England and West Indies become part of an abandoned Test, yet again

The two captains, Chris Gayle (left) and Andrew Strauss, alongside Alastair Cook and the two umpires, were involved in a lengthy conversation before play was called off © Getty Images

On February 13, 2009, the second Test between West Indies and England was abandoned, thanks to an appalling outfield. This wasn’t the first time that the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) had been a subject of embarrassment; in 1998, the Sabina Park Test was abandoned due to a dangerous pitch. Karthik Parimal looks back at that fateful day.

It was an embarrassing moment for the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), when the Test at Sabina Park in 1998 between West Indies and England was called off owing to a dangerous pitch. As if bowlers in the form of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh weren’t threatening enough, the Englishmen, put into bat first, had to face the wrath of the duo on a fickle wicket. Almost every batsman – Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe – were hit in the process of fending off snorters.

It took the umpires 10.1 overs and 55 minutes to abandon that Test, although Brian Lara, who was captaining the West Indies for the first time that day, was reluctant to walk off, since the conditions were advantageous to his bowlers. Moreover, according to Nasser Hussain’s autobiography Playing With Fire, Lara apparently had a point to prove to the people of Jamaica, who were seething after Walsh was stripped off his captaincy.

Fast-forward 11 years, on February 13, 2009, the two sides were set to face each at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua for the second Test of the Wisden Trophy. The first game was clinched by West Indies during which the English were bowled out for a paltry total of 51. A repeat of 1998 looked inevitable in the days leading up to the Antigua Test, since the sand-based outfield ensured that England were unable to train at the stadium. Nevertheless, Alan Hurst, the International Cricket Council (ICC) match referee, despite sensing trouble, stated that ‘it would be impossible to know how bad the situation was until play actually got under way’.

West Indian captain Chris Gayle had won the toss this time around, and yet again it was England who were to make first use of the pitch. However, the problem this time lay with outfield and the run-up to the wicket. The fact that the ground would be a thorn in the flesh was soon confirmed when Jerome Taylor got ready to bowl the first ball of the day to Andrew Struass. He pulled out the first time but somehow managed to bowl on the second attempt despite not being his usual fluent self. He kicked up sand while running to deliver the second ball of the over, and kicked up sand with every step he took.

The batsmen too soon found the outfield unfavourable, as Strauss’ drive down the ground fetched him just two runs instead of the usual boundary. Taylor then tried to bowl from the other side of the wicket before completing his over in rather unsatisfactory conditions.

The ball was then tossed to Fidel Edwards, who sent down two deliveries before rain halted play. As if a sandy outfield wasn’t bothersome enough, the players now had to contend with a damp ground. Twenty minutes later, after resumption, Edwards aborted his run-up leading to the third ball of the over. The next attempt was no different, and he flung the ball away in disgust to the keeper.  There was now very little doubt as to what the outcome of the Test would be.

The two captains Gayle and Strauss, alongside Alastair Cook and the two umpires, were involved in a lengthy conversation before play was called off, yet again. Quite a few officials and administrators walked out to the middle to inspect, and despite there being a barrage of suggestions for an instant remedy to the situation, it slowly started to sink in that there was indeed no quick-fix solution to the problem. Ian Botham, who was present there as one of the members of the panel of experts, started to kick the outfield in disgust too.

Haroon Lorgat, the then chief executive of the ICC, coincidentally decided to visit the Caribbean for the first time to watch this Test. This was a matter that would cause further embarrassment to the WICB, and Lorgat minced no words when he said, “It is their (WICB) responsibility to ensure that the ground is fit for play, that it meets the minimum standards for Test match cricket.”

The spectators, largely English, were understandably outraged, and a few of the English players made it a point to mingle with them to help alleviate their frustration.

As for the Test, it was moved to the Antigua Recreation Ground, which was the other, much older, venue at Antigua, scheduled to begin two days later on February 15, 2009. The game ended in a draw, but it didn’t do enough to eclipse the fiasco that occurred at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. The WICB had clearly not learnt from their wrongdoings in 1998. Their reputation of being good hosts had taken a beating post the 2007 One-Day International (ODI) World Cup, and an incident of this magnitude shortly thereafter only succeeded in worsening matters. The stadium was banned from hosting any form of international cricket for 12 months.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)