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For sentimental and financial reasons, all sound and neither less persuasive than the other, the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) has settled, once and for all, that Kensington Oval should remain as the game’s headquarters rather than abandoning it for an entirely new, modern stadium at another location.
Readers of this column will know of my own preference for the latter but the arguments, pro and con, have been aired so many times it would be pointless to rehash them now.
The BCA has made its choice. At the same time, it acknowledges the straightforward truth that Kensington needs to be redeveloped and renovated to convert it into a facility worthy of its name and its great tradition.
To move it would have been an emotional wrench for those who cherish its history and its memories. It has been there since 1882 when Foster Alleyne, the owner of Kensington Plantation, first rented the land to Pickwick Club at the nominal fee of a penny a year.
It was the venue for the first team to tour the West Indies, a group of English amateurs under R. Slade Lucas, in 1895 and for West Indies’ inaugural Test, against England, in 1928.
In its time, it has witnessed some of the greatest feats and the most memorable matches the game has known.
Even if such considerations were overlooked in favour of a spanking new stadium of the type that Grenada and St Lucia have recently built, the estimated cost of $50 million was well beyond the means of the BCA alone.
It was feasible only if Government was prepared to put up the money and Government has made it plain that it would become involved only if Kensington remains right where it is.
Not that it can stay in its present condition.
If the expenditure needed to ensure it is upgraded to the standard expected of an international sporting facility in the 21st Century - and not only with the 2007 World Cup in mind - is not as high as that for a new complex, it is sizeable all the same.
The BCA cannot raise it on its own, not even if it suddenly starts receiving the promised windfall from the lottery to whose mast it is tied. It not only needs help but deserves it, not least from Government and from the private sector who directly benefit from the game.
As BCA president Stephen Alleyne has pointed out, the economy as a whole is given a tremendous boost whenever an international match is staged at Kensington, more especially when it involves England with a travelling support group of up to 10 000.
What the BCA receives through the gates from cricket tourists from outside and inside the Caribbean is minimal compared to what is paid to the hotels, the airlines, the restaurants and bars, the other ancillary services and, not least, Government through taxes.
Even apart from international tours, cricket brings hundreds to the island annually through visiting teams, mainly out of England.
If they are not as numerous as they used to be, since complacency and downright indifference allowed South Africa, Grenada and St Lucia to entice counties and clubs to head there instead, they still provide a welcome boost to the economy.
While it may seem unthinkable now, there is no guarantee that Barbados will forever host an annual Test match by right.
Whereas it was one of only five Test grounds in the West Indies, it is now one of seven as Grenada and St Lucia have opened their stadiums. Competition for the cricket tourist dollar is fierce and bound to get fiercer as the 2007 World Cup looms.
Kensington has changed beyond recognition over the years but it now needs a major facelift if it is to maintain its boast as the “mecca of West Indies cricket”.
The first transformation came after its two main wooden stands were destroyed by fire in 1944, and since then it has developed very much on a piecemeal basis.
The stands that now encircle it were added, one by one and with no obvious coordination. The effect is motley and unattractive. Nor are they functional - and, in the case of the plumbing, often not functioning either.
Its official capacity, given as 12 000, has proved, time and again, to be inadequate for the weekend of a Test match or for any One-Day International when many more are uncomfortably squeezed in to sit on hard, board benches or congregate like sardines under the Three Ws Stand.
Proper dining facilities are non-existent, there is no on-site practice area and parking space is severely limited.
A caller to one of the radio phone-in programmes last week noted that caterers had to lug their food and drinks up steep staircases to executive boxes because there are neither lifts nor dumb-waiters.
Another complained of the perpetually shocking condition of the toilets during major matches.
In other words, there is a lot to be done and not much time to do it. A committed, combined effort of the BCA, Government and the private sector is needed and needed now. (Barbados Nation)