Cricket: Malign Sabina strip strikes again

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The Independent Online
It was an embarrassment waiting to happen.

Two days before Courtney Walsh released the first ball of the Test on the cracked, uneven pitch, Michael Holding, who should know more about it than most, was making grave predictions about its behaviour.

The following morning, unprompted and independently, Malcolm Marshall and Ian Botham commented pessimistically on how much it resembled the Sabina surface of 1986, when both were involved. In the one-day match then, a ball from Marshall leapt at Mike Gatting's face in much the way those from Walsh and Curtly Ambrose did at Alec Stewart and his colleagues yesterday and rearranged his nose. The subsequent Test was over in three days with more body blows for the batsmen.

That was not the first time that the pitch at Sabina had created mayhem. First dug up and relaid in 1967 - as it was last October - it revealed its roguish nature in the England Test a year later. Then cracks as wide as Lance Gibbs' spinning finger spread in a mosaic the length of the 22 yards. Balls either skidded through at ankle height or leapt at the Adam's apple, flooring Jim Parks with one such direct hit.

The West Indies followed on, Gary Sobers somehow managed an unbeaten 113, one of the great Test innings, and England were clinging on at 68 for 8 when stumps were drawn.

Eight years later, there was more devastation wrought by the young, pacy Holding, Wayne Daniel and Vanburn Holder. The bounce was again unpredictable, there was the hint of a ridge at one end and three of India's top batsmen had to retire hurt in the first innings.

In the second innings India listed five men absent hurt. Their captain, Bishen Bedi, and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, the Nos 10 and 11, were fit but simply in fear of their life and preferred not to take the risk. Then came 1986 and now, finally and shamefully, this fiasco. Only the authorities seemed not to see it coming.

- Tony Cozier, Kingston