All eyes on Recreation Ground after second Test abandonment
After the sensational abandonment of the second Test between West Indies and England at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, the two teams will meet again on the island for the third Test on Sunday at the old Antigua Recreation Ground. Just ten balls were bowled by West Indies today owing to a sandy outfield which was belatedly deemed dangerous, and a 'health hazard' to the players.
Jerome Taylor opened the bowling with Fidel Edwards, but neither bowler was able to gain any sort of traction on a surface caked in sand. After two balls of his first over, Edwards turned to his captain, Chris Gayle, and appealed for advice before the umpires were consulted along with the match referee, Alan Hurst.
"The bowlers are having problems with their footings. They were having trouble getting any traction at all," Hurst said. "The umpires have agreed with that. It is a health hazard for the players. Play has been abandoned for the day as the ground is unfit."
There appeared still to be hope that the Test might continue. Yet as groundsmen began digging up sections of the outfield, uncovering sand as pristine as the country's hundreds of beaches, it soon became obvious that Antigua's much troubled new ground, built for the 2007 World Cup, was in no fit state to host a Test. A source close to the construction of the ground told caribbeancricket.com that the game should never have been allowed to start, and the man in whose honour the stadium was built was predictably ashamed. "This is not shooting me in the foot," said Sir Viv Richards. "This is shooting me straight through the heart."
"It's clearly the West Indies Cricket Board's [responsibility]," said Haroon Lorgat, the ICC's chief executive. "It is their responsibility to ensure that the ground is fit for play, that it meets the minimum standards for Test match cricket. They are trying to do everything possible to fix the problem, as difficult as that is going to be, and are accepting of their responsibility.
"It's not good enough. We have to make sure in the future we try and avoid it. Between the groundsman, between the match officials, they are going to have to make a very, very careful assessment and their judgement is going to have to be spot on this time."
However, the ICC convened at the country's infamous old Antigua Recreation Ground and, at 3pm, announced that the third Test would be held there on Sunday. The ARG was one of West Indies' most iconic grounds; a ramshackle of a venue with a prison adorning one side that played host to two of Brian Lara's world records, but the ground hasn't hosted a Test since 2006 and has gradually fallen into disuse. It has mainly been used for practice and preparation, and England enjoyed a surprisingly spicy net session in the run-up to the second Test, but Gayle voiced concerns about staging a hastily-arranged Test match at such a creakingly old venue.
"We practised there but take into consideration the field wasn't up to standard there as well," he said. "It was a bit bumpy - I gather there's a lot of football played there. The field is a bit bumpy, even the wicket has a couple of ridges so you have some uneven bounce."
Hurst, though, remained optimistic that the ARG would be fit in time. "The security people have made a good look around and gave it the okay," he said. "The stands looked okay, there's one stand that may have a limited number of people who can use it."
Where this leaves the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium at North Sound is unclear. Beset by problems since its erection, the outfield was relaid after the 2007 World Cup. "The ultimate sanction is that you take away the status of the venue," Lorgat said.