The story of Sabina ParkMonday, February 27, 2012
Few cricket grounds to be found anywhere command the history, mystique and flavour of Sabina Park.
It's generally believed that the ground dates back to somewhere in the 1800s. We know that it became the headquarters of the famous Kingston Cricket Club, which was formed in 1863, and it is firmly established that Sabina Park hosted its maiden first class game in 1895.
Sabina Park became world famous in 1930 when it was the venue of the timeless Test between West Indies and England, during the first-ever Test series in the Caribbean.
The Test match — in early April — lasted nine days, with the last two days being rained out. It had to be abandoned as a draw since the England tour party had to board their ship back home. The Wisden Cricket Almanac records that Sabina Park's timeless Test in 1930 "set records, all subsequently beaten, for the longest match, highest individual score and highest individual match aggregate".
The English opener, Mr Andy Sandham, made the then highest individual score in a Test match, 325, and Mr George Headley, then only 19, made 223 in the West Indies second innings, to announce himself as the first of the truly great West Indian batsmen.
Twenty-eight years later, Sabina Park was the venue where Sir Garfield Sobers, then 21 years old, broke the world record for the highest individual Test score, hitting 365.
In over 80 years of Test match cricket at Sabina Park there have been many other wonderful achievements. There have been downsides too, such as 1998 when a Test match had to be abandoned because the pitch was deemed "dangerous". And funny stories, such as in 1968 when fast bowler Mr Wes Hall is said to have warned the pencil-slim Mr Lance Gibbs to be "careful" lest he fall through one of the several large cracks on the Sabina pitch.
We have said all of the above to make the basic point that Sabina Park is no ordinary place; and that the Jamaican grouse that it should have been a match venue for the upcoming Australia tour is understandable.
The trouble, though, is that the days when Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago were the automatic international cricket venues in the Caribbean are long gone. Antigua and Barbuda joined the list in the 1980s, and in the build-up to the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2007 several other cricket-playing countries in the Caribbean built modern international standard cricket stadiums.
The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has said that Jamaica was excluded for the Australian tour because of "reasons pertaining to scheduling and weather".
It would have been better off had it made the simple, truthful point that in today's world the legitimate demands for hosting rights from its member territories are far more than used to be the case.
Regretfully, we are forced to say that while Jamaica spent more than any other Caribbean country — well in excess of US$100 million — on the 2007 World Cup, it has not paid enough attention to Sabina Park being a marketable and preferred venue.
A museum which was to have made the ground a "must see" remains on the drawing board. Imagine the attraction to cricket watchers from around the world if our cricket authorities, working with the Jamaica Tourist Board and other agencies, were to try to tell Sabina's story, using old and new technologies, in a properly equipped museum?
It probably would not have made a difference in the context of the upcoming tours, but it tells the story of neglect that Sabina Park is now the only international ground in the Caribbean without lights to facilitate night cricket.
Hopefully, this perceived slight by the WICB will spur all stakeholders to action.