Fazeer Mohammed (FP)
"WE THOUGHT WE would get a wicket with some pace and some bounce in it so we could utilise our fast bowlers, but the wicket wasn’t that great, so it was a bit disappointing. Hopefully, next time that could be corrected.”
On the face of it, Shannon Gabriel sounds like the quintessential ungrateful Trini: enjoying the sights, sounds and experiences and then cussing the place.
In Gabriel’s case, those comments about the Kensington Oval pitch were uttered at the media conference on Thursday afternoon, mere minutes after the pacer’s outstanding effort of five for 11 in the second innings – match figures of nine for 92 – earned him the Man Of The Match award and his team a series-levelling 106-run win over Pakistan that was surprisingly emphatic, given the grittiness of the contest over the previous four days.
It’s only natural to be at the very least uncomfortable with criticism of anything local. Look, for years the authorities at the Queen’s Park Cricket Club have been generally dismissive of continuous complaints about the state of the Oval playing surface in Port of Spain.
When a Test match was called off at Sabina Park in 1998 after less than an hour’s play because of what the umpires determined to be a “dangerous” pitch, the last thing that anyone associated with the fiasco in Kingston appeared interested in doing was taking responsibility.
So there is no surprise to hear comments essentially saying the end justified the means, the West Indies won, the fast bowlers routed the opposition for just 81 on that last day and therefore all is well.
Following that line of reasoning, though, means there was something terribly wrong with many of the pitches prepared for Test matches at the region’s most famous venue over the past 24 years, for since England’s famous win in 1994 ended a run of 59 years unbeaten in Tests here, the West Indies have lost an additional nine times.
While it is fair to say that Steve Waugh is no favourite in these parts, more a result of his one-eyed Australian view of the world than his considerable playing achievements, Gabriel’s observations are a distant echo of what Waugh stated in 2003 two days into the Test match then.
“We heard it was going to be pacy and bouncy but I’ve played 159 Tests and this is the slowest pitch I’ve ever played on,” he stated after batting for over five hours in contributing 115 of his side’s 605 for nine declared. “It’s disappointing to play on a pitch like this. It’s so difficult to get batsmen out here but it’s amazing what can happen if you put a team under pressure.”
And that’s surely what also made the difference for the West Indies on Thursday. Thanks to the excellent batting of Shai Hope (the immense skill required to negotiate Yasir Shah pitching into the rough for as long as he did cannot be underestimated) and successive half-century stands with Kraigg Brathwaite, Roston Chase and Vishaul Singh, the home side actually had something to defend and were able, on this occasion, to live up to one of the settings on the spin cycle – executing their plans.
It came off beautifully and spectacularly, setting the stage for the series decider in Dominica starting on Wednesday. Yet it should not be forgotten that, from the very first morning, this was far from an ideal pitch for genuine fast bowling or attractive strokeplaying batsmanship.
Therefore the obvious question is why? Why, even when good cricket pitches are occasionally prepared for regional matches or T20s or One-Day Internationals, Jason Holder and Misbah ul Haq had to turn up the day before the Test and observe that the surface was surprisingly dry?
No one will ever admit it but even Stevie Wonder can see that the epidemic of benign tracks throughout the Caribbean over the past 15 years has little do with the presumably sudden disappearance of knowledge among groundsmen up and down the Caribbean.
On the one hand, there is a commercial imperative in stretching out Test matches to last five days, entertainment value notwithstanding. Yet it is the other hand that is the more worrying, the one that says all these beatings over the years and our lowly ranking mean we can no longer consistently compete. So even if it means discouraging West Indian fast bowlers, it makes sense to produce turgid, almost lifeless tracks because anything else would more than likely result in the opposition cleaning us up in next to no time.
If nothing else, last week at Kensington should make clear that West Indies can compete, and this apparently chronic fear of failure which drives the dumbing down of the game here has contributed significantly to where we are on the international cricket stage.
Fazeer Mohammed is a regional cricket journalist and broadcaster who has been covering the game at all levels since 1987.