Like many places, Sabina Park has spawned countless folklore of breathtaking
heroics and acrimonious rivalry. Also, the newer grounds like Beausejour are
fresh slates waiting for newfound heroes to make their mark.
Ever since its inaugural match in 1930, Sabina Park has perpetuated stories
of a lively Caribbean pitch reinforced by an equally exuberant crowd. 74 years
of test cricket, Sober’s 365 and many other innings by batsmen of all
hues have confirmed that it is a place for big innings. On a darker note, the
confluence of the pitch and bowlers like Holding, have also penned sobering
phrases: The” Death Strip”, “Whispering Death” and the
ever so blunt “minefield”, to portray a pitch that could crush any
batsman’s hopes. Not surprisingly, witnessing half of his team in bandages
after the first test in 1976, Bedi, the Indian skipper, solemnly admitted that
hope was dim after losing the toss in a lively wicket.
It was not only the pitch and certainly not the crowd. But crucially, the inherent
lethality of a long lost West Indian pace attack. As Gavaskar had put it, “the
West Indian technique was simple - mix a beamer with two-three bouncers in an
over. Then, having shaken the batsman's confidence, produce a fast straight
yorker to go through his defence.
That was yesterday. Today, matters have simmered down and a bit too much for
West Indian cricket. So much that according to pundit reports we will not see
the “minefield” that was Sabina, on a fateful day in June 1998,
when it became the venue for the shortest test of all time. Sadly, to the horror
of diehard Windies fans, this touchdown was confirmed when Harmison had the
audacity to take 7/12, the best bowling figure in Sabina, in a pitch that hosted
Walsh’s 500th wicket.
Traveling not too far back in time, specifically to St Lucia, in June 2003,
Beausejour became the 8the Caribbean test venue. It was in this Beausejour where
Lara and off-spinner Murali orchestrated a fascinating duel between bat and
ball, the highlight and the main eye feast of that match. Murali picked up wickets
with figures of five for 138, but could not crack Lara. With his fine-tuned
set of skills to deal with pesky spinners, Lara thrived in a pitch where his
teammates desperately struggled. At the close of play, Beausejour did not offer
any kind of assistance to lesser bowlers but instead displayed the weaknesses
of West Indies bowling.
Beausejour is the future. And it is important. Not only a solid candidate for
regular test matches but quite possibly a venue for the next World cup. The
grass outfield, the pitch and stands have all been prepared with such methodology
and scientific zeal that golf gurus would salivate. In short, it is a modern
ground that nevertheless will still pose a slight dilemma for our selectors.
From the domestic Busta Cup teams to the international outfits, many coaches
have curiously persisted with all sorts of spinners in this ground. Still few
clues remain as to how the pitch will behave for us on the day. Do we rely heavily
on left-arm spinners and off-spinners? No. With or without the right conditions,
Rafique will harvest wickets, but interestingly, and judging from the success
of Collymore, we should probe the abilities of our medium pacers. Especially
those who are adept at good line and length.
The Caribbean pitches stubbornly clings on to its fondness for batsmen. However,
we should not come to praise and stand in awe of history but to win . And to
win in both these grounds we need herculean batsmen. For our team, the bottom
line is that anything under 250 in both these grounds will not suffice. There
are no matchwinners in the mould of Holdings or a Gavaskar but we do have a
fledgling team that is learning and clinging to the art of “attrition”.
It is a key lesson and when the going gets tough Bangladesh will need a few
dogged batsmen to tame the spectre of a Caribbean pitch.