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Jamaica's delay has proved misguided and expensive

By Mark Nicholas

30 January 1998

INITIAL reaction to yesterday's farce at Sabina Park was how could such a cock-up occur? How could a first-class ground authority know for a year they were to stage a Test match - and an especially lucrative one at that, given the enormous interest from England - and still be unable to provide a pitch worthy of the name?

What a business this was, with batsmen in danger of blows to top and toe from pretty much every ball that they faced. The England players appear to have come away unscathed, but the sight of shooters and snorters galore will live long in the memory.

Pitch preparation is a devil of a thing and clearly the Jamaican Cricket Association made a howler in re-laying this one as recently as eight weeks ago and then not ensuring a dummy run with a first-class match before the Test.

The pitch used here last year against the Indian tourists was a shocker too, but in a different way. Sachin Tendulkar was bowled by a grubber, lesser players were destined be out lbw unless lunging forward in defensive effort. Batsmen played with the bottom of their bats as much as with the middle and it was a dull affair which did Test cricket no credit. The public knew it and stayed away, which is why the Jamaican authorities took the bold decision to re-lay the square. Stupidly, they left it too late and have paid a humiliating price.

The talk here, even before a ball was bowled, was of Sabina Park in 1986 when Mike Gatting had his nose crushed by a ball from Malcolm Marshall in the one-day international, and when the Test pitch made a name for the very strong, lightning-fast Patrick Patterson, who played the alarming lead role in finishing the match in three days. Vivian Richards said at the time that it was the only occasion in his career he had felt sympathy for opposing batsmen. He would have felt plenty more of the same yesterday, because the most alarming exploiters of a dodgy pitch, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, were in harness and with plenty to prove.

Both these magnificent bowlers deliver the ball from a height of more than 7.5 feet, which provides steep bounce and which, as we saw yesterday, exaggerates the unevenness on a corrugated surface such as this one, as well as exaggerating the sideways movement. They bowl straight too - as Mark Butcher found to his cost, first ball - and make batsmen play at a high percentage of their destructive offerings.

There have been two other truly nasty pitches in Test cricket in recent years. One at Edgbaston in 1995, when the West Indies beat England, and the other at Perth early in 1997, when the West Indies beat Australia. Make no mistake, whether past their very best or not, Ambrose, Walsh and Ian Bishop are the masters of bowling on bad playing surfaces. What they would have done on this appalling one does not bear a thought.

Thankfully, everyone had the good sense to end it almost before it had begun and in that decision Brian Lara showed his maturity and Ambrose and Walsh, with their obvious concern for Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe, indicated the honourable side of their passionate, aggressive on-field personalities.

In the high drama of such extraordinary circumstances players, umpires and the West Indies Cricket Board handled the impossible situation extremely well. A pity that the people who made the pitch could not have done the same.

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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:16