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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 June 2006, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
End of an era in Antigua
England take on the West Indies at the ARG
Antigua's Recreation Ground saw several feats of batting brilliance

From the day Colin Croft and Joel Garner destroyed Australia in 1978 to the thrilling evening when West Indies held on for a draw against India, the Antigua Recreation Ground has played a major role in Caribbean cricket.

It was at the ARG that Antigua's favourite son, Viv Richards, hit the fastest ever Test century, taking just 56 balls to reach the milestone against England in 1986.

Brian Lara celebrated world records there twice. He eclipsed Sir Garfield Sobers' 36-year-old world record Test score of 365 not out with 375 against England in 1994.

And a decade later almost to the day, Lara scored an unprecedented 400 to regain the record from Australian Matthew Hayden, who only held it for a few months after his epic 380 against Zimbabwe.

One of the most exhilarating moments came just three years ago, when West Indies successfully chased down a record target of 418 to beat world number one Australia.

But it looks like the ARG has seen its last international action as it is to be replaced by a brand new ground five miles away for the 2007 World Cup.

Richards hit the fastest Test fifty ever at the ARG
It is small, intimate and there is something very special about the whole place

Sir Viv Richards on the ARG
For a long time an outpost in the Caribbean game, Antigua became its heart as the likes of Richards, Andy Roberts, Richie Richardson and Curtly Ambrose starred for West Indies.

And the ARG, right in the middle of busy capital St John's, provided a unique atmosphere for Test cricket.

"I think the atmosphere at the ARG makes it one of the most exciting places to play the game anywhere in the world," said Roberts.

"People enjoy the ARG for the brand of cricket because you always get a lot of runs being scored.

"The ARG has left its mark on the international scene, and I don't think you will see anything like it again anywhere in the world."

The concept of the Caribbean party stand had its roots at the ground, where popular local disc jockey Nigel "Chickie" Baptiste has been like an institution in the stands.

For years his music was accompanied by the outlandish dancer Laban "Gravy" Benjamin, whose garish outfits at times made him more memorable than the cricket.

Gravy marked his retirement in 2000 by parading across the ARG outfield during an interval dressed in a fully-accessorised bridal gown.

But the proliferation this week of pink tee-shirts reading "Gravy - Will he be back for the World Cup?" has led to speculation of a return.

If he does, the surroundings will be far more salubrious, as the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in the suburb of Northsound is well on the way to development.

It will seat 20,000 for the six matches it will host in the Super Eight round of the World Cup, scaled down to 10,000 for the future.

Antigua dancer Gravy
Gravy could be back in his bridal gear at the new stadium
Architects have planned terraces on either side of the square, intended to help the venue keep a more casual Caribbean flavour.

But the eponymous hero of the new ground is just one who will miss the old ARG.

"It is such a vibrant place and it is small, intimate and there is something very special about the whole place," said Richards.

"I attended the Antigua Boys' School a few yards away, and my father, Mervin, worked at the prison across the road, so you can see my close association with the ground.

"When I was a little boy, before we were able to afford a ticket, we used to jump up in the trees around the ground and watch matches."

"Being able to accomplish something, let alone play your first Test on home soil, it was just something very, very special.

"All this kind of stuff sends shivers down your spine."

If all goes to plan, West Indies are likely to face defending champions Australia in the first big game at the new stadium on 27 March 2007 when a new chapter in Caribbean cricket history will begin.



SEE ALSO
Lara relief over 'lifeline' draw
07 Jun 06 |  Cricket


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