Antigua's colourful cricket fans By Paresh Soni
BBC Sport in Antigua
Guyana Chronicle
April 3, 2007

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ANTIGUA has produced some of the greatest cricketers to grace the sport, such as Viv Richards and Andy Roberts.

It has also spawned a host of characters who have livened up international matches in this part of the world.

Debate has raged here about the lack of atmosphere at World Cup matches at the new Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, with many blaming ticket prices and strict regulations for the lack of traditional Caribbean exuberance.

But it was rarely like that at the old Antigua Recreation Ground (ARG).

Arguably the biggest name in cricket on this island has to be Labon Kenneth Blackburn Leeweltine Buckonon Benjamin, better known as Gravy.

Given the nickname by his mother following a meal-time request, Gravy runs a store selling "various goods" on Market Street in St John's and has his own taxi stand.

Between 1988 and 2000 he often stole the limelight at the ARG with his outlandish outfits and even more outrageous dancing escapades.

"I came back from New York to watch a Test match, and at the end of the game it started raining and everyone had to leave," he recalls.

"At that point I said to myself 'Gravy this is your chance'. I went down onto the podium and I started dancing upside down on my head."

During the 1990 England tour of the Caribbean, he enthralled Antiguans and TV viewers around the world with some audacious head spins.

He maintains that talent has not waned, insisting: "Of course I can still do it - I've got better with age."

Gravy retired in 2000, marking the occasion by wearing a bridal dress - "I wanted to step out in style and there is nothing more stylish than a wedding gown" - but his legend lives on.

At the new Sir Vivian Richards Stadium he has been sporting immaculately cut suits for the West Indies' games against Australia and New Zealand.

His trademark high-heeled boots are still there along with another accessory - a big globe-shaped cup.

"This is the World Cup so I thought I would bring my own cup of the world. But it's an upside down world."

At the opposite end of the ARG used to stand comedian Mayfield - real name Ronald Hosier - who would try to outdo Gravy with his own dancing.

Sadly, he has not been as visible, Gravy says, because of the killjoy attitude of officials.

When Brian Lara broke the record for an individual score in Tests in 1994 against England, Mayfield ran on to the field and smashed a pile of old vinyl records to honour the great Trinidadian batsman.

The rivalry between Gravy and Mayfield often became intense and the pair were once due to slug it out in a boxing ring in St John's to settle the score.

In their pomp, both claimed the other had not turned up but a mellower Gravy now merely says: "The gloves were bigger than we were!"

Another visually striking image to garnish Antiguan cricket has been Pappie the bugler, who has been watching games for 40 years.

Pappie - real name Rupert Mussington - used to play in a steelband called Hell's Gates from 1956 to 78 but it was at the Recreation Ground where he really made his name.

Boundaries and wickets would be marked with a real flourish and he returned briefly in the Australia-Windies clash this week to give us a few blasts.

"They named the Rude Boy Stand at the Recreation Ground after me," he said proudly.

"I was the first non-player in the Caribbean to have a stand named after me 35 years ago."

Conducting proceedings for Gravy, Mayfield and Pappie at the ARG was resident DJ Chickie, who now has a modern booth at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.

His rise coincided with the exploits of Richards. "The only thing missing was music and I was the man to provide it," he explained.

"I was the first man to start a Party Stand anywhere in the world."

Chickie - real name Nigel Baptiste - says he was also the first non-cricketer to win a man-of-the-match award in 1997 when rain ruined a Test against India.

But the moment he really became a household name almost never happened in 1986.

He was not at the ground when Richards started tearing into the England bowlers in 1986 en route to a Test century off 56 balls - still the fastest in history.

But as soon as he heard news of the dramatic innings developing he packed his system and dashed to the ground.

When he got there he played Captain, the Ship is Sinking, triggering tumultuous applause and uproarious laughter all round from the English and West Indians.

"I broke all the rules of road traffic and got there just in time to see him go from 95 to 100," Chickie recalls.

"Instinctively I knew which song to play. These things are in your blood. It's probably still the biggest reaction I've had to anything I've played."

In the clean, shiny new Richards stadium, there has been nowhere near as much commotion.

Chickie's contract prevents him from speaking too openly about anything other than his own role and all he would say is: "We're still feeling our way a bit and trying to create a unique atmosphere."

Gravy was more scathing, however, lamenting: "It's not the same feeling here with all the ICC regulations and security.

"We have a Caribbean way of doing things and if you take that away from us you're left with nothing.

"I will still do what I want to do and I say to the ICC let the police officers decide whether there's anything wrong.