West Indies v England, 2nd Test, Antigua, 1st day February 13, 2009

'The game should never have been allowed to start'


Groundsmen dig beneath the surface of the Antigua pitch and find a sandpit ... but was anyone connected with the ground really surprised? © Getty Images
A column on caribbeancricket.com by someone closely involved with the building of the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium has lifted the lid on the extent of the problems at the ground, as well as suggesting that this was a farce that was waiting to happen.

Issues, it is claimed, were apparent from the time the venue was being prepared for its opening ahead of the 2007 World Cup, and were so bad that the ICC considered moving matches away from the ground, although in the end all six fixtures did go ahead. But even then, poor grass coverage and excessive sand were a major worry, especially during Bangladesh's match against Australia, which was reduced to 22 overs a side despite bright sunshine.

"The project was perhaps not managed properly, the outfield was initially completed before the South Stand was finished," the source told the website. "So, heavy equipment was placed on the field [near the boundary] to lift and put the roof structure in place. Drainage pipes were damaged, and the shadow now cast by the massive roof prevented the grass from getting adequate sunlight during the growing-in process. The heavy equipment also damaged some of the underground drainage pipes, and this is what caused that problem during the World Cup."

However, little appears to have improved in the two years since then. Late in 2008 a local company which had been involved with other grounds ahead of the World Cup was hired to relay the outfield. Only when work started did they uncover the extent of the job facing them.

It is claimed they found clay on top of sand instead of vice-versa, crushed drainage pipes and a mass of garbage compacted at the base. The project time was immediately doubled. The race against time was further compromised by the Antiguan government who suspended work to allow a concert to be staged over Christmas.

"This is a huge embarrassment," the source stated. "People in positions of responsibility should lose those positions, [and] the game should never have been allowed to start.

"Players and umpires have been publicly expressing doubts about the suitability of the ground, especially the bowlers' run-ups. How hard would it have been to simulate a spell of bowling two days before the game?"

After the day's play had been abandoned, the groundstaff were seen digging in a futile fashion on the outfield, with the intention of laying down a stronger top-soil in a bid to enable the game to resume. However, according to David Bates, a former groundsman at Northants and one of the UK's leading sports ground consultants, such a plan would never have succeeded.

"There were risks to returfing the area that they would have needed to be aware of," said Bates, who is currently technical director of Total Turf Solutions. "Unless they had put in a solid block of turf, with a minimum depth of 250mm, then the turf would have will all kicked out again.

"Basically, the bigger the slab of turf, the more it will hold in place. The smaller the squares, the greater depth of soil and root growth will be needed. Get this wrong and the surface would not have been stable enough. I doubt if they would have been able to find slabs of turf this big or this deep just down the road."

The revelations that this problem was widely known for a long time before the game started will raise more questions over both the West Indies Cricket Board's role in the shambles as well as the failure by the ICC officials to take any action in the days before Caribbean cricket was again held up for global ridicule.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • linsay on February 15, 2009, 22:29 GMT

    Mike Atherton says that this incident adds to 'disastrous legacy of the World Cup'.Can Mike remind us of what he is speaking about.Is he talking about Bob Woolmer's death,how is that anyone's fault?Is it the Finals in Barbados,How is that WICB's doing.Mike GET REAL

  • Majid on February 15, 2009, 18:50 GMT

    what a joke. WICB should hang their heads in shame. Many of the tickets on this tour have been purchased by england fans who have paid out for trips and made plans based around this test match. Some would be going home Saturday because their trips were over and the return flights were Saturday. I hope that they take legal action against WICB and ICC. People in charge knew this match should not be played months ago. It is a pity that India were not the travelling team because we all know they are the true bosses of world cricket and they would have not let the WICB and ICC disrespect Indian fans, just like the English fans have been disrespected.

  • Steve on February 15, 2009, 6:26 GMT

    sriniwas, let it go son! If you are going to bitch about incorrect umpiring decisions made in cricket matches, then I suggest chess may be your sport.

    WICB - covered yourselves in glory......again! Thankfully someone had the good sense to add another match to this series.

  • Andy on February 14, 2009, 17:44 GMT

    People of Antigua - we know you hate the new stadium. This is your big chance to make your voices heard. Rally round, come to the ARG on Sunday and make it a party to end all parties. This farce can have a happy ending, and it's up to you to make it happen.

  • Amrit on February 14, 2009, 14:28 GMT

    Very poor planning on the part of the WICB. In this modern age this is not supposed to happen. The players on arriving at the stadium saw the conditions and made a pretty good assessment of the playing area in a matter of hours, how could the personal in charge have missed this? There are other grounds in the Caribbean that are upto standard to host such games, why did they persist with Antigua? I hope this gives the West Indies the opportunity to reconsider the final 11, clearly Simmons is in form and deserves to be given his first test cap in Antigua.

  • William on February 14, 2009, 14:16 GMT

    I absolutely agree with Patrick_Clarke - the game should be awarded to the visitors and the local cricket board fined heavily. This is a major embarassment for West Indian cricket and not the first time. Did they not learn? Clearly not and the ICC should make it absolutely clear that this cannot again be repeated, using a big stick.

  • SRINI on February 14, 2009, 13:11 GMT

    ICC, WICB, the local cricket admin at Antigua and the match officials - referee (especially), umpires - ALL these must cop the blame. If i was the referee or umpire I wd have walked out of it, if they did not heed my advice to stop from starting the Test in the first place. My heart goes out to those passionate fans, esp. to those who might have spent a tidy sum from their hard earned money for a lifetime experience and now have to go back broken hearted. I was witness to how an old couple felt when they were taken for literal ride by a tourist guide in Goa way back in 1989. He skipped the Fort Aguada stop and when asked about it he nonchalantly replied they can visit it the next time they come to Goa from Kolkatta!

    Heads MUST roll, as Holding demands. But will they?

  • Patrick on February 14, 2009, 12:13 GMT

    I recall at the time the Jamaica test in 1998 was abandoned after 20 minutes on the first day, it was said this should never happen again. Well it has, and the ICC are to blame for not having clear procedures, such as the following: 1)If a stadium is unfit for play for anything other than an unavoidable problem such as rain or bad light, the match should be abandoned and awarded to the visiting team; 2)The home Cricket Board should be fined $500,000 and the money raised given as compensation to anyone paying to attend the game as visitors; 3)The offending ground to be banned from hosting any further matches for a minimum of three years. This Test Series should now stand at 1-1. If these measures were in place this farce would never have happened.

    I'd also suggest that 7 days before each match a competent ICC official visits all venues to check they are on course to be fit for play - if none exist I'd be glad to do it for a small fee.

  • Michael on February 14, 2009, 11:43 GMT

    If the bowler's run-ups were suspect, how difficult would it have been for live tests at both ends? The SKY commentators were clearly expressing deep reservations well before play started. Were the conditions only obvious to them? One suspects pressure on the people responsible for the ground including WICB, from parties interested in the tourist and other agencies. Once again, Cricket authorities have dismissed the needs of players and spectators. Money, money, money. That is all that counts. WICB, Alan Hurst, and the umpires are all culpable. Not to mention shadowy interests behind the scenes.West Indian people deserve far better. The comedy of errors that is West Indian cricket administration must be brought to an end.

  • Richard on February 14, 2009, 11:21 GMT

    Alongside my sympathy for the paying public, some of whom must have saved up for years to make this their holiday, I concur with those who feel embarrassed on behalf of the great Viv Richards. Unfortunately some bunch of incompetent clowns have put HIS name on such a monstrous foul-up.

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