West Indies v South Africa, 4th Test, Antigua May 3, 2005

Pitch to blame for tedium

Cricinfo staff



Mark Boucher: he took a wicket with his eighth ball in Test cricket © AFP
The final Test in Antigua set a record or two - never before have eight individual hundreds been scored in one match, and that's not counting the six bowlers who conceded three figures - but it was over as a contest and as meaningful entertainment long before the end of the fifth day.

The problem was the pitch, which was as flat as a freshly-tarmaced road but one which offered marginally less reward to bowlers. The same could be said of the Antigua Test last year. The two most recent Tests at the Recreation Ground have produced 2720 runs and 37 wickets; this year, there were 1462 runs and 17 wickets.

And spare a thought for Makhaya Ntini, who slogged away for 33 overs for his one wicket, and then watched as two wicketkeepers with no pretentions to being bowlers took three between them. AB de Villiers grabbed 2 for 49 as even West Indies grew weary of batting, and then Mark Boucher took his first wicket with his eighth ball in Test cricket.

Andy Roberts, Antigua's first Test player and someone who has been involved in pitch preparation at St John's for more than a decade, said the two games were played on different tracks. "This particular pitch has not been used for a couple of years now," he admitted. "In fact, I have been told the last time it was used was when Brian Lara scored his 375 against England in 1994."

Five-day matches need to offer something to both batsman and bowler. This strip of concrete was so unchanging that the match could have been extended to 10 days and a result would probably have still not been forthcoming.

The authorities, in a bid to placate television companies, are looking to come up with pitches which will last. While low-scoring matches are often high on drama, they leave TV executives with too many hours of empty space to fill and rob the grounds of valuable income.

Roberts said that his hands were tied and that as the West Indies board only allowed that strip to be used once a year, he could do little to improve its pace and bounce. His frustration was evident before the game. When asked by a reporter how he expected the pitch to play, he replied: "It is very difficult to make a prediction ... as we haven't played cricket here in Antigua for the year, so I have nothing to judge how it will play on."

Whatever the reasons, something needs to be done to redress the balance at St John's, otherwise even the cricket-mad Antiguans will start to stay away from matches which are anything but contests.