Antiguan
Richie Richardson - another stylish Antiguan

The selectors suddenly realised that if a talent like Richards could come from a country so small, then anything that happened in Antiguan cricket should be closely watched.

Paceman Andy Roberts, another Antiguan, had made his debut a few months before Richards.

And since their day, Curtly Ambrose, Richie Richardson and Ridley Jacobs have all come to the fore.

But in the 1970s, there was no system for fast-tracking talented players.

Tough task

Sam Roberts says: "In those days it was very difficult to make the West Indies side.

"First you had to make your national island side, then you had to make the territorial side - which in the case of Antigua was the Leeward Islands.

"Then you had to make the combined Leeward/Windward Islands side, before you could even be considered for the West Indies.

"I don't think the attention that was paid to the likes of Richardson, Ambrose and Jacobs at a young age would have been paid to them if it hadn't been for Richards."

Fellow Antiguan Andy Roberts in action
Fellow Antiguan Andy Roberts in action

The thinking was now that if one of the Caribbean's smallest islands had produced Richards and Roberts they might produce more of the same.

How things had changed. In the early years of West Indian cricket, the Leeward and Windward Islands were often considered obscure cricketing entities.

The breakthrough came in 1956 when the young Vincentian batsman, Afrie Roberts, was selected on the West Indies team to tour New Zealand.

But he played only one Test, and whatever impact he had made was small fry compared to the Richards-Andy Roberts double whammy.

Antigua now has nine premier clubs, and a second competitive league of 12 teams.

Richards would have had to wait until he was part of the West Indian set-up before he received formal coaching.

Other attractions

Now Antigua boasts a cricket programme through the Ministry of Sports which rivals that seen anywhere else in the Windies.

Like everywhere in the Caribbean, the youth of the West Indies are becoming increasingly exposed to football and basketball.

But some of the great ambassadors - particularly Richardson and Ambrose - are taking an active role in encouraging more youngsters to play the game.

And Sam Roberts for one believes that there will be more great players from Antigua.

It just remains to be seen whether there will ever be another to rival the great Viv Richards.

Links to more Cricket stories are at the foot of the page.

 

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