TREASURE BEACH, St Elizabeth — Leading local hoteliers are hailing a Twenty20 (T20) cricket festival, featuring former West Indies greats Brian Lara and Chris Gayle, planned for January 15 as a grand opportunity to twin cricket with their community tourism product.
Jason Henzell, chairman of the family owned Jakes Resorts as well as Jack Sprat Restaurant and Bar; and David Folb, operator of the Lashings Boutique Hotel and Villas, say the cricket festival to be held at the Treasure Beach Sports Park could also help to boost interest in the game locally and beyond.
"I think it will be very good for our community tourism brand… in the middle of January [the high season for tourism]. I expect we will have a strong turnout which means more money in the village [Treasure Beach]," said Henzell.
The festival, planned and organised by former West Indies fast bowler Daren Powell with the support of Treasure Beach community leaders, will also blend well with the revival of a community youth cricket programme which was put on hold in 2020 following the onset of the novel coronavirus, Henzell said.
He identified former Jamaica wicketkeeper/batsman Carl Wright as the man in charge of the youth programme. "He [Wright] is doing a very good job," said Henzell.
Folb regretted that cricket in Jamaica and the wider West Indies is "on the back burner" because of an alarming decline in the fortunes of the once all-conquering West Indies team. However, he believes projects such as the planned January 15 festival will motivate more children and young people to play.
"People like Brian Lara and Gayle will inspire the young [for the greater good of West Indies cricket]," said Folb, an Englishman.
Powell, who claimed 85 wickets in 37 Test matches for the West Indies between 2002 and 2009, also spoke of his desire to use the festival as a catalyst to "build cricket in St Elizabeth" and wider Jamaica. If all goes well he has ambitions to make it an annual event, Powell said.
He noted that the project had gone from "just an ordinary game of cricket to something much larger". He said he was encouraged by overseas interest from people wanting to see Lara and Gayle, both former West Indies captains.
Lara, a 53 year-old Trinidadian, retired from international cricket in 2007, just before the now hugely popular T20 format became dominant globally. However, he is acclaimed among cricket's finest batters ever, scoring 11,953 runs in 131 Test matches for the West Indies between 1990 and 2006 for an average of 52.88.
Lara hit 34 Test centuries and his top score of 400 not out is a world record. His highest first class score of 501 is also a world record.
In One-Day International (ODI) cricket Lara scored 10,405 in 299 matches for an average of 40.48.
Gayle, 43, was at his very best when T20 cricket grabbed centre stage globally, and he took to the new format like a duck to water. Down the years the tall, Jamaican, left-handed opener dominated bowlers in multiple T20 leagues around the world, not least the Indian Premier League (IPL). In international T20 cricket he won World Cup titles with West Indies in 2012 and 2016.
In Test match and ODI cricket, Gayle is also considered among the top West Indies openers of all time. Before his Test career ended prematurely in 2014, Gayle, who made his debut in 2000, scored 7,214 runs with 15 centuries, a highest score of 333 and an average of 42.33. He was also an extremely useful off-spinner, taking 73 Test wickets.
In ODI cricket Gayle scored 10,450 runs in 301 games for an average of 37.88.
Powell told the Jamaica Observer that Lara and Gayle will be at the helm of opposing teams comprising leading former West Indies and Jamaica cricketers in the feature game of the January 15 festival scheduled to start 1:00 pm. While the full list of participants from the eastern Caribbean is yet to be confirmed because of uncertainties surrounding air travel, Powell named ex-West Indies players Jerome Taylor, Wavell Hinds, Nikita Miller, Robert Haynes, Nehemiah Perry, Krishmar Santokie and himself among Jamaicans expected to play.
The contest between a Brian Lara XI and a Chris Gayle XI will be preceded by an 'All-Star' clash between St Elizabeth and Manchester set to begin 9:00 am.
Folb and Henzell, who will provide accommodation for players, say every effort will be made at the local level to ensure a well-organised and entertaining event for what the latter is predicting will be a "bumper crowd".