Was there ever a time when the Caribbean and cricket were not synonymous? Whether or not you’re a player, it is more than likely you’ve been a spectator. Truth be told, cricket as we know it today – by which I mean Caribbean cricket – is just about the most exciting sporting activity, whether you choose to be at the grounds or to take in a match with friends gathered around your TV screen. Of course, nothing beats the vantage from a pavilion seat, as any true cricket fan will quickly tell you, with good reason.
There’s nothing quite like the sound of a bat cracking a ball for four or six, or the magic of an impossible catch by a fieldsman up in the air, body indescribably twisted. And then there are the times when a ball is sent six consecutive times into the pavilion, lifting every spectator to his or her feet, regardless of whether the batsman is one of yours or not. We need not go into the once unique sounds of Caribbean, now to be heard wherever the game is played!
For players and fans the best cricket news in a while centres on the rebranded St. Lucia Stars. Just last weekend the team set out on a roadshow around the island that was greeted at every turn by hordes of jump-in-the-air fans, young and old demonstrably appreciative of the opportunity to celebrate not just one but three of their own: Johnson Charles, Keddy Lesporis and the man himself – Daren Sammy.
“The feedback was incredible,” St. Lucia Stars PR director Manan Pandya recalled during an interview this week. “We stopped in Laborie and we had the steel pans, the special energy that only the kids can create . . . I mean the youth vibe was overwhelming. Everyone was dancing in the street to irresistible beats. It really was a great opportunity to interact with the community, to engage the fans, especially the youth who are the future cricket stars of the island.”
Pandya currently works with the Stars marketing team and says that already the pieces are falling into place with the new rebranding.
“We’re blessed,” he said. “We have an incredible coaching staff and an amazing line-up of players. We had our team meeting on Wednesday, and the energy was just incredible. The chemistry is palpable, the synergy undeniable.”
Global Sports Ventures chairman, Jay Pandya (who also happens to be Manan’s uncle) is scheduled to arrive in Saint Lucia this weekend. Reportedly he has described his decision to invest in the Caribbean team as a “no brainer”.
“Jay is incredibly excited to be coming here,” said director Manan. “He’s incredibly passionate and genuinely humble. He grew up in Mumbai and has always been passionate about the game. Cricket is a religion over there. You get cut, you bleed cricket. It’s a passion he shares with the Caribbean fans.”
The St. Lucia Stars (earlier The Zouks) director explained how the now privately-owned franchise came by its new name: “People have always looked up to the stars!”
He answered his own question: “Before we had maps, what did we do? We followed the Northern Star. It was always there; you could always count on it. Stars never fail. Any time you look at the sky you know they’re there. They’re reliable.”
In Pandya’s words: “Daren Sammy . . . everyone looks up to him. He’s has become an icon, and with good reason. He started at bottom, confronted many obstacles and adversities, and came out shining – like a star on the darkest night. There’s a certain positive vibration to the name.”
And it’s caught on quickly. Stars players from all corners of the world, including New Zealand, Sri Lanka, the United States, Australia and Saint Lucia, have been observed flashing their spanking new team memorabilia at every opportunity.
“We have players from all over,” Pandya boasted. “We have a very diverse roster that we’re especially proud of.”
As the team continues to grow and evolve, Pandya says, the common thread that keeps the team together, along with their dedication and passion, is their ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality.
“They push one another on and off the field. They are strict about their nutrition, their workouts and their recuperation periods. When you push yourself physically and mentally, as they do, you’ve got to give yourself time to recover. They’re very focused . . . they mesh well together.” As for the management team and coaches, while their goal is always to get their players to do their very best, it’s also most important to them that everyone has fun doing what they do!
“We’re going to bring home the gold with smiles on our faces,” said the team director. “We don’t want to bring home the gold frowning, and exhausted. We want to bring home the gold with an energy that is contagious. We want to share in our triumphs. We think all the time about how Saint Lucians will feel when we come back with the gold. We want them to feel we’re all in it together. As a team. As a collective that also involves the people of this island.”
Led by Captain Daren Sammy, Pandya and the rest of the Stars team expect nothing short of greatness from players at this year’s CPL matches, scheduled to kick off here in Saint Lucia on August 4th.When asked, Pandya spoke briefly about Sammy’s absence from the West Indies side: “You have these moments when you’ll make a decision but with great difficulty. You want to do both but at the end of the day you have to go where your heart lies. I believe, and I can’t speak for Daren, I wasn’t there when he made the decision, but I truly believe it came from a very happy place in his heart; a very proud place. He’s incredibly patriotic. He loves Saint Lucia: the people, the culture, everything about Saint Lucia.”
Reflecting on how well the team and management had bonded in the space of a few months Pandya could only describe it as amazing. Already they’ve developed a synergy and chemistry that translated easily from initial What’s App group chats to face-to-face interactions.
“We all got to meet here, shake hands, smile, joke, laugh and really communicate,” he said. “It’s been great.”
He slammed a fist into an open palm: “We are absolutely coming back with the gold this year, and I can’t wait to celebrate on the road tour.”
As for this season’s promotions, Pandya promises the team will continue to focus on the core aspect of cricket, not for a minute forgetting, as he put it, “a solid entertainment line-up”. After all, in the Caribbean, cricket is more than just a sport; it is, by Pandya’s measure, “an experience”.
“When you go to cricket, the feeling you get is one of indescribable elation. You’re there for the sport, you’re there for fun, you’re there to share in the excitement and to bask in the national pride of the biggest sports team on the island. It’s about the experience; how you feel when you walk away. We want to make sure everyone walks away with a smile and heads held high where the stars reside.”
Performers already scheduled for the much-anticipated event include Barbadian soca performers Fadda Fox, Lil Rick and Edwin Yearwood, Saint Vincent’s Skinny Fabulous, Saint Lucia’s groovy and power soca kings Arthur and Ricky T, as well as Teddyson John, not forgetting the Dennery Segment with Subance, Mission Boys, and Black Boy! Players are currently on-island preparing for the matches. Fans can keep up with them by following @stluciastars on IG, Facebook and Twitter for performance updates, and other team news!