Sabina Park is a scenic cricket ground and the home of the Kingston Cricket Club since 1895. The spectacular Blue Mountains, (world famous for Blue Mountain coffee) form a picturesque and ornamental backdrop with Kingston harbour adding to its scenic beauty.
The stands have their own aura, especially The George Headley stand. It may be pertinent to point out that Headley was the backbone of the West Indies team batting, earning the nickname of ‘Black Bradman’.
Cricket in the Caribbean grounds is full of fun-frolic, food, dance, drinks, drums and music. Consequently, it is not surprising that the ticket for Mound – aka “The Party Stand” also includes food and drinks. The sound system is set up to play music while many patrons bring their own musical instruments.
The elevated the North Stand is ideal location to watch the game.
The members of the Kingston Club watch the game from the Members Pavilion from the west side of the pitch. The pavilion is still a male bastion.
On the south of the pitch is The George Headley Stand (immortalized local cricket legend) where cricket and Blue Mountains can be viewed easily. However, after the redevelopment for the 2007 Cricket World Cup, this view is currently blocked by the Northern Stand.
On my first visit to the venue in 1976, author found pitch here fast and bouncy, ideal for stroke-making.
On my second sojourn in 2002 there was five-level concrete stand with broadcasting and players’ facilities along with the corporate boxes.
Another change was members pavilion lying square of the wicket on the west side. The pitch still had some fire left in it to enable explosive Indian opener Virender Sehwag to play swashbuckling knock.
It was, therefore, not surprising that numerous batting records have been recorded on the Sabina Park.
It started in the inaugural Test when Andy Sandham scored 325 runs (oldest to score a Test triple century-39 years, 272 days) in a run-riot Test (England 849 & 272/9 decl.; West Indies 286 and 408 for 5, Headley making a double century). The Test was not played on 8th and 9th days as rain played spoil-sport with ship ready to sail next day, the Test was abandoned, reminder of limitless Durban Test.
Gary Sobers unfurled the Caribbean batting flag by knocking an unbeaten 365 v Pakistan in 1958 to surpass Len Hutton’s 364.
Lawrence Rowe went on to create another world-record of debut 241 and unbeaten hundred against New Zealand in 1972.
It will be interesting to point out that in 1929-30 MCC planned two overseas tours simultaneously, one for West Indies and other for New Zealand. In fact, author has dug out an unique fact that the first Test of both series started on the same day-January 11, 1930.
The first Test in Caribbean at Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados and the series in the Antipodes between hosts and England commenced at AMI Stadium on the same day.
While the fourth Test at Eden Park, Auckland and the one in the Caribbean, the third Test at Bourda Oval, Georgetown started on same day February 21.
The seating capacity of Sabina Park has gone up to 20,000. With the installation of floodlights in 2014, Sabina Park became the last of the Caribbean grounds to have this facility. The ground can now host day/night matches. It has come as a big boon to Jamaica Tallawahs for their Caribbean Premier League home games.
My memories of the Sabina Park are mixed. In 1976,
I had the opportunity of meeting 55 year-old Allan Rae, President, Jamaica Cricket Association. I had watched Rae in action at Delhi in the first Test of 1948-49 series during my school days. By the time fourth and final Test, the 1976 series was at an interesting phase with rubber locked at one-a-piece.
However, the happenings at Sabina Park left a bad taste in my mouth due to “blood-bath” unleashed by the Windies speedsters, led by Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel, Bernard Julien and Vanburn Holder sending five Indians to the hospital for medical aid. On the positive side, When West Indies toured India in 1986-87, author was local Manager of the visiting team at Delhi and spent more than a week with Jackie Hendricks (Windies wicket-keeper of yester years), Manager of the West Indies team.