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Sabina Park promises to stick to character

cricket Updated: Jun 17, 2011 00:33 IST
N Ananthanarayanan
N Ananthanarayanan
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Reggae legend Bob Marley's spirit and music is all pervasive in Jamaica. In capital Kingston, the country's favourite sporting son, Usain Bolt, leaps out of hoardings and any talk can quickly veer to his sprint compatriot Asafa Powell's love for flashy cars.

But what makes Jamaica, where Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond novels, enchanting is its distinct roughness. That is the impression one gets while entering the Sabina Park, the venue for the final ODI between India and West Indies as well as the first Test.

The original pavilion is modest and retains an old-world charm but few seem to have any use for it as a towering new one was built for the 2007 one-day World Cup. Across the ground from the original pavilion, rum is being stacked for the non-stop party — an integral part of watching cricket in the Caribbean — in searing heat.

Sabina Park is no swanky Lord's and what gives it character is the pitch. It looks certain that West Indies skipper Darren Sammy's prayers for a lively track will be answered. The first Test was played in 1930, and it comes as no surprise that the hosts have won 22 and lost just nine, with their fast bowlers doing most of the damage.

The diminutive Charles Joseph, the affable Sabina Park groundsman shows it is his territory as he sits on his lawnmower.

He quit school to take up a job at the ground in the 1950s. Joseph is happy international cricket returns to the ground after last year's fixtures had to be cancelled due to riots.

Pointing to a strip with a fair sprinkling of grass, he says: "The Test will be played at no. 4. That grass is green and it will stay."

India coach, Duncan Fletcher, bowling coach Eric Simons, ODI skipper Suresh Raina and his deputy Harbhajan Singh had a long chat standing at pitch no. 4 on Wednesday. The visitors know their batsmen will have plenty to tackle before leaving town. The 66-year-old Joseph knows he will make sure of that. "It has always been in West Indies' favour."

But he is unhappy there are few bowlers to get the job done. “It saddens me to see what WI cricket has come to.”

Joseph remembers the controversial 1976 Test against India, when the Sabina Park gave shape to a recent West Indies resolve to rise to the top through pace. India slumped to a 10-wicket defeat after skipper Bishan Singh Bedi declared the first innings in protest against the hostile pace attack. Six batsmen were absent hurt in the second innings.

Indian batsmen know what to expect this time as well. Rahul Dravid could be the key. In 2006, as captain and lead batsman, he led India to victory the last time they played here, to clinch a Test series in the West Indies after 35 years.