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Sabina Park pitch was a shambles waiting to happen

By Peter Deeley

30 January 1998

NEVER before in 120 years of Test history has a game been abandoned because of the dangerous nature of the pitch. But if it happened anywhere then Sabina Park was always going to be high on the list of culpable contenders.

Over the decades when West Indies built an unassailable reputation on the basis of their lethal four-man pace attack, Kingston was the ground where batsmen - particularly the openers - had to look to their safety.

In 1976 the Indian captain, Bishen Bedi, summarily declared his side's first innings closed on the second day after three batsmen had been injured as a result of intimidatory bowling.

Then, on England's 1989-90 tour of the Caribbean, when rain for two days threatened to rob Graham Gooch's side of a totally expected victory, the ribbed surface - a glistening grey top which was totally bare of grass - was likened to a piece of asbestos sheeting.

Helicopters were brought in to dry the wicket and fires lit on the corners of the square to hasten the process.

But home umpire Steve Bucknor still issued a statement saying he was prepared to approve the abandonment of the game if the pitch was considered unsuitable. That did not prove necessary and England won by nine wickets on the last day when the weather improved.

It was on this same tour that for the first time in Tests in the West Indies - and only the fifth time in the game's history - a complete match was expunged from the records when rain inundated the Bourda ground in Georgetown, Guyana.

Lack of money has always made good pitch preparation in Kingston a subject of debate. It was clear some time before yesterday's Test began that the newly-laid pitch was sub-standard, particularly its unevenness.

In the subcontinent, dubious pitches are not uncommon though there the problem is not so much one of physical danger as the ball squirting through low and generally behaving unpredictably.

But as recently as last Christmas Day the one-day international between Sri Lanka and India was called off at Indore, with the visitors 17 for one after only three overs because the pitch was breaking up.

West Indies themselves will have happier memories of another sub-standard Test wicket - the one at Edgbaston in 1995. It had been shaved at each end and was grassy in the middle and so suited the Caribbean pace bowlers that the game ended after two-and-a-half days with West Indies winning by an innings.

There, too, Michael Atherton won the toss and decided to bat first on a pitch which saw any number of England batsmen hit about hand and body.

Jason Gallian suffered a hairline fracture of the finger, Robin Smith was hit several times on body and arm and Alec Stewart was unable to bat in the second innings.

Atherton said afterwards it was the worst Test pitch he had ever encountered - but he may wish to reconsider that view after the events in Kingston.

At Lord's, English Cricket Board excutives were unwilling to enter the fray, pointing out that the drama was the responsibility of the International Cricket Council.

David Richards, ICC's chief executive, was not available for comment but he will no doubt be calling for a full report on the farce. He may well take the view that in future all Test grounds should fall in line with the practice operated by England.

Here two strips are prepared beforehand at every Test ground to account for all eventualities. This makes the prospect of a repeat of the scenes at Sabina Park almost impossible.

Test abandonments

1968-69 (Karachi): Pakistan v England. Match abandoned on third day when crowd invaded pitch.

1977-78 (Jamaica): West Indies v Australia. Crowd riot with 38 balls of match remaining.

1978-79 (Bangalore): India v West Indies. No play final day because of riots in the city.

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