WHEN Trinidad drew its football World Cup match against Sweden back in June, an announcement came over the Tannoy at the Beausejour Cricket Stadium in St Lucia that Trinidad had won the World Cup.
It seemed a draw against the Swedes was enough to warrant enormous exaggeration of the talents of the football team and a huge cheer went round the stadium.
This was possibly inspired by West Indian master batsman Brian Lara who scored a century to clutch a draw from the jaws of defeat in the second test match against India.
With the football World Cup fading into the tropical sunset, all Caribbean eyes are now focused on the ICC Cricket World Cup, to be held in the West Indies next March and April, and England have already scored a metaphorical six.
The draw has put them in a group that should make qualification a breeze, and their group matches will be held in St Lucia, one of the Caribbean’s most stunning islands.
The island is expecting some 20,000 fans from the UK to attend the event. And for fans it doesn’t come much better than watching Brian Lara show why he is one of cricket’s greatest ever batsmen in the 12,000-seater Beausejour Stadium at Gros Islet in the north of the island.
It may not be Lords, but the compact ground, which will increase its capacity to 20,000 for the competition, is set against a backdrop of lush mountains rather than concrete tower blocks.
St Lucia may not be the spiritual epicentre of West Indian cricket but St Lucians love the sound of leather against willow as much as any other Caribbean.
Cricket is a passion in the Caribbean and there’s always a carnival atmosphere at any big match. The laid-back nature of the locals and their great sense of humour makes for a great day out.
The Party Stand, where for just $50 fans can watch the cricket, eat and drink while reggae music blasts out between overs, will no doubt attract some members of the Barmy Army.
St Lucia will host all the Group B matches, including England’s three matches against New Zealand, Canada and Kenya and one of the semi-finals. After the group stages, the successful teams head to Antigua, Guyana, Grenada and Barbados for the second phase of the tournament, the Super 8.
These islands are all accessible by air, with extra flights scheduled for the event. Tourism officials are hoping many England fans will base themselves on St Lucia after the group stages and make day trips to matches on the other islands.
ITC Sports head Helen Tabois said: “Our emphasis is very much on combining the traditional sun, sea, sand and Caribbean culture with the drama and excitement of one-day international cricket.
“In this respect, St Lucia is the perfect destination because not only is it hosting the ICC Cricket World Cup, but it is also renowned for its dramatic scenery, colourful villages, water sports and secluded beaches.”
The island is gearing up well for the tournament. Apart from the stadium improvements, the main highway, which runs from the south of the island (where the international airport is located) to the north, is being upgraded.
New hotels are being built all the time and tour operators are offering villas and apartments as well as hotels. There is even a Homestay programme for more adventurous travellers.
Virgin Atlantic’s flight from Manchester to St Lucia, is starting in November. Agents should encourage clients to book early as the hotels in the north of the island, where the stadium is situated, particularly the Rodney Bay area, are selling fast.
If Fish-Friday, where locals and tourists enjoy a good fry-up on the beach, is anything to go by, the St Lucians know how to throw a damn good party. And come March, it will be in full swing.