The horns have been blaring, the drink has been flowing and the debates raging – Caribbean cricket, written off after the World Cup three years ago, has returned at the Twenty20 World Cup and it has a big smile on its face.
Petty rules and regulations and ticket prices that excluded many local fans led to thousands of empty seats at the 50 overs World Cup in 2007 but organisers have learnt their lessons.
In Guyana, St. Lucia and Barbados, attendances have been good and the atmosphere even better.
The tournament, entering its third and final week, has received the thumbs up from fans from near and far.
“You are allowed to bring your conch shells, keep your noise and have fun like back in the day,” said Barbadian Kerwin Beckles, carrying a cooler packed with food and drink into the stadium before Sunday’s West Indies v India game.
“Things have improved, you can see how big the gathering is. The game brings people together, it is wonderful that it is here in Barbados- I’m actually proud to be a West Indian,” he added.
Ticket prices have been as low as $5 (3,36 pounds), the most expensive for Sunday’s final only $40.
Organisers even went as far as making ‘Gravy’, the region’s most famous fan who used to parade grounds in garish clothing – on one occasion even a wedding dress – into the official face of their ‘Bring It’ marketing campaign.
“I think the prices were the main thing three years ago, it was disappointing, we still had a good time but this is a million times better. The locals and the atmosphere is what makes it, that’s what you are looking for when you come over here,” said Geoff Scott from Newport, Wales.
Underneath the Greenidge and Haynes stand, named after former Barbados and West Indies opening batsmen Gordon and Desmond, cooks spice up the chicken and the beef stew, while fans from all over the cricketing world share a beer.
“The noise is fantastic. It’s totally different from Australia, you can walk into this ground carrying anything you like, when you go in the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) you can’t take anything in. They’d strip you naked if they could at the MCG,” said Australian supporter Peter Mulgrove.
Three years ago, local officials were stressed and harassed by complaining fans, while former players bemoaned a missed opportunity to give West Indies cricket a much needed boost.
But former opening bowler Joel Garner, president of the Barbados Cricket Association and West Indies team manager, can now afford to enjoy the event.
“I think people are more relaxed and they are enjoying the cricket more because you don’t have as many restrictions,” he told Reuters.
“Anyone who knows anything about cricket in this region will know that we are very relaxed, noisy but peaceful and a lot of the things that were restrictive caused some bad feeling.
“Gradually the fans, the patrons are coming back because of the atmosphere that is unique to the West Indies.”
Garner has no doubt that Twenty20 is here to stay and that it can continue to lure Caribbean fans back to cricket grounds.
“The patrons want exciting cricket and results and you have to adjust to the times otherwise you are going to die,” he said.
But like supporters the world over, there is nothing that pleases West Indies fans more than success.
Sunday’s victory over India, including a 98 from big-hitting captain Chris Gayle, was played in front of packed and vibrant stands with the players celebrating wickets and pumping fists in rarely seen enthusiasm.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had support like that,” said Gayle, “The support has really been tremendous.
“We move onto St Lucia now and people really love their cricket there as well.” -Reuters