By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published April 24, 2017
Sabina Park hosts its 50th Test match. Over the years, it has delivered perfect balance, breathtaking results and spectacular feats.
Interestingly, the Earth’s axis is tilted 23 degrees towards the ecliptic of the Sun. Psalms 23, undoubtedly, is the most famous and most quoted of all the Psalms or chapters of the Bible. William Shakespeare, the greatest writer of the English language and the greatest dramatist of all time, saw his life rise and set on the 23rd day of the same month, April. And unsurprisingly, the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, wore number 23. The above-mentioned connections to number 23 all point to balance, results and spectacular feats. Henceforth, it was no surprise that Sabina Park was the 23rd ground to host Test cricket.
From inception, Sabina Park was the exception. One hundred and ninety-two (192) Test matches were played before the first ball was bowled at Sabina Park. However, unlike the others, none had seen a batsman score a triple century in Test cricket. Sabina Park, or ‘Sabina’, as it is often called, was not the place of West Indies’ first Test or its first Test victory. Nevertheless, it was the place where its first lion roared, and roared loudly. In response to Andy Sandham’s world record-breaking 325 and a target of 836 runs, George Headley, who later became the first black West Indian to spin the toss as captain in a Test match, responded with 223 runs, his first double century at the time. In a match spanning nine days, Headley’s innings was enough, along with the last two days of rain, to preserve a draw and stave off a series defeat to our colonial masters.
This past weekend marked the 50th time a Test match has been played at Sabina and unsurprisingly, in the Caribbean, it is known to be the pitch to offer the greatest balance between bat and ball. In 49 Test matches before this one, batsmen averaged 30.71 runs while bowlers averaged 32.07, a difference of minus 1.33, the best among the traditional Test match grounds in the Caribbean. Additionally, it is also the ground in the Caribbean which has seen the highest percentage of its matches ending in a result, 71% (35 of 49) and for which West Indies has its highest win percentage at home, 47% (23 of 49).
Sabina has seen its dark days. Its darkest day most certainly was in January 1998 when it hosted its 33rd Test match, a match between England and West Indies. Steve Bucknor, who has stood in nine of the 50 matches at the ground – second only to Douglas Sang Hue at 10 – and Srinivas Venkataraghavan were the umpires who had to call off the Test match after “62 bone-crushing deliveries” because of a perilous pitch.
Its brightest day has to be March 1, 1958, when Garfield Sobers scored a ‘monumental innings’, according to Wisden, of 365 not out, his first Test match century, and a then-world record. The jubilant spectators were beside themselves that Saturday as they invaded the field, trampled the pitch, and ended play abruptly, 55 minutes before close of play.
In that match, Sobers, along with Sir Conrad Hunte, who scored a career-best 260, recorded the highest partnership ever at Sabina Park, 446 runs, which is still the highest partnership by a West Indian pair in Test match history.
Sabina has seen other spectacular innings, including Lawrence Rowe’s 214 and 100 not out on debut. Other spectacular innings include career bests from Headley, 270 not out; Dennis Amiss, 262 not out; Ramnaresh Sarwan, 261 not out and Steve Waugh’s series and era-changing 200 in 1995, which handed West Indies its first Test series defeat since their visit to New Zealand in 1980.
Four years later in 1999, West Indies was on the cusp of tragedy, having been bowled out for 51 in the previous match in Trinidad against the Aussies and now crawling at 34 runs for 4 wickets at Sabina. A young West Indian captain, Brian Charles Lara produced – according to him – his best Test innings, 213 runs. At the time, Lara was fully engrossed by the book, ‘For the Love of the Game: My Story’, by Mr Number 23, Michael Jordan. According to Wisden, Lara defied “odds and circumstances which would have crushed most men” on his way past 5000 Test runs. “Lara seduced the people of a bankrupt nation, resurrected his career as a batsman of rare gifts and reignited cricket throughout the Caribbean,” on that Sabina pitch.
Other batsmen have brought up personal milestones on that Sabina pitch. Sobers, the first batsman to score 8000 runs in Test cricket scored his 8000th run at Sabina Park. So too did Sachin Tendulkar and Viv Richards, two blasting masters of the game. Similarly, Rahul Dravid and Allan Border, two of the grittiest to don the whites, scored their 9000th Test run at Sabina Park.
Jamaicans have always been treated by their hometown boys, especially Headley, Rowe and Jimmy Adams, who top the batting averages at Sabina at 130, 113 and 109 runs per dismissals respectively (minimum 3 Test matches). However, it is the Barbadians, Sobers and Clyde Walcott who have scored the most centuries on the ground, five each.
In the bowling department, another local boy, Courtney Walsh broke Kapil Dev’s then-world record of 434 Test wickets with his 435th Test wicket at Sabina Park. Of all bowlers, Walsh has also taken the most wickets at Sabina, 48, with Barbadians Wes Hall and Malcolm Marshall rounding up the top-3 with 35 and 31 respectively. Corey Collymore, Jerome Taylor and Hall have the best bowling averages on the ground, mindboggling numbers of 12.55, 13.58 and 15.25 runs per wicket respectively (minimum 3 Test matches). However, Steve Harmison has the best bowling figures in an innings, seven wickets for 12 runs, while Collymore has the best bowling figures in a match at Sabina Park, 11 wickets for 134 runs respectively.
Jeffrey Dujon leads all wicketkeepers with 24 catches, with Ridley Jacobs and Denesh Ramdin having 23 catches a piece. Of non-wicketkeeping fielders, Lara’s 23 catches is a distant record, with Gordon Greenidge and Chris Gayle snatching 13 and 11 catches respectively.
In 87 years, Sabina Park has given us perfect balance between bat and ball, breathtaking results for and against West Indies and spectacular team and individual feats. Cheers on your 50th Test match, Sabina. You are number one in my book.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.
This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on April 24, 2017.