Richards paints a grim picture for Windies

NEW YORK: As the West Indies prepares to take the stage as host of the 2007 Cricket World Cup, one of its most iconic players paints a bleak picture of the state of the sport in the Caribbean.

"I think we've lost our way big time," former West Indies skipper Viv Richards said Friday in an interview before accepting the Caribbean Tourism Organization's Award of Excellence at a gala in New York City.

Sir Viv, as he's fondly called since his knighthood, helped the West Indies win the first two World Cup titles in the 1975 and 1979, but has since watched the team descend to shadow of its former greatness in the 1990s. He blames the decline on regional cricket administrators for not concentrating on what's important, the players.

All the attention is on aesthetics and new stadiums being built for cricket's premier event in 2007, Richards says. One will be named for him in his native Antigua and Barbuda.

"I would love to see emphasis placed on getting the team in a proper competitive position but it looks to me the other way round," he said.

An imperious batsman and brilliant fieldsman, Richards amassed a total of 8,540 runs in 121 Tests, as well as 6,721 runs from 187 one-day Internationals.

But he is also widely recognised as a personality whose strengths transcended the sport to provide cultural and ideological leadership.

"He was one of the most imposing personalities in cricket who proved to the rest of the world that despite our small size we in the region can achieve greatness," the tourism organisation's chairman, Pamela C. Richards, said before the ceremony.

"The Caribbean is as proud of him today as in the days he struck fear in the hearts of opposing teams."

Richards began his international career in 1974 when Caribbean cricket was widely admired for its entertaining style, but before the West Indies proved it had the creativity and staying power to do it consistently and be the best in the world. Through the late 1970s and into the '80s, that's exactly what the West Indies proved they could be.

"We finally did ... and a lot of people never expected us to have done that and done it well and with such a fine-tuned machine for such a long time," Richards said.

But now increasing number of youngsters in the Caribbean are turning to soccer and basketball, and Richards says regional cricket administrators must shoulder the blame. — AP

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