It took less than an hour's play at Sabina Park yesterday before the first Test between England and the West Indies was abandoned because of a substandard pitch. In a move unprecedented in Test cricket's 122-year history, the umpires brought the players off the field. As the sole arbiters of what happens on the field, the decision was theirs, though it had the backing of both captains as well as a those of England's battered batsmen.
When play was halted, immediately after Graham Thorpe had been struck another nasty blow to the hand, England were reeling at 17 for 3, though the bruise count was much higher.
In fact the England physio, Wayne Morton, made six appearances on the field in order to administer his cold spray to throbbing fingers and arms.
Speaking afterwards, Alec Stewart, one who had survived the ordeal with his wicket intact, said he had played on flatter pitches and that following his torrid confrontation with Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh he felt like a "lady who has just appeared in a French Court".
In a sport whose tradition is often summed up by the dictum "Play up, play up and play the game," the decision may seem surprising. But although these two sides met on a pitch almost as poor at Edgbaston two years ago - when there was no abandonment but two cases of broken bones- it is surely the game and not the excessive risk of physical injury that is the point.
It was a point the umpires had considered as early as the third over, when they first made their doubts known to the match referee, Barry Jarman.
The novelty of the situation will have brought acute embarrassment to the West Indies Cricket Board, which will now have to juggle the remainder of the itinerary should it decide to replay this match elsewhere. Mind you, with the game actually having started, there is a case that the match counts as part of the series, and that the players' figures stand. Either way, it is a decision which will have to be made in consultation with the England Board, and an announcement is expected in the next few days.
What is patently clear is that if the match is to be re-scheduled, it cannot be played here at Sabina Park. The offending pitch is just one strip on whole square relaid with the same yellowish clay. Apparently no other ground on the island can stage a Test match, a fact that will bring profound disappointment to the proud people of Jamaica.
Speaking after a hasty meeting that included the umpires, both captains and Barry Jarman, the president of the West Indies Board, Pat Rousseau, was suitably apologetic.
"We deeply regret the abandonment and the inconvenience of cancelling to all those people present, especially the sponsors, the media and supporters from overseas" said Rousseau, no doubt mindful that around 800 British tourists, paying around pounds 2,000 each to be here for the week, will be more than a little miffed.
"The umpires took the decision that the pitch was unfit and dangerous for the players. The captains consulted and agreed that the pitch was unfit for play. We will refund the money paid starting today with the Bleachers and Railways stands."
There is no doubt that a scapegoat will be sought, and the hunt had begun before the lunch. However, before the groundsman Charles Joseph - the chief culprit in many people's eyes - is vilified, it must be said that relaid pitches are notoriously fickle and often require years and not months, as this one has had, to settle down.
As far as the Jamaica Cricket Association were concerned, the pitch as prepared as normal to be suitable for Test cricket. However, with many believing that West Indies bowling firepower is in decline, the cynical view might be that the surface was designed to break England at the first opportunity. It sounds a desperate ploy, but then these are desperate times for Caribbean cricket.
Quite probably this match should never have been played here in the first place. To those with trained eyes the pitch, with its combination of cracks and corrugations, was always going to be a handful. Against bowlers out to prove that rumours of their demise are simply untrue, it was nigh on lethal; though no one could have quite envisaged the amazing events that followed.
What perhaps is curious, is that Atherton won the toss and batted. According to local consensus, Lara would have done the opposite and put England in, which makes the notion behind Atherton's decision, that an already poor pitch would get worse, a dubious one.
sabina park scoreboard
England won toss
ENGLAND - First Innings
*M A Atherton c Campbell b Walsh 2
(9 min, 7 balls)
A J Stewart not out 9
(66 min, 26 balls)
M A Butcher c S C Williams b Walsh 0
(2 min, 1 ball)
N Hussain c Hooper b Ambrose 1
(22 min, 18 balls)
G P Thorpe not out 0
(31 min, 10 balls)
Extras (b4, nb1) 5
Total (for 3, 66 min, 10.1 overs) 17
Fall: 1-4 (Atherton), 2-4 (Butcher), 3-9 (Hussain).
Did not bat: J P Crawley, A C Hollioake, A R Caddick, D W Headley, A R C Fraser, P C R Tufnell.
Bowling: Walsh 5.1-1-10-2, Ambrose 5-3-3-1 (nb1) (one spell each).
Progress: Play stopped at 11.01. Players and umpires left the field at 11.11.
WEST INDIES: S L Campbell, S C Williams, S Chanderpaul, *B C Lara, C L Hooper, J C Adams, D Williams, I R Bishop, C E L Ambrose, N A M McLean, C A Walsh.
Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and S Venkataraghavan (Ind).
MATCH ABANDONEDReuse content