By Tony Cozieri in KINGSTON
Over the years, Sabina Park has presented pitches of as many varieties as Heinz soups.
That for the opening day of the first Test of the Digicel Series yesterday added another to the long list.
It was slow enough to dissuade West Indian fast bowlers from their usual practice of pounding the ball in short and receptive to spin to the extent that Sulieman Benn and Chris Gayle were not only wheeling away in tandem before lunch but repeatedly posing problems for England’s batsmen.
It could have been the Queen’s Park Oval of the 1970s when Willie Rodriguez, Inshan Ali, Raphick Jumadeen, Jack Noriega and their several colleagues weaved webs around visiting batsmen.
It wasn’t the Sabina that yielded the first triple hundred in Test cricket, Andy Sandham’s 325 in the ground’s initial Test in 1930, George Headley’s two doubles in successive Tests against England in 1930 and 1935 and Garry Sobers’ record 365 not out against Pakistan in 1958.
It was nothing like the concrete hard, glistening surface of the 1960s from which batsmen could see their reflections and over which fast bowlers drooled.
It certainly wasn’t what it was in 1968 when it was covered by a mosaic of cracks so wide Lance Gibbs dared not tread on it for fear of falling through.
There was no hint of the ridge of 1976 when India’s captain Bishen Bedi called off his second innings at 97 for five with five batsmen declared absent hurt, in effect to spare his tailender from bodily harm against the fury of Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel and Vanburn Holder.
And there was no comparison with the corrugated minefield of 1998 when the match was abandoned after 10.1 overs before some poor England batsman was maimed or killed by Curtly Ambrose or Courtney Walsh.
Instead, it was slow and it turned. Simple.
There were characteristics immediately recognised and appreciated by Jerome Taylor, Fidel Edwards and, yes, Daren Powell once England batted on winning the toss.
They maintained the full length around off-stump such conditions demanded. There was the early reward for Taylor of Andrew Strauss’s wicket, to his third tentative outside edge, and for Powell, Alistair Cook seduced by the first short ball for the day.
But they were just the aperitifs before the main course. Gayle quickly assumed up the situation and had Benn and himself on well before lunch.
Each asked questions, each claimed a wicket before Kevin Pietersen stalled the West Indies advance with an innings that perfectly combined attack and defence and enhanced his reputation for quality in his first Test in the Caribbean.
What Sabina Tests have seldom lacked is a memorable batting performance. Pietersen has already given us one.