It runs right across the city centre of Port of Spain, a wide boulevard that teems with Trinidadian life. The paved area that divides the boulevard’s two parallel streets is lined with almond trees. Dotted along the route are benches and chess tables. After working hours, stalls are set up, food vendors move in, and locals are drawn in their thousands.
This is the Brian Lara Promenade – one of the numerous great sights of the Caribbean that are forever linked in the public imagination to those figures who more than any others have shaped the region’s identity, and brought it pride and glory. These, of course, are its cricketers. “Cricket is the ethos around which West Indian society revolves,” Clive Lloyd, the man who captained West Indies to victory in the first World Cup in 1975, has said. “It remains the instrument of Caribbean cohesion. It is to cricket and its many spin-offs that that we owe our Caribbean consideration and dignity abroad. It is the musical instrument on which we orchestrate our emotions, from the extremes of wild enthusiasm to the depths of despair.”
No wonder the giants of West Indies cricket are revered. But what is distinctive about the game in these islands is the tangible way in which this reverence is accorded. Everywhere, it seems, there are bars and streets that honour local heroes. Statues are put up, locations dedicated, artefacts given added appeal by cricketing association. Perhaps the ultimate accolade is to have a Test ground named after you. For those who haven’t quite achieved that level, there are stands and “ends”, which enshrine the memory of idolised players. You might find your face on a stamp – or even a banknote. Power accrues to the biggest names in West Indies cricket, which may explain why a significant number eventually find their way into politics.
For the present generation, and especially in his native Trinidad, no cricketer compares with Lara, the record-breaking batsman who, over the last 15 years, has almost single-handedly kept the West Indies team afloat. From the moment, in 1994, that he broke the record for the highest individual Test score, with 375 against England, the legend of Lara was assured. That he went on to post a new record score of 400 in 2004 – also against England – merely confirmed his status. The upcoming West Indies-hosted World Cup – in all likelihood the last that the 37-year-old will play in – can only enhance his reputation further. “He is a cult figure in Trinidad,” explains Tony Cozier, the veteran cricket commentator. “He can do no wrong.” A few years ago, in recognition of his contribution to Trinidad, the government presented Lara with a dream home on a hill that overlooks Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain’s largest open space. “It’s huge, like a palace,” Cozier says. “And every year he holds a carnival in the grounds.”
Naming the main pedestrian thoroughfare in the Trinidadian capital after Lara is a barely adequate reflection of what he means to the island, where he was born in the small town of Santa Cruz in 1969. And indeed there’s more. Work continues on a Brian Lara Stadium in Port of Spain, where other stadiums already bear the names of footballer Dwight Yorke, Olympic sprinter Hasely Crawford and netball player Jean Pierre.
The Brian Lara Stadium will not be ready in time for the World Cup, but a new stadium that will is the one in St John’s, Antigua, that bears the name of the West Indies batting colossus of the 1970s and 1980s, Viv, now Sir Vivian, Richards. For all Lara’s record-breaking achievements, Richards is generally reckoned the greatest West Indian batsman, and is certainly the most famous person ever to come out of Antigua. That’s partly because, compared with other islands, Antigua has produced so few Test cricketers. Of its other nine, the fast bowler Andy Roberts and the batsman Richie Richardson, both Richards-era players, had stands named after them at the old St John’s Test ground.