Cricket: Antigua digs deep to cover new ground

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The Independent Online
WITH a little help from American technological expertise and a sizeable debt in the public treasury, they have worked wonders on the Antigua Recreation Ground.

When England arrived in St John's in January, the outfield, excavated so that it could be resurfaced and fitted with drainage, was a wasteland of mud. A new stand, to be named in honour of the former West Indies captain, Richie Richardson, was just having its foundations laid. There was no way, the world was advised, that it would be ready for a Test less than three months away.

It was doubt that proved the catalyst for unusually urgent action by the Antigua Government, cricket authorities and just ordinary people. Within weeks, the Jamaica Test had been abandoned and the West Indies Cricket Board was being urged to act early and switch the Antigua Test to Barbados.

With elections due within a year, there was no way Lester Bird, the Prime Minister, could let the Test go. Realising that natural grass would never sprout in time, his Government imported ready-grassed turf from Miami and simply rolled it into place. The result has been spectacular, the greenest, softest Test outfield in the Caribbean. Richardson opened his stand on Thursday and all Antigua is now boasting that the ARG is now the best appointed ground in the West Indies.

Unfortunately, the square was also dug up and re-laid and a couple of practice club matches indicated it would be very little different from what it had been. But this one had far too much moisture in its preparation and batting against the likes of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh was not easy for Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart in the abbreviated play possible.

With the rain around and the covers in place, it is unlikely to have much time to dry out. That means a result is probable, exactly what England would have hoped for rather than a heavy-scoring stalemate that would have left the series in the hands of the West Indies. All they have to do is to ensure that the result is in their favour and that's something else altogether.