The morning was bright, turning grey in the Santa Cruz valley. I was standing under the white tent listening to the speeches at the official handing-over ceremony of the refurbished Brian Lara Recreation Ground.
I hadn’t been to this place in Sam Boucaud for years, over a decade, maybe. But as I watched the fenced green space nestled in the middle of the neighbourhood, like a flood caused by one of Charlotte Street’s midday downpours, the memories rushed back.
In the late 1990s/early 2000s, I was a regular visitor to this place when local cricket was one of my beats as a reporter.
In those days, the village had a team playing in the National League’s top division — Santa Cruz Sports. Lincoln Roberts, a man of many parts, was captain of Santa Cruz and still a national player. A devastating hitter, who even got a one-time shot in the West Indies’ Test team, “Linky” was the big man in that side that also included Ken Hazel, a tidy left-arm spinner who also played for Trinidad and Tobago in that period.
With those two in the line-up, Santa Cruz were not a bad side in those days, especially in limited overs play. And I used to look forward to going up there, not least of all because of the drive over the Saddle Road through scenic Maraval into even more pleasant Santa Cruz, crowned by the gorgeous hills of the Northern Range.
Having got to the ground, that peaceful feeling was not lost, but often complemented by the good humour I found there.
There are some characters in that Sam Boucaud/Cantaro area, some of whom happened to be on the cricket team.
So while noting the details of the day’s play was the first priority, it was a bonus to listen to the ole talk of that Santa Cruz group. It was for the most part, a group of neighbours. Veteran former national players like Ron Faria and Pascal Roberts were still around the team as was Frank Sorzano.
The manager was the late, noted attorney Theodore Guerra, another Santa Cruz resident. In that respect, the side was unlike many Championship Division clubs in that it was not a team put together just to win tournaments.
In their time, those Santa Cruz Boys were the beacon for the area when it came to national life, outside of Lara himself, of course. But that is no longer the case.
Santa Cruz now campaigns in the North Zone of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board’s competitions. The big names don’t play for them anymore. And their story of decline on the cricket field mirrors the decline of the ground they call home.
“We used to have to put up a tent because we couldn’t use the pavilion,” Eldon Ramadeen, one of the club’s coaches, tells me. That tent arrangement has been going on for about the past decade or so. In that time, potential players have gone elsewhere because there were better facilities in which to train.
Over that time, the ground has also been subject to a series of failed upgrade attempts until the project that finally bore fruit yesterday under the direction of the Sports Company.
“It’s unfortunate it took a little while, about two years. We had some situations with some of the contractors along the way. Some left the project and eventually we found a contractor who was able to bring it home under the guidance of the Sports Company,” SporTT chairman Douglas Camacho explained to the media yesterday.
Having not seen the ground for a long time, the basic setup looked the same, but the stand/pavilion with proper changing room facilities seemed an upgrade on what existed before.
The field itself looked like it could do with some manicuring, but we were told that some work is still being done with the grass.
What is not in doubt though, is that Santa Cruz people have their ground back.
“That’s the only ground we have. That’s where we do everything,” Ramadeen stressed.
The trick now, and big trick it is, is to keep this good thing going.
“This is a very active community. The members of Santa Cruz are very active and I imagine they would put pressure on the (San Juan/Laventille Regional) Corporation and they themselves will probably play a critical role in ensuring the facilities are properly maintained...That type of partnership between the community and the Regional Corporation ought to stand in good stead and hopefully, not let this particular facility deteriorate as many have done,” Camacho noted.
The SporTT chairman is right. These islands do not have a spotless record when it comes to keeping anything in good order, especially sporting venues. But the Santa Cruz Sports case is a prime example of the retrograde steps that can take place when playing spaces go to seed.
Well, the Recreation Ground has been “replanted.” Let’s see what blooms.