The Independent Voice of West Indies Cricket

History Beckons for St Kitts/Nevis

Tue, Jun 20, '06


Michelle McDonald

Warner Park in St Kitts created history on May 23 this year with the staging of its first ever One Day International game.

Come this Thursday, another entry will be made in the history books as the island prepares to welcome fans for the inaugural Test match to be held at the spanking new facility. With tourism replacing sugar exports as the main foreign exchange earner, the re-development of Warner Park forms part of the island's overall tourism development plan.

The eventual design of the first completed World Cup 2007 stadium benefited from the input of former West Indies team Manager Ricky Skerritt. Skerritt now holds the title of Minister of State in the Ministry of Sports, Tourism and Culture. When the West Indies Cricket Board hastened his departure prior to his notice date of 30 June 2004, Skerritt made use of the three-month period to review the designs and add to the lobby for the venue to be constructed to world class status.

"That made a big difference because I was able to get in on the ground floor of some of the designs that were in place and work with the architects. I actively engaged the architects in designing certain spaces particularly for cricketers, and to a certain extent for media and match officials," explained the former West Indies team manager. The air conditioned media centre was a hit with visiting journalists. The design of the men's bathroom in this facility ensures that not a ball is missed since there is glass instead of a concrete wall facing the ground. "We wanted to have a number of things that were unique, and that was one. I think the architect was brilliant in doing that," said Skerritt.

One of the biggest contributions he thinks he made resulted in what is known as the Western Mound. The original design had an athletic track running north to south and the track would have bordered the cricket boundary on the western side. "It required that you put temporary stands over the athletic track every time you were having a cricket match, which didn't make a lot of sense. It meant no athletics could go on while a cricket match of any substance was going on," said Minister Skerritt.

The original owners of the land would be pleased with how Warner Park has been re-developed. According to Charles Wilkin, QC, the sprawling 14 acre property was donated to the people of St Kitts and Nevis by a plantation family. It was named after Sir Thomas Warner, a British captain who in 1623 saw St Kitts as the perfect place to regenerate.

"The first Leeward Islands cricket was played in 1928 and at the time, the Pavilion was regarded as second only to Queen's Park Oval," said Wilkin, who is the Chairman of the Local Organizing Committee and is serving as the Tour Director for the two matches. Minister Skerritt drafted former West Indies player, the Nevisian Keith Arthurton to be a part of the planning committee.


For a time in St Kitts, cricket ruled says Wilkin, a former Combined Islands and Cambridge University player. Names like Len Harris, Victor Eddy, and Livingstone Harris were touted as West Indian prospects from the 60's to the 80's, and their non-selection resulted in a wane in cricket interest, especially on the island of St Kitts. Today there is a strong cricket rivalry between St Kitts and Nevis, the latter having had five of its players represent the West Indies. According to Wilkin, the historic awarding of first round matches ? the Orange Package ? to this island "was a coup for cricket and that's why it was so important. We needed something like this to bring public attention back to cricket in St Kitts".

International exposure has been seen as one of the immediate benefits of St Kitts being selected as a World Cup venue. Charles Wilkin quipped that when the announcement was made that the venue would host defending champions Australia and previous hosts South Africa, "we had to assure the Australians that we exist!" No doubt both teams would have been viewing with keen interest the stadium they will call home for the first round from 14 ? 24 March 2007.

The ODI was filled to its 8,000 capacity. As a national of the Federation, Minister Skerritt said he felt proud especially because of the great strides made in the three weeks prior to the first ODI. The severe cement shortage, as well as the weather, were two mitigating factors. "The number one goal was to get the stadium ready and number two was to have a great day and the great day it was for all, especially those who were supporting the West Indies. It was just a great day for everybody and what we need to do now is make sure we just learn everything we can," said Skerritt.

The match was used as a test by the CWC officials. "There were several teams simulating the World Cup event and would have written reports on their assessment of what went right and what went wrong. Trudy Clark [CWC Event Manager] coordinated feedback from all of the experts that were here - stadium design, logistics, security," Skerritt explained.

Feedback from the spectators, though mostly positive had a few complaints about sun, since most of the covered stands did not offer shade for a good part of the day's play. "We've got some issues there...but Caribbean people generally don't like sun!" Skerritt said.

The West Indies coach, Australian Bennett King, gave the Warner Park design a 'thumbs up'. King said "they've done a wonderful job here. I like stadiums that haven't got the concrete jungles around them. I think they are much more aesthetically pleasing, but I also think they bring people closer to the match."

Captain Brian Lara was very pleased with the venue and will be looking forward to returning this Thursday, especially to see the type of surface that pitch expert Andy Atkinson has prepared. Before the ODI he said "I am sure that the countries that are playing here during the World Cup are going to enjoy it. It is a great stadium. I am really happy with the approach of the governments throughout the Caribbean. The infrastructure they are putting in for us - the cricketers - and even the younger ones coming up, I think it's excellent. I am really proud of this particular venue Warner Park."

Lara also said he hoped that the governments and cricket administrators do what it takes to ensure that development of cricket infrastructure benefits West Indies cricket. "We've got to make sure it works for us and they are not white elephants."

Skerritt said that Warner Park is going to be marketed to the WICB as a venue for future cricket. "We are going to market on the ground that we have excellent facilities, that the people want to be here and that we can in fact provide some revenue to them," said the former West Indies team manager. They intend to bid to host matches in the regional tournaments.

This is the tenth year of the annual St Kitts Music Festival. Warner Park will be the new venue for this event, and it is nicely placed to follow the historic Test match. "That's how we do it. We are serious about Events Tourism. Hundreds of Kittitians are coming home for two weeks. We are promoting a two week package of cricket and music festival," said the Minister.

If the turnout at the last match is anything to go by, there will certainly be a buzz around Warner Park, for more than just one day this time around.