Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Orville Higgins | Sabina 50: tear-jerking picks to jerking the pitch

Published:Friday | April 28, 2017 | 4:00 AM

I was among the faithful few at Sabina Park to watch the first Test between West Indies and Pakistan, and like everybody there, I was disappointed about a lot of things.

Losing by seven wickets was bad enough, especially after so much time was lost to rain, but we have become accustomed to that. Over the years, I have come to expect West Indies to lose Test matches, so that didn't hurt quite as badly.

This Pakistan team is simply better than ours if they play close to their ability. In Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, they have experience and class in the middle that we can't match. Bishoo is never going to be as good a leg-spinner as Yasir Shah, and the left-arm pacer Amir hits better areas and does more with the ball than any of our seamers. So, yeah, I expected Pakistan to win.

However, there were other things that still rankle. I may sound like a broken record, but the continued non-selection of Nikita Miller continues to be mystifying. Not only is he the leading wicket-taker in regional four-day cricket this year, but he has been for four of the last six seasons. Surely, his exclusion cannot be a matter of cricket. I sought out those in the hierarchy of West Indies cricket and I was told unofficially that he suffers from what they call 'compulsive complaining' whenever he is in the squad. Nobody, of course, is prepared to say that publicly. I just find the whole thing rather disturbing.

And why on earth was Jermaine Blackwood dropped? Jermaine averages 31.33 in Test cricket. That is not earth-shattering, but Shai Hope, who before the Sabina Test, averaged 17.15. He was pushed up the pecking order. His average is now down to 15. Shai Hope has now played eight Tests without even a half-century! For him to play and Jermaine carry water is a cricket injustice.

 

THE SIMPLE MATTER

 

Two debutants were preferred ahead of Blackwood, none of whom set regional cricket on fire this year. Shimron Hetmyer averaged 38 in the just-concluded four-day season, while Vishaul Singh averaged a whopping 26! To put it into context, Blackwood averaged 32. The truth is that Blackwood didn't do all that well in four-day cricket this year, but neither did any of the two who replaced him. Regional cricket, therefore, could not have been the reason they displaced Blackwood.

For the record, Blackwood's last three Test innings, against these same Pakistanis, were 95, 37 and 15. That's almost an average of 50. At Sabina Park, he has played four Test innings with three half-centuries and an average of 44. Surely, those should have worked in his favour.

The two debutants got in apparently on the strength of their performances against the Pakistanis in the warm-up game in Trelawny. Yes, they both got runs, but was a one-off innings against the Pakistanis enough to get in a batsman with a 26-run regional average this year? I don't think so, but selectors apparently work with a different logic.

I was embarrassed as a Jamaican to watch play delayed for hours because of water on the pitch. This was Sabina Park's 50th Test match. Much was being made of that. The simple matter of ensuring that water doesn't seep through covers would be routine in a club game. That it happened in a Test match with such special significance was unforgivable. The drainage on the outfield was also not good. It has been better. Somebody, somewhere in the Jamaica Cricket Association isn't doing their job.

It was also comical to see the method used to dry up the pitch and outfield. Zinc with hot coals on it! The joke in the press box was that they were jerking the pitch! In this day and age, do we have to resort to such archaic methods to dry a surface?

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.