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Stranded English cricket fans set to sue

By Tim Reid and Ciaran Byrne

Sunday 1 February 1998

HUNDREDS of English cricket fans stranded in Jamaica after the abandonment of the first Test might sue the West Indies Cricket Board in a move that would propel West Indian cricket into a financial crisis.

More than 500 English supporters travelled to Kingston for the match but play was abandoned on Thursday after only 62 balls because the uneven wicket at Sabina Park was declared too dangerous.

In response to supporters' demands, a major tour operator said last night that he had sought legal advice from an English barrister who had confirmed that the WICB, and the Jamaican Cricket Board, could be sued.

Some supporters paid more than 1,300 to see the first Test, and a group action could cost the boards hundreds of thousands of pounds. The move would be disastrous for the WICB. The board is in a perilous financial position at a time when West Indian cricket, particularly in Jamaica, is rapidly losing ground to football. Losses from the abandoned game are being estimated at more than 1 million, including the cost of refunding tickets and the cancellation of advertising revenue.

It was the first time in Test match history, starting in 1877, that a match has been abandoned for safety reasons, a dbcle that prompted a hasty rescue plan for a tour already beset with problems.

The Jamaican Tourist Board moved to quell growing anger among fans last night by offering free trips to Ocho Rios, a resort on the north coast. On Friday night, the government hosted a free drinks reception for the stranded supporters which was attended by both teams. Meanwhile supporters faced queues and delays of up to three hours to claim refunds of 100 from the WICB.

Mike Atherton, the England captain, said: ``The players all share their disappointment. People have spent good money and time to come here and we sympathise especially with those who can't come on to Trinidad.''

P J Patterson, Prime Minister of Jamaica, told a gathering of English fans: ``We all share your disappointment. Those who watched the cricket on Thursday behaved impeccably and in the best traditions of the game.''

Tony Dunn, from Belfast, arrived on Wednesday. ``It was the biggest balls-up since the Grand National,'' he said. Another supporter, Jim Campbell, from Chatham, Kent, said: ``I was completely gutted. It ruined the holiday of a lifetime.''

Gulliver's Travels took 42 supporters to Jamaica; 15 are trying to go on to Trinidad, despite only one daily scheduled flight to Trinidad from Kingston. Stephen Thorpe of Caribbean Connection, said: ``We have 36 supporters here. The general spirit has been good but a few of them were in tears on Thursday.''

Mr Thorpe said that one man, celebrating his 50th birthday, had been taken to Gatwick airport by relatives last week as a surprise present but his ``dream holiday'' had been ruined.

Meanwhile, the future of the England tour is far from assured. The second and third Tests are to be played at Queen's Park, Port of Spain, on a pitch so unpredictable that the last match lasted only two days.

They then move to Bourda, Georgetown. No problems are expected on the pitch, but Guyana's fragile political truce remains a worry.

The final Test is scheduled for the Recreation Ground, St John's. Rain and undelivered turf have delayed another relaying programme and some believe that it could be ``another Jamaica''. A decision on whether the scores and individual performances in the abandoned Test will stand is expected from the International Cricket Council tomorrow.

David Richards, the chief executive, said: ``It is possible for the ICC to rule that the match should be scrubbed out, but I think that is unlikely.''

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:18