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Friday the 13th hits Antigua

Mark Mitchener Mark Mitchener | 11:24 UK time, Saturday, 14 February 2009

I was looking forward to taking a break from text commentaries and my other duties on the BBC Sport website and just enjoying some live cricket.

Having made England-watching trips to Australia and New Zealand over the last two winters, I booked a holiday to take in the Tests in Antigua and Barbados. Sun, sea, sand and plenty of cricket - perfect.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would witness a Test match being abandoned after just 10 deliveries, but that is what happened at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, a turn of events which left a bitter taste in many mouths here in Antigua, not just mine.

My parting comment before I left the office was: "Feel free to call me if a sensational story breaks while I'm out there." Next time, I'll have to choose my words more carefully!

Confusion at the second Test in Antigua

Cricket crowds are, traditionally, more patient than those in many other sports - yet after eight balls of play, a rain delay and then just two more deliveries, fans around me showed clear frustration when Fidel Edwards ran in for the third or fourth time without delivering the ball, pointing to a problem with his run-up.

"Get on with it, Fidel", came the cries from those who did not realise what was about to occur.

The frustration around me in the South Stand grew as the umpires, captains and match referee consulted. Music continued to belt out from the Party Stand, while some of its inhabitants took a dip in the pitchside pool - but despite the Caribbean sunshine, those of us up in the stands were very firmly "in the dark" as a slow handclap began.

Friday's local papers here had warned of the possible problems with the outfield - and it eventually became clear that the game was up when the players walked off. I saw one fan buttonhole Andrew Strauss as he walked up to the players' balcony, asking what was happening - while Nasser Hussain and a Sky cameraman were waiting to pounce on the officials as soon as their deliberations were concluded.

Still, however, the public address system remained silent and I actually learned that the game had been abandoned via a text message from a friend in London! It was more than half an hour after play was halted that a garbled announcement was made to the paying spectators.

One England fan I spoke to compared the wall of silence to that experienced by the Oval crowd at the Test forfeited by Pakistan in 2006, when the fans were similarly kept out of the loop as events unfolded.

As we all trooped disconsolately out of the stadium, "what happens next?" became the topic of conversation. The possibility of a move to the Antigua Recreation Ground or Sir Allen Stanford's ground next to the airport or instead scheduling back-to-back Tests in Barbados were all debated, as was one wild theory which suggested the ARG's bowlers' run-ups would be dug up to a depth of eight inches, then transported to the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium and flattened into the existing run-ups with a heavy roller...

As it turns out, we'll all be off to the ARG on Sunday - although an English couple I spoke to, who had visited the old ground yesterday, felt the outfield there was in no shape for Test cricket either, having been used recently for football - so clearly the ground staff will have their work cut out over the next 24 hours.

After such a fiasco, the repercussions for Antigua could be long-lasting. On the way back to the hotel, our tour bus driver spoke of "shame" and "embarrassment" at how things could go so wrong, considering the huge financial importance of a home Test against England to the local economy. We also listened to a local radio phone-in, with some angry Antiguans demanding that the island's cricket officials should resign en masse.

Intriguingly, Antigua is currently awash with election fever, with flags, bunting and posters of the various candidates adorning every lamp-post, telegraph pole and street corner, and some of the locals I spoke to felt the events of this particular Friday the 13th could yet become an election issue.

So, two things have become clear - firstly, if the West Indies Cricket Board thought they had put the logistical problems of the last World Cup aside, they may have to think again.

And secondly, as a journalist, I've learned that you're never really on holiday...


  • Comment number 1.

    This should not have happened. The WICB is at fault for not ensuring that the pitch and facilitieswere up to test match standard. This did not just happen overnight, there have been warning signs that this new facility was far from ideal.

    In some ways the ICC must also take some blame. After the fiasco of Jamaica in 98, and the world cup in the West Indies, surely a closer watch on the faciltiies in the region should have taken place, to ensure that they meet test cricket standards.

    The WICB cannot just say that the Antigua Cricket officials are to blame, the WICB must take ultimate responsibility, and Dr Hunte, the president of WICB should resign.

  • Comment number 2.

    Cheers Mark, interesting to hear about events from the point of view of a spectator rather than from the media box who were more clued in than you obviously were. That people watching in London heard what was going on before paying customers sums up the farce pretty well.

    It seems that in place of a game of cricket it will be the blame game that will rumble on today. Trying to figure out how exactly this was allowed to happen seems about as messy as the area on the bowlers run up, though this article below takes a good look at what has been said so far"

  • Comment number 3.

    Hope you get to see some cricket on Sunday..... What I'd like to know is when and why exactly was all that sand put down at all!!??? And almost even stranger who made the call to dig it up again ten minutes after the game was cancelled!??? I think the match officials including Hurst have to take some of the blame for not calling the game off earlier. Maybe everybody is a little guilty of relaxing in the sun... man!
    Would it be possible to lay turf and play on it a couple of days later!? Why not just put matting down? One would have thought it would be worth a go anyway seeing as the main area ie, the wicket was supposedly fine there which by all accounts is not the case at the Recreation Ground...def not heard the last on pitch drama yet me thinks!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    Rather than use sand, the organisers-at-fault could have stood in a line along the run-ups, tilted their heads to the left, banged on their right ears and allow the ensuing sawdust to fall and soak up the moisture.

  • Comment number 5.

    The WICBC is a bunch of currupt know whats! Its been pretty obvious since they mismanaged the last world cup. Not knowing about the Pitch is one thing. To not know that an entire outfield was unfit for play is inexcusible.

    They can blame the local groundmen, but the responsibility falls with the W.I. cricket board. What were they doing prior to the game to have not known that the ground was unfit, is beyond my imagination.

    I will take it that someone got a few favours done in return for assigning this venue a match, because their are at least 6 other venues which could have had a match assigned and would have been ready.

    How embarassing !

  • Comment number 6.

    a football pitch? im not even sure england could beat the windies at football, at least our batsmen would enjoy 90 minutes at the crease.

  • Comment number 7.

    At least the test will now be played at its right and proper ground in Antigua, the historic ARG. And long may test cricket continue at that location.

    Consign the North Sound ground to the dustbin. Shame on the WICB.

  • Comment number 8.

    This was always on the cards. Even when it first opened, the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium was unfit for international cricket. The grass hadn't grown in properly either. It always seemed a bizarre decision simply to abandon the ARG. I assume, and I hope, that the ICC will now withdraw international status from the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, and the WICB will force the Leeward Islands Cricket Association to plough money into the ARG to bring it back up to being a world-class venue. If nothing else, at least the pitch and outfield won't be made of sand...

  • Comment number 9.

    This is such an embarrasment for West Indies cricket in particular and world cricket in general, but I think that the greater authorities in the game should also take some of the flak, i.e. the WICB and the ICC. Surely, when major works at international cricket grounds are undertaken the country's cricket board and the ICC should supervise the work or provide consultancy so that these sorts of incidents do not happen, EVER!!!
    I know the people of the West Indies are very proud but this ground has had issues with the drainage, hence the sand and relaid turf, since before the last World Cup, why didn't the authorities there ask for some help and advice from the more advanced nations like England and Australia where the grounds have great drainage. I'm sure they would have gladly helped and helped within the spirit of the game.

  • Comment number 10.

    At every level of cricket I have watched I have seen bowlers running up to the wicket BEFORE a match to get a feel of the environment. This wasn't done here? Payola and apathy brother.
    With Strauss now saying the ARG has a 'result wicket' England might as well go home and decide what fiasco will hit the rest of the summer.

  • Comment number 11.

    Thanks for all your comments - at least we saw some cricket in the end (and the ARG was great - a real "proper" cricket ground), although my tour group had to leave at the lunch interval on the fifth day, as we couldn't move our flights which were already pre-booked for that afternoon.

    So, I was sat at Antigua airport (just a stone's throw from Stanford's ground) following Paul Fletcher's live text commentary on my mobile phone and a fellow tourist's Ipod as the drama unfolded.

    As our plane landed in St Lucia, I heard the words "for nine" and a large collective sigh from several rows in front of me - which informed me the match had finished as a draw.

    Still, I was one of the lucky ones - many others on our flight are still waiting for their suitcases to materialise!


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