For one day anyway, two cricketers on the winning West Indies World T20 side felt like Kings, following their arrival at Hewanorra International Wednesday afternoon.
I am guessing, that never before have St Lucians come out in record numbers to glorify and praise one of their own (make that two of their own), for their achievements (sporting or otherwise). Wednesday afternoon Hewannora International took on a carnival atmosphere. Well-wishers young and old came out in full force to congratulate West Indies Captain Darren Sammy and opener Johnson Charles for winning the World T20 Championship.
The two cricketers arrived here at about 2:45 pm on a British Airways flight, which also had another West Indies player Dwayne Bravo on board. Moments later Sammy emerged from the aircraft holding the championship trophy high in the air. There were cheers from the welcoming party which included Prime Minister, Dr Kenny Anthony; Deputy Prime Minister, Phillip J Pierre, Minister of Youth Development and Sports, Sean Edwards and other members of Cabinet.
The two cricketers were escorted to the VIP lounge where they were greeted by specially invited guests including friends and family and of course officials with the St Lucia National Cricket Association (SLNCA).
Jim Xavier of the Ministry of Youth Development and Sports who organized the homecoming ceremony in collaboration with the SLNCA, got the proceedings underway.
The first speaker was the former CEO of the West Indies Cricket Board, Dr Ernest Hilaire. He played a pivotal role in Sammy’s career, which has not always been on the upside, especially when it comes to his captaincy. The good doctor attempted to set the record straight.
He said: “Of all the hard work that has been put in, I don’t think any individual has withstood more criticism and more challenges and has had to rise to the occasion more often than Darren Sammy.”
He didn’t stop there. “You cannot run away from the fact that Darren Sammy as the captain of the team, has stood up every time and done what’s been required of him and led the team superbly. He has taken his blows.”
Hilaire extended his personal congratulations to Sammy and Charles for what they accomplished in bringing pride to West Indies Cricket and St Lucians and said: “I look forward to victory at the Champions Trophy in England in June and July next year.”
A very proud Parliamentary Representative for Micoud North, Dr Gale Rigobert said: “Darren, you and Johnson Charles have done what each of us is challenged to do, when we bare our country’s name and become ambassadors. That is to do our country, community, family and ourselves proud. You have both come home fulfilling what many will agree is an extraordinary feat.”
Minister Edward who was brief and to the point, let it known that his ministry intends on piggy backing on the hype created by the two cricketers, in hopes of driving forward the programs of other sporting affiliations in St Lucia.
He said: “On behalf of the ministry of Youth Development and Sports and by extension the government of St Lucia, I congratulate you on your feat. It is our intention in the ministry to use you in a manner that will help aspiring sportsmen and women.”
The Prime Minister has time and time again mentioned how Sammy rose to the occasion despite his many critics here and abroad and has come of age as captain.
He referred to Sammy as an ambassador not just for the West Indies but for our people and our country. He praised the cricketer for doing his part in uniting the region in difficult times.
Addressing the West Indies Captain Dr Anthony said: “You have perhaps little idea of the transformation you have caused in this region. The Caribbean has gone through a very rough time over the last few years. Every country has been battered by economic woes of one kind or another. But two things have happened this year that have lifted our spirits and pride.”
In particular, according to Anthony, the astounding achievements of West Indian athletes at the Olympics and now winning the World T20 Championship.
In closing the Prime Minister said: “You have done for the Caribbean Darren what no other politician can do for the Caribbean and I want to thank you and wish you the best.”
Both Sammy and Charles thanked everyone for the homecoming. Charles who is content with his bat doing the talking, seemed eager to get on with the celebration and after a few brief remarks told everyone “for the next few days let’s party.”
Sammy who described being home as an overwhelming and indescribable feeling, gave thanks and praise to God, his parents, the St Lucian people and all who assisted his cricketing career including his sponsor Digicel. He made special mention of Minister Phillip J Pierre; Former Sports Minister and now Justice of Appeal, Mario Michelle; Dr Ernest Hilaire, Trevor Phillip and Brian Calixte.
The West Indies Captain said: “I always tell people when I come home it is always a happy place. I am always welcome home and everybody whether they criticize or they encourage, I know they always want the best for their people.”
Following those words Sammy took a page from his opening batsman and said “lets party.”
With the proceedings out of the way, the cricketers made their way through the airport. Sammy was mobbed by screaming fans who wanted not just to see but touch their cricket heroes.
Sammy and Johnson left Hewanorra Airport for Castries and the Derek Walcott Square by way of motorcade. Along the way they were greeted by more adoring fans particularly in Micoud and Dennery.
The celebration reached a climax at the Derek Walcott Square where a massive crowd turned up for possibly the biggest and greatest homecoming ever in St Lucian history.