St Lucia gets in World Cup mood
St Lucia – This is reckoned to be one of the finest resorts in the Caribbean and a scattering of England fans are already taking advantage, planning their holidays around the three Group C games their side will play on the island.
While most take in the white beaches and azure-blue sea (I have a feeling that’s not the last time I’ll be using those two phrases over the next seven weeks) a hardy handful have gathered at the tiny Gros Islet ground, to the north of Rodney Bay, to watch team practice.
Trainer Nigel Stockill runs the warm-up drills, and adjudicates between the bickering factions in a game of touch rugby.
Fellow big boys New Zealand trained here this morning, while minnows Canada and Kenya took over the Beausejour Stadium, where they play the island’s first game on Wednesday.
Opened in 2002 the stadium has the benefit of more experience than the majority of the grounds for this tournament, which have been built or renovated with the clock ticking loudly.
It sits in a natural basin, surrounded by hills dotted with small houses painted in powder blues and pinks.
The stadium’s capacity has been increased to over 21,000 with the addition of temporary seating, in open banks that could see any unprepared fans burned to cinders if the weather stays as it is now, the blazing sun only tempered by a decent breeze. The square is straw-coloured, with the pitch itself barely distinguishable. Monty Panesar should be licking his lips at the prospect of turn, which should be confirmed by Canada’s platoon of slow bowlers.
England and Canada are staying at the same hotel in Rodney Bay, where you can watch jet-skiers from the bar or walk straight out to the white beach and azure-blue … well you can picture it.
My arrival at the local airport in Castries coincided with that of the England motorcade, a coach accompanied by police outriders and even ambulances, which stopped traffic on its way from the international airport 45km to the south.
On the surface at least, the heavy security seems unnecessary in a town where people barely turn their heads to the arrival of some of the biggest cricketing stars in the world.
Canada’s assortment of semi-professionals must have greeted with bemusement, though, the same security attachment as it gathered to escort them to afternoon training.
Meanwhile, I shall have to perfect my bathroom etiquette while in the skirting the company of the famous. You can’t really introduce yourself and shake hands on the way from the urinal for all sorts of social and hygiene reasons.
In an exclusive interview over the washbasin at Antigua airport on Monday, former South Africa great Daryl Cullinan admitted that he had got a ticket on the wrong flight to St Kitts.
After his blagging attempts failed, he could only wave from departures, then repair to the bar, as fellow commentators Mark Nicholas and Barry Richards forged ahead.
I moved on to St Lucia, only to discover, from a banner at the airport, that I will miss the biggest party on the island this year.
No, it’s not the World Cup semi-final in six weeks’ time, apparently. It’s the St Lucia Jazz Festival in May.