¶ GEORGETOWN, Guyana _ Like a slumbering relic of bygone colonial days, Guyana's famed Bourda cricket ground is crumbling slowly, the victim of modernization and of demand for gleaming new stadiums.
¶ In the members' bar, a steward dressed in shirt and tie serves the occasional member of Georgetown Cricket Club who has popped in for a drink. But the days of watching the world's finest playing on Bourda's dark brown, shiny wicket are mostly over.
¶ International cricket has probably had its day at Bourda, an idiosyncratic stadium famed for being the only cricket ground in the world below sea level and one which consequently floods dramatically whenever tropical rains sweep in from the Atlantic Ocean.
¶ This week, Bourda was _ somewhat humiliatingly _ scheduled to be used for net practice only by Bangladesh and New Zealand teams taking part in the World Cup. Even that was impossible when more than an inch of rain fell in 24 hours, leaving the outfield flooded. Ground staff splashed around the field trying to drain the water away.
¶ Instead, the players drove several miles to the north, out of the anarchic and bustling city center, to the gleaming new stadium in the suburb of Providence, where the drainage is so sophisticated that the soil is bone dry within minutes of a downpour.
¶ "How can we match that? It's no good for me because I cannot walk to watch cricket any more," said Terry, who gave only his first name, as he dangled a fishing line into the moat that surrounds Bourda to try to protect it from the water.
¶ The names of stands at Bourda reveal the country has produced some of the world's best cricketers: Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs. The names of Carl Hooper, Alvin Kallicharran and Roy Fredericks are also celebrated at various spots.
¶ The members' pavilion still bears all the hallmarks of colonial days. Guyana gained its independence in 1966.
¶ Still, wicker chairs and tables are heavily polished, bottles of Angostura Bitters, the essential ingredient for a "Gin and It" favored by the British and a range of Scotch Whiskies make the pavilion resemble more an establishment club than a sports bar. Out of about 1,500 members, 80 or 90 make it for match days.
¶ Along with the rolls of honor decorating the wall, various framed photographs are still in place, including one of King George V addressing the British Commonwealth, of which Guyana was a member.
¶ Bourda's development goes hand in hand with Guyana's former colonial masters, the British, who named the country British Guiana and introduced their traditional sports, as they did in all countries they colonized.
¶ The first match on the ground was between Trinidad and the Georgetown CC in 1883. But the first test match was not played until 1930, when George Headley, scion of a cricket dynasty that carries on today, scored a century in each innings as the West Indies beat England by 289 runs, the kind of thrashing the English have become accustomed to over the years.
¶ The Bourda's intricate wooden stands are surrounded by high metal fencing for a reason. The Guyanese, sometimes encouraged by the easy availability of cheap rum, are quick to anger and riots have been frequent at the ground.
¶ In 1954 bottles were thrown onto the pitch when local wicketkeeper Clifford Mcwatt was dismissed. Police fired tear gas into the crowd and play only resumed when players were promised danger money.
¶ In 1979, the pavilion was ransacked during a riot. A visiting World Series team cowered in their changing room, wearing their helmets for protection.
¶ The frequent flooding has had the effect of deadening the Bourda wicket over the years, leading to a high percentage of drawn games and high individual scores.
¶ New Zealanders Glenn Turner and Trevor Jarvis put together a massive opening partnership of 387 in 1972. Turner's 259, scored over 704 minutes, remains the highest and longest test innings at the ground.
¶ The last test was played at Bourda two years ago, when another Guyanese hero, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, scored 203 not out as the West Indies racked up a huge 543 against South Africa as another draw was played out.
¶ With the World Cup awarded to the Caribbean, it became clear that Bourda's tired wooden structures were not suitable for the demands of the modern game and it was decided to build the new stadium.
¶ Now Bourda dozes, waiting for the chance to show the world that it can still offer a fine cricket spectacle.