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January 29, 1998
Nothing remotely similar to this has ever happened before, in any part of the cricket world. This was certainly history being made, albeit the dubious kind, ``black'' history, not the type to be proud of. I am sure that there will be no holidays granted for this. Repercussions, though, will abound, or should. This pitch produced too many different aspects in such a very short time. It bounced normally, it bounced alarmingly, then it did not bounce at all, many deliveries scooting along the ground, all in only one hour of play.
As suggested before, the pitch was highly unpredictable. Simply, too many patches and pieces. There were so many "experts" at the pitch site just before the game, one might have imagined that someone was actually buried there. In retrospect, those people might have had a premonition. The pitch should now be dug up, and those directly responsible for this travesty of a Test pitch should be buried in the same hole. They deserve no better than what they have just managed to do to Caribbean cricket overall.
After an hour of hostility and unintended terrorism, certainly not altogether caused by the bowlers, the home captain, Brian Lara, intimated, that he thought that the pitch was dangerous. Mike Atherton, having won the toss and electing to bat, had already been out, caught between two minds as to whether he should leave alone or slash outside the off stump to a steaming Courtney Walsh, only for the delivery to end up, with great speed, at gully, where Sherwin Campbell took a stupendous catch, diving to his left. It was only the opening act of a greater tragedy.
Mark Butcher, very out of touch with both form and sense of timing, perhaps only finding out this morning that he would be included, got the proverbial unplayable delivery. Yet he managed to play it, or more to the point, the ball played him. It bit, bounced awkwardly, kept on going up, lined up with laser-like accuracy to Butcher's head. Evasive, or protective, action was the only option. Butcher must have been relieved when Stuart Williams took the easiest of catches. This was getting messier.
By that dismissal, though, it was already painfully clear, with a direct emphasis on "pain", that something was seriously wrong with the pitch. Actually, as early as the third ball of Walsh's opening over, and the day's first, the writing was on the wall. That delivery also kicked viciously, but also veered into Atherton, passing between bat and body, David Williams, the wicket-keeper becoming airborne to take the delivery. That, for all practical purposes, was that. The similarities of Egbaston in 1995 are real.
Nasser Hussain, one of England's stalwarts against Australia last year, survived long enough to give Ambrose this time, a wicket, which, after all that had happened the previous half an hour, was normal. Hussain prodded forward to a good leg-cutting delivery which bounced a bit, more from Ambrose than the pitch, and edged, regulation-like, to the sure hands of Carl Hooper at second slip. At 17 for 3, England were reeling, with nowhere to hide.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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