In the 140 plus years history of Test match cricket, there were quite a few incidents of test or One day match being abandoned.
Rain and weather issues obviously are the primary reason for most such cases but there are instances of matches being abandoned due to riots, strikes, the death of political personality etc. However, on 29th January 1998, the Test match between West Indies and England in Sabina Park Jamaica was abandoned just after 62 balls because of a dangerous pitch. That was the first time when an international cricket match was abandoned due to an unfit twenty-two yards.
This was the first test of another well-anticipated series between the two countries. Brian Lara was captaining West Indies with his two main weapons Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh whereas a Mike Atherton led England team had Alec Stewart, Nasser Hussain, and Graham Thorpe to counter the threat.
The concern regarding the pitch in Sabina Park was there from the very beginning. The pitch was relayed just a few months back to change it to a more fast-paced one and that resulted in disaster. Although Charlie Joseph, the groundsman, and George Prescod, the Jamaican board chief executive were confident that everything would be fine on the day of the test match the doubts were already there. Most of the pre-match articles mentioned the poor condition of the pitch which looked like a thin layer of shiny soil and expected to break from the very moment the match would start. It was discussed in the pre-match press conference and Atherton handled the question politely mentioning that, at times pitches do play better than they look. But the concerns were everywhere. Even the designated match officials Steve Bucknor and Srinivas Venkataraghavan had a discussion with Barry Jarman, the match referee, regarding their concern on the pitch.
On the match day, Atherton won the toss and decided to bat first as he expected the conditions to get worse as the match would progress. But they did not have to wait for long. In the very first over, Atherton faced two deliveries which drop nearly in the same area in the pitch, one going above his head and the other going at his shin level.
The cricket which took place for next fifty-five minutes was a farce. England lost three wickets, Atherton, come back man Mark Butcher for a golden duck and Nasser Hussain. But instead of celebrating even the West Indies players were also worried about what they were seeing. Stewart was holding one end and played one of the most heroic nine not out in history as per Wisden. He was bruised and battered as the English physio Wayne Morton came on to the field six times to attend batsmen affected by direct hits from Ambrose and Walsh.
Finally, after 61 legal deliveries and one No-ball, the match reached his tipping point. When Thorpe was once again hit on his elbow Stewart was livid, he expressed his displeasure to the umpires and while discussing they asked for drinks-trolley to come to ground. As Stewart signaled for Atherton, he came back to ground and discussion followed between him, his opposite number Lara, the umpires and match referee. Finally, after ten minutes long discussion the umpires took the players off the field and within an hour after discussing with the ICC officials in London the match was called off.
It was a huge embarrassment for Jamaica as well as West Indies cricket. The criticism came from every quarter. To amend the damage, another test match was hastily organized in Trinidad. However, the damage it caused by the game and Jamaica’s reputation was long-lasting. The ground authority finally dug up the entire centre and tested various kind of soils before choosing the right one for the next test match in that venue.