Richard Boock: West Indies deserve better

By Richard Boock

Let's hope Thursday's hair-raising finish between Sri Lanka and England has gone some way towards quietening those cynics labelling the World Cup a flop.

One of the most nauseating features of the tournament so far has been a chorus from the perpetually naive, whining because the Caribbean hasn't lived up to their expectations and claiming the cricket's been a bore.

From the size of the crowds to the hassles of transport; from the lack of communications to a perceived sullenness in customer service, there are some who won't be happy unless every part of the world is exactly like home.

Typically tourism-dependent, these Caribbean territories are poor and, in specific places, verging on Third World. Behind the palm-fringed beaches and waterfront hotels, locals toil long hours in tough, hot conditions.

Most of the people can't afford the price of a match ticket, let alone the idea of taking a day off work to watch, yet they seem to be getting it in the neck from all and sundry (including their supposed hero, Brian Lara) for being unsupportive.

This tournament was never going to be about massive, seething crowds. It was always going to be about colour and energy; about spirit and fun and the beauty of a game.

If visiting fans haven't been plentiful or adventurous enough to seize that opportunity that's their fault, not the fault of the people who live here, who have supported the game all their life.

The Caribbean deserves this tournament more than any other cricketing region; the near-crime is that they hadn't been invited to host it earlier.

If the West Indies had staged a World Cup in 1987 or 1992, at the very least 1996, who knows what seed it may have sown in terms of improving the local infrastructures, and kick-starting the development of the game throughout the region.

One of the great achievements of the place, apart from staging this World Cup, has been the success of the West Indies confederation in bringing together 12 sovereign territories in the name of sport.

Apart from Great Britain, which seldom comes together to play as a whole, it's hard to come up with another example of such mutual co-operation.

Think Australia and New Zealand; can you just imagine the fuss if anyone seriously suggested a sporting merger?

It's true, there are challenges here for tourists.

Paying 4000 Guyanese dollars ($27) for a taxi ride from the airport, being charged G$56,000 a night for the hotel room (that works out at close to half-a-million for an eight-day stay); these things aren't calculated to calm the nerves of those on shoe-string budgets.

Of all the World Cup destinations, Georgetown has probably come in for the harshest assessments. But unless everyone's adopted their best behaviour since I arrived, the reputation seems richly undeserved.

People here are poor and some of the housing reflects that. If you were expecting Paris or even suburban Christchurch you'd be sorely disappointed. Well, Paris anyway. Yesterday kids were playing in flooded streets as rain sheeted down, and pedestrians were vying with horses for shelter under rusty, corrugated-iron lean-tos.

There might not be a lot of material wealth but the reception for outsiders seems to be one of warmth, curiosity and helpfulness, rather than the gun-toting thuggery and muggery you hear of from wide-eyed shadow-jumpers.

Guyana probably deserves a better rap, and so does a World Cup that's shaping up as the most closely-fought and unpredictable yet.

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