England face a dangerous game in Antigua

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The decision to stage on Sunday what is now the third Test at the Antigua Recreation Ground is laudable, a necessary placation of thousands of understandably angry spectators, but it is also fraught with danger. The ARG is as palpably unready for Test cricket as the Sir Vivian Richards stadium was on Friday.

Potential hazards lie in the stands, where the top tier of the famous Double Decker stand will be closed. Full of wonderful memories and history it may be, but the ARG has not seen functional attention for years. It looks tired and decrepit.

The outfield is unfit in a very different way from the SVR stadium. Instead of the beach cricket proposed there, the ARG outfield has been prepared for football. It is bumpier than the island's roads, which is saying something.

Goalposts were still in place last week when England practised at the ground. Useful for warm-ups, yes, but the holes have taken some plugging. There was a proper football match there as recently as Jan 25. In contrast, no competitive cricket has been played on the ground since late June last year. The Test against India in 2006 was presumed to be its last.

Two net pitches were hurriedly prepared on the square for England's use last week, but they proved as spicy as the local Susie's Original hot sauce. Balls reared disconcertingly, and quickly too. The football centre circle covers most of the square.

One line marking stretches across the pitch just short of a good length, making an appetising target for the quick men. At nets England's batsmen, desperate for decent practice after the Kingston debacle, shook their heads forlornly. One senior player conceded privately that he could not imagine how the pitch wouldbe ready in time. And justifiably, as frantic preparations were made, England could not practise there on Saturday.

Just as they could not at the SVR stadium last Tuesday. That was when the alarm bells truly began ringing. They boarded their bus thinking they were bound for the SVR stadium, only to arrive at the ARG. Only on the bus was a phone call received from the West Indies Cricket Board. Something clearly was up. Not until Thursday did England truly appreciate its extent.

Of the outfield, one member of the senior management screamed at me: "It's a disgrace! I've never seen such a disgrace! Make sure you write that." I have. It was, and is, a disgrace.

The second Test should never have started. That is not mere sanctimonious hindsight. Anyone with an ounce of cricketing experience who walked on the outfield on Thursday knew as much. Clearly the match referee, Alan Hurst, did not learn much in his 12 Tests and 77 first-class matches. And he was a strapping fast bowler, too. Those under floodwater aside, never have I seen an outfield so patently unsuitable for top level cricket.

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