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