Speaking on The Grade Cricketer podcast, former West Indies quick Curtly Ambrose explained why he felt the match officials made a “gross mistake” in abandoning the 1998 Sabina Park Test against England too quickly, with the Test the first in history to be called off for an unsafe pitch.
Play lasted only 10.1 overs, in which time England, having opted to bat, lost three wickets. Several deliveries misbehaved, with the pitch showing significant uneven bounce. Speaking as a pundit at the time, Michael Holding said: “I’ve never seen a pitch as dangerous as that. The people responsible should be brought to task. This pitch isn’t fit for Test cricket or even club cricket for that matter. It’s completely substandard. Our fast bowlers don’t want to seriously injure anyone at all. It’s an embarrassment.”
However, Ambrose feels that, had the pitch just been rolled more, play might have been able to resume. He also noted how the presence of him and Courtney Walsh, two of the fiercest and tallest fast bowlers of the day, might have made the bounce on offer seem more extreme.
“It was a little bit up and down,” he said. “You see the thing is, right, they kept saying how much the ball is bouncing. I mean come on. Courtney Walsh, it could have been because he’s six foot eight. Even on flat pitches we tend to get extra bounce. I didn’t like the idea that they were talking about the bounce that we were getting, because we tended to get bounce all the time.
“What I said then, and I say now, yes, the pitch is a bit up and down. What they should have done is maybe get the groundsman to get the heavy roller, roll it a bit, maybe resume play an hour later, as opposed to abandoning the game. I mean, we had thousands and thousands of spectators coming from the UK, so I think they made a gross mistake to abandon the game so soon. Get the ground staff to roll the pitch a bit more, then after maybe an hour, try it again and see what happens. And if it continues to misbehave, then you can abandon. I thought they acted in haste, and that to me was disappointing.”
The pitch was newly laid ahead of the Test, with many noting the glassy look of the surface. Given that its nature was something of an unknown, Ambrose was surprised by England captain Michael Atherton’s decision to bat first.
“I was a little bit surprised because it was a newly laid surface,” he said. “No one knew how it was going to play. If I was the captain and I won the toss, obviously I’m going to bowl first. Let the batting team fight it how they can. So when he said he was going to bat, Atherton, I was a bit surprised.”
He also suggested there might have been some gamesmanship at play, with England exaggerating the effects of the wicket so that a poor start in the game didn’t end up costing them.
“I tell you something else,” Ambrose said. “England came to the Caribbean thinking ‘This is a great opportunity to beat the West Indies.’ Because we were on a bit of a decline, let’s be honest, a bit of a decline so they figured it was a perfect opportunity. And they won the toss, decided to bat first, suddenly found themselves three down for nothing, and were like ‘Hey, this isn’t working, this isn’t going to plan.’ Honestly, I think the guys put on a bit of an act. They made it look worse [than it was].”
England ended up losing the series 3-1.