Cricket: England give up on Antigua

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England's cricketers last night decided to pull out of Antigua before schedule, following the disruption of their practice programme by torrential downpours.

The tourists' management decided it was time to move on to Jamaica five days early, once a thunderstorm had soaked the practice ground further.

England will now be able to have vital net practice at the Melbourne and Kensington grounds in the Kingston area, although there are at present showers circling Jamaica.

A sunny morning had given the England coach, David Lloyd, hope of serious practice tomorrow, but that prospect disappeared in another deluge as the players took a day off yesterday to ease their frustrations.

England were due to take part in an inaugural match on Sunday to open officially the pounds 200,000 Caribbean Cricket Centre, but all hope of that happening was abandoned yesterday evening.

Lloyd said: "The weather forecast for the end of the week gave us some hope that we would eventually play, but the heavy downpour finally put paid to those hopes.

"We're bitterly disappointed at the way things have turned out as, when I visited the centre in November, it appeared perfect for our needs and I was confident we would get an excellent week of cricket in an ideal setting."

The manager and head coach of the centre, Mark Harper, added: "Six net pitches and two more pitches on the square were prepared and we felt they should have offered the touring team ideal conditions at the start of their stay in their Caribbean."

The opening ceremony of the centre will now take place in March, when the England and West Indies teams will be in Antigua for the fifth Test.