The big bang is coming: A reflection on the Sabina fiasco

Garth Wattley

Sunday, February 1, 1998

THE walls of Jericho may have crumbled long ago. And the echo of their falling has long since been muffled by the passage of time. But here in the Caribbean, another collapse of epic proportions is taking place. The decline of West Indies cricket is not yet as dramatic as the fall of Jericho's walls. However, it certainly ssems poised for the freefall stage... if it is not yet there!

Jamaica-specifically, the Sabina Park pitch- may currently be a source of shame for West Indians. But the scandal that caused match referee Barry Jarman and the umpires, with the consent of both captains, to abandon the First Cable and Wireless Test Match is just the latest evidence of the structural decline in the regional game.

On the field, the first cracks became visible in 1995 when Mark Taylor's Australians broke a run of 15 years without a Test series loss. But defeat Down Under in 1996/97 and then last December's numbing 0-3 annihilation in Pakistan have produced tremors. Together, they have severely undermined Caribbean confidence.

Still, worrying as recent on-the-field results have been, they pale into the background if not quite into insignificance beside the crisis of administration.

Back to Sabina again. As the discusson and speculation swirled from one corner of the ground to another on Thursday, so did talk both impractical and irrelevant. For my money, it matters not one whit whether the West Indies, had they batted first, would have had the same problems as the English batsmen. Or whether they would have raised the issue with the authorities. And it is a moot point whether the 1998 Sabina pitch was worse than the one in 1976 on which Bishen Bedi's Indians literally capitulated or the one at the Queen's Park Oval in 1995 where Australia were overrun inside of three days.

The painful truth is that the Jamaica Cricket Asociaion produced a roller-coaster surface, a minefield for batsmen, one year after the square was relaid for the umpteenth time. It is beyond dispute that three weeks after a President's Cup game on the same ground was contested in unsatisfactory conditions, and two weeks after England's tour match was played on the terror strip at Sabina Park, the Test match track proved sheer hell.

The obvious conclusion is that the authorities in the region have neither the expertise nor the tools to get the job done properly. How else to explain JCA president Jackie Hendrik's ``shock to us'' declaration about how the pitch played after all the documented evidence?

While the hungry English media probed and clicked away, I kept staring in disbelief at the seemingly self-satisfied man. Then in the stuffy room in the George Headley Stand, I switched my gaze to WICB boss Pat Rousseau and his CEO Stephen Camacho, sweating from more than just the heat. And the feeling inside me was emptiness.

These same men, a pesky voice reminded me, the ones now promising an ``investigation'' into the latest administrative disaster are the same ones who sent seven over-aged players to South Africa for the World Youth Cup.

And as the day wore on, I could not help but reflect on the disorder that has engulfed my West Indies.

Not cricket alone is in trouble.

From election chaos in Guyana, to the NP and NFM bacchanals in Trinidad and Tobago, regional institutions are under siege. And we seem not to have the wherewithal to stop the slide. Accountablity, it seems, is an ideal long dead. And so too are bright, right ideas.

I'm sure Messrs Rousseau, Camacho and Marketing chief Chris Dehring are full of good intentions. And maybe they have their shoulders to the wheels of change. But they are turning too slowly!

While the WICB talks of coloured clothing, tourist packages and computer ticketing, patrons are complaining of vacations ruined, and oh so precious money and time wasted. All because of an unfit pitch. It makes no sense harbouring 21st century ambition when the expertise on call is unapologetically 20th century.

And with a scoreboard not yet operational at the Oval and an ARG in St John's with patchy grass and unfinished stands, we'd be lucky if in the coming weeks and months, the talk is still only of the bad pitch at Sabina.

The fuse-organisational inefficiency and short-sightedness-was lit long before the coming of the ``new dispensation.'' But the ``bomb'' is only now about to explode.

And if the leadership of West Indies cricket remains indecisive, if they fail to deal with the fundamentals now, there will be no pieces big enough to piece together after the big boom.

Source: The Express (Trinidad)

Contributed by CricInfo Management, and reproduced with permission
Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:21