Still trying to bell the cats

The Sunday Gleaner

February 9, 1998

CRICKET: Port of Spain: When the first Test of the Cable and Wireless series was abandoned because of a Sabina Park pitch unfit for play and dangerous, Jamaicans were shocked and embarrassed. Today, ten days later, the historic event is still in the news, Jamaicans are still embarrassed, and the call is growing for those responsible to go. The question however, is who were responsible for preparing such a pitch?

Like most things in Jamaica however, the answer is difficult to find, and the fans are left to speculate.

To some, the blame rests with Charles Joseph - head of the groundstaff, to others, it rests with the team of experts who were brought in by Kingston Cricket Club to lay the foundation and to a growing number, ground staff or no ground staff, experts or no experts, it was entirely the fault of the Jamaica Cricket Board of Control which has final responsibility for the preparation of the pitch for a first class match. So who was it? Based on gleanings from Sabina Park, it cannot be Josephs who, from every indication, was ordered to do what he was told. It appears therefore, that it rests between Kingston CC and the Board - Kingston CC who put together the Reconstruction Committee and then invited representatives of the Board as members.

The committee was headed by Richard Cooke, and included club manager Trevor Edwards as secretary, club members Junior Stewart - who had the contract to relay the pitch - and Kenny Williams, Andrew Wildish who was responsible for the grassing of the pitch, Dr. Radcliffe Fredericks of JENTEC, and from the Board, former president Allan Rae, president Jackie Hendriks, first vice-president Easton McMorris and chief executive officer and the Board's man in charge of pitches, George Prescod. From day one when the board asked Rae and McMorris to provide a plan for the preparation of the pitch, from the time the plan was presented to the club, it appeared that there were problems - to the extent that apart from discussions among board members and with the committee's members, there were letters from the board to the club, and from the club to the board.

One of the problems, according to a board member, is that Prescod, as the pitch expert on the Board, did not take kindly to the board asking Rae and McMorris to prepare the plan but said nothing. Another problem was that the board felt that the opinion of its representatives on the committee were not respected.

``Although there was an agreement that it would be re-paid, it was Kingston's club money paying for the job, and although we were drafted to the committee, they were in control and we had little or no voice,'' said a board member who prefers to remain anonymous.

The relaying of the pitch, which consists of stones, sand, and clay, was done by the committee which then handed it over to the board for the final preparation. It appears however, that the board was not satisfied with many things - including the delay in handing it over.

``We expected the pitch to have been handed over by December 1, 1997, because we wanted to finish it so that we could have played at least a couple of matches on it before the President's Cup match against Barbados,'' said a board member. ``We did not get it until the middle of the month, and by then it was a rush to prepare it in time for the President's Cup match on January 9.

During the preparation of the foundation, the pitch was rolled after each layer - and according to reports, the board representatives objected but were brushed aside by the expert engineers on the committee. It is also understood that Rae objected to the type of grass which was used on the pitch. He also wanted it cut earlier than it was. On top of all the problems between the Board and the committee as to what should have been done and how, there are people who witnessed a quarrel between the head of the groundstaff and the board's representative on the eve of the Test match. The quarrel concerned the watering of the pitch and how much water should be used at that stage. The board has promised a full investigation into the preparation, from start to finish, of a pitch which led to a Test match being abandoned and to the embarrassment of Jamaica and the West Indies.

There will also be a meeting of the Jamaica Cricket Association's members at the end of February and hopefully by then the investigation will have been completed. The association members, like all Jamaica, want to know why there were so many cooks - especially so many experts to whom the preparation of a cricket pitch was something new. A letter from the honorary secretary of the Kingston Cricket Club dated October 18, in reply to one dated October 15, 1996, from George Prescod re the Board's plans for the relaying of the pitch read in parts: ``Your proposal to relay the Sabina Park wicket presents an opportunity to create by scientific investigation, analysis and planning, not only the best Test wicket in the West Indies, but one of the best in the world.''

After talking about technical experts, soil tests and types of grass, and explaining what they proposed to do, the letter went on: ``In our view, the current plan outlined in your letter is inadequate and can only result in embarrassment to Jamaica as it will be impossible to complete the tasks outlined above within the time span contemplated in your letter.''

Prescod had proposed a starting date of October 31, 1996. In its letter, Kingston Cricket Club, to whom the pitch belongs, promised a starting date at the end of the 1997 season and a completion date to meet the start of the 1998 season.

Taken from the Sunday Gleaner.

Source: The Jamaica Gleaner

Contributed by CricInfo Management, and reproduced with permission

Date-stamped : 10 Feb1998 - 14:59