West Indies v England, 2nd Test, Antigua February 12, 2009

Beach of a pitch adds to England's worries

Andrew Strauss inspects the wicket at the Sir Vivian Richards stadium in North Sound © Getty Images
Antigua is famous for its 365 beaches, but there is enough sand on the outfield of the Sir Vivian Richards stadium to ensure they have one extra for a leap year. The match referee, Alan Hurst, said conditions weren't satisfactory, but not unfit for a Test, and it adds to a list of problems associated with this ground since it opened for the 2007 World Cup.

There are areas of bare sand, especially near the boundary edge, and elsewhere the grass is very thin and patchy. Anyone fielding at third man or fine leg might as well take a bucket and spade with them to wile away any slow passages of play. The bowlers' run-ups are also a cause for concern while there is a significant ridge in the take-off area at the north end of the ground.

To compound the problems, the main nets were too damp to use after recent heavy showers and England opted to return to the Recreation Ground so the batsmen could have their final tune-up. It all compounds an already poor image for a virtually new stadium, but it is the potential for injury that is the major worry.

England know all too well what severe damage a sandy outfield can cause after the horrific knee injury that Simon Jones sustained at the Gabba on the first day of the 2002-03 Ashes series. He was out of international cricket for almost 18 months and has had recurring problems ever since.

Andrew Strauss was keen not to dwell on the conditions, but admitted they could be better. "It's not in an ideal state, that's fair to say, but there are plenty of more important things for us to be thinking about than the state of the outfield," he said. "As long as we are sensible about how we field on it then it shouldn't provide any injuries, and it's the same for both sides so we aren't losing any sleep over it."

Chris Gayle agreed that players are going to need to be careful "It can be a bit dangerous," he said. "I think at the World Cup someone got injured sliding so you'll have to judge the way you slide. It's a good job I don't slide so I'm not too worried about that. You'll have to take precautions out there."

But is any player really going to hold back from a crucial piece of fielding on the boundary? A Test is less likely to throw up the need for boundary-saving dives than an ODI or Twenty20, but player's instincts will take over if a catch is there to be taken.

While the players near the boundary will have to watch their footing, the same is true of the quick bowlers. Even areas close to the square are very sandy, which makes for an unnaturally soft run-up for the pacemen. Added to this, the groundstaff have had to work very hard to reduce a ridge which is almost perfectly positioned for a bowlers' take-off position. Hurst was seen taking a close look at the offending area after the players had left the ground

"The run-up might be a bit difficult and give them heavy legs, but I'm sure they will manage," Gayle said, while Strauss added: "There's a little bit of an issue on one end at the moment, but the groundstaff are fairly confident they can get that right by the morning."

While it is true that conditions are same for both sides, West Indies do have home advantage even if that amounts to a solitary Test against Australia last year and a handful of one-day internationals. "We've made the most of the facilities we've had available to us," Strauss said. "The nets in St Johns were pretty good to bat and bowl on. Preparation isn't going to be an issue."

Gayle, in his typically laid-back approach, said the players just need to get on with the game. "We know what conditions are like and aren't going to grumble, we'll just have to focus on what we can control out in the middle."

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo