Cricket: When even Stewart and Thorpe cannot cope it is time to stop

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The Independent Online
When you hear the word "disgrace" in a sporting context, there is often a whiff of overstatement. Yesterday afternoon, it did not seem strong enough.

Sabina Park is probably the most intimidating venue in Test cricket, but not even there has the game seen anything like this. The surface could not have been more treacherous if the match had been played in the Kingston streets.

The final straw came when Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe both took blows on the hand within a minute or two of each other. Of all England's batsmen, these two are the best equipped to deal with variable bounce. Both have an exceptional eye, both play the pull shot well, and both are believed to have been wearing the new finger guards that snap on over the gloves.They are also tough cookies, battle-hardened, with fine records against the West Indies.

Yesterday, in the ultimate proof of England's new no-whinge policy, they just got on with the job. Stewart managed the odd rueful smile, and Thorpe was relaxed enough to put his arm around umpire Venkat, while no doubt bending his ear. But when it came to batting, both were helpless.

Spare a thought for the travelling supporters, too. The upper tier of the main stand was festooned with Union Jacks and flags of St George. Some of those people will have saved up for years: the cheapest supporters' tour for the match was priced at pounds 854. The Barmy Army deserve a medal for not starting a riot.

How did the West Indian authorities let this happen? It would not be a great surprise to discover that they quietly ordered a lively surface. Their team had just lost 3-0 on the dead surfaces of Pakistan. But money talks, too, and the last thing the hard-up West Indies Board needed was five days' refunds. It must be a cock-up, not a conspiracy.

The abandonment leaves England in limbo. Never in the field of cricketing conflict has so much preparation come to so little. They had been building up to this moment for four months. Now, this pitch has pitched them back into endless preparation.

England, it has to be said, did contribute a little to their difficulties by electing to bat first. It was brave of Mike Atherton, and he had his reasons, thinking that the cracks would only get wider as the game went on. But if the game had gone on, England might well have been all out for, say, 46, and the West Indies could have gone in with their tails up, had a slog, made 100, and taken control. And if Atherton felt the game was always going to be abandoned, then better that it should be the opposition dodging those early bullets.

The other puzzle was why England did not attack more. It was clear after about five balls that the pitch was unplayable. The textbook prods and pushes with which the batsmen greeted most of the 61 deliveries were never likely to achieve anything, whereas a flurry of shots might have spread the field.

Even a match as short as this has its winners and losers. Among the winners were Stewart, for surviving; Jack Russell, for missing out on a long-awaited 50th Test; Adam Hollioake, who can now recover fully from his shoulder injury; Brian Lara, who has now got over the hump of leading his team out for the first time in a potentially hostile island; and Barry Jarman, whose lack of experience as a match referee did not prevent him from taking a tough decision.

As for the Man of the Match award, there can be only one candidate: Wayne Morton, the England physio.

Tim de Lisle is editor of "Wisden Cricket Monthly".