After years of a slow, grassless pitch, sometimes a pitch of low bounce, and sometimes also a pitch of uneven bounce, after years of turning over the surface in an effort to improve the pace and the bounce, the square, consisting of four pitches, was dug up last August, a new one laid, and although it is yet to be tested, the expectation is that the Sabina Park pitch, as it was in the years up to the 1970s, will be fast and bouncy. The only difference is that while the old Sabina Park was bald and shine - especially at the start, the new one will have some grass on it. ``I cannot guarantee what it will be like,'' said chief groundsman Charles Joseph yesterday, ``but it should be faster than it has been for a long, long time, and it should have some bounce. It should consistently bounce above waist-height.''
Josephs' confidence stems from the fact that as it was for most of the old days, the clay is from Appleton Sugar Estate in St. Elizabeth. ``This is good clay,'' said the groundsman of many years experience. ``It will hold the grass and it will not crack.''
What about the grass? ``Most of what you see there will be there. Last year I said there would be and then there was none. This time it will be there. It won't go away. Since we cut it the first time last week, we have been shaving it and we have been rolling it, but the grass won't go away. It keeps coming back, and even if it is bare, when it is cut and rolled, it is back by the following morning. That is how it's going to be.''
The grass is thin, comparable to that usually found on the pitch at Kensington Oval and Queen's Park Oval.
The first ball to be bowled on the pitch will be bowled this morning. The Jamaica squad will be having a net session on it on the second pitch from the east, the same on which both the Jamaica/Barbados match on Friday and the Test match will be played.
``After tomorrow (today), we will know what to expect,'' said Josephs. ``I will also know what needs to be done, and I promise you that it will be perfect in time for the Test match.''
The fear among local fans, including some past national and West Indies players, is that if Josephs' predictions are true, while the West Indies fast bowlers will love the pace and the bounce of the new Sabina Park pitch, the grass and its potential to help the England seam bowlers could make life miserable for the West Indies batsmen.
Three of the four pitches consist only of clay, the one at the western side however, the one closest to the members club, is a mixture of clay and sand.
``That is an experiment,'' said Joseph. ``We will be using both those with only clay and the one with the mixture during the local season, and we will see which is a better pitch.''