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The body blows that cracked the mask of Caribbean beauty

By Colin Croft

1 February 1998

FORGET, for a moment, the money lost by sup porters, cricket authorities, hotels and restaurants. Focus, instead, on the cricket. Caribbean cricket was hurt badly in Jamaica this week. And the problem for the game in this region is that the damage on and off the pitch at Sabina Park may be irreparable.

The worrying thought for cricket fans, administrators and players is that the Sabina Park incidents this week might not be the end of the trials and tribulations for the West Indies Cricket Board.

Let us start in Trinidad - the venue for the back-to-back Test matches which have been hastily arranged after the abandonment of the shambolic game in Jamaica.

The Queen's Park Oval's problems, sadly, are not confined to a missing electronic scoreboard. Two weeks ago Trinidad, with Brian Lara, Phil Simmons, David Williams and Ian Bishop in their side, were beaten in less than two days by Curtly Ambrose's Leeward Islands.

There was so much grass left on the pitch that the main concern for Ambrose and Kenny Benjamin was to prevent deliveries cutting and swinging too much for the batsmen to have to play.

Playing two consecutive matches at Queen's Park - where England were bowled out for 46 on the last tour - could create so much wear and tear on the strip or adjacent pitches that the second game could become a lottery.

Bourda, in Georgetown, Guyana, has, like Sabina Park, been relaid and been relaid late. No one knows what to expect in a country that has also been troubled by civil unrest.

While Barbados has the best wicket in the Caribbean, the real problems are likely to be encountered in Antigua. It is not just the pitch that is the concern but the whole Recreation Ground in St John's.

A few days ago, when I flew to the island, I went to the ground and discovered the top-soil of the whole outfield had been removed by earth movers and was still banked up outside the eastern perimeter of the oval.

The pitch, which has been left open to the elements, is nowhere close to being properly prepared for the 'sixth' Test, scheduled to start in late March. There are huge problems here. The Antigua and Barbuda government, and their ministry for sport, have given an undertaking that the project will be completed ``much in advance'' of the start of the last Test. Now everyone is wondering what ``much in advance'' means.

It is clear that whoever put together the schedule for the work in Antigua decided to ignore the impact of the elements. The rains, which drove the England team from their early tour base on the island, have continued unabated. It has rained every day since Mike Atherton's side left.

The Antigua government, perhaps anticipating the problems, have already ordered grassed top soil from Florida. The cost, thought to be around 700,000, is being borne by the government. This entire exercise has gone beyond general incompetence - it is bordering on outright stupidity.

It would be an understatement to suggest that the Test planned for Antigua is in bad shape. It will need a miracle to get this Test match staged as scheduled. If I was a betting man I would wager that the final Test will be played in Barbados rather than St John's.

Not only are the facilities in Bridgetown the best in the Caribbean but the 'back-to-back' scenario would help resolve the ticketing crisis that has developed around what is now to be the fifth Test. Those who could not be accommodated for the original match could be given tickets for the final Test.

Where, you might ask, have the West Indies board been in all this crisis? Well, they seem powerless to prevent these absurdities scarring our cricket. They are more concerned with the finances in their coffers, admittedly now healthily in the black, than they are with the fundamentals of the game.

Seven players in the West Indies World Youth Cup team were found to be over age on the eve of a tournament which concludes today. Warnings from the International Cricket Council went unheeded. This was explained by Pat Rousseau, president of the West Indies board, thus: ``We screwed up.''

That is a huge under-statement, yet there were no resignations. Everyone just carried on their merry way. It seems to me that no one really cares. The entire structure must be reviewed and probably changed.

Jamaica and West Indies cricket have gone further. Umpires Srinivas Venkataraghavan, of India, and Steve Bucknor, of Jamaica, in collusion with captains Atherton and Lara, and match referee Barry Jarman, have entered us in one of cricket's darkest chapters with the first abandonment of a Test match for a dangerous pitch. The events of Sabina Park, whatever the outcome of the series, will never be forgotten.

People have been asking me, as a former Test fast bowler and one noted for an aggressive approach, for my thoughts as the drama unfolded and how I would have gone about the job had I been playing.

Firstly, I believe everyone concerned did the only thing possible in abandoning the game. Talking to umpire Venkat afterwards, he confirmed that the conditions were ``extremely dangerous''. But, had I been playing now, I would have bowled just as 'mean' as ever. I would have had my job to do. So, too, do the umpires and in this case they did it admirably.

I never had a pitch like that to bowl on. We dismissed Australia for 90 at Port of Spain in 1978, winning by an innings, but the pitch was true and the batting poor. Then, in 1981, Michael Holding bowled an opening over to Geoff Boycott which was easily the fastest delivered in the Caribbean. Boycott was bowled with the sixth delivery, yet the ball hit the off-stump two-thirds of the way up. Boycott was beaten by sheer speed, not dangerous, uneven bounce like we saw here.

This Test in Jamaica was a farce, and the necessary changes must start at the top. Members of the West Indies Cricket Board should now be writing memos with two words on them. ``I resign.'' There is no better time to start afresh.

I cannot, however, see it happening. An acknowledgement of guilt for the whole sorry affair seems remote. That means that more problems are on the way, including during this tour. Further shame is on the agenda and we can only hope it is not as bad as the dark day of Jan 29 1998, which will be forever etched in cricket's annals.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:33