Sam Stevens, The Royal Gazette
The world's leading pitch expert has launched a fierce assault on the opponents of plans to import foreign soil to relay the National Sport Centre's infamous square — labelling the dissent 'a bunch of political claptrap'.
International Cricket Council's pitch consultant, Andy Atkinson, the man who famously labelled the soil contained in the pitches at the NSC as 'more suitable for growing carrots', last night poured scorn on the arguments of both the United Bermuda Party and local farmers, who maintain Government could be recklessly endangering the environment by giving the Minister discretion to grant permits to those wishing to bring in soil from overseas in exceptional circumstances.
The Englishman, who was responsible for monitoring the preparation of all pitches at this year's World Cup in the Caribbean, first visited the Island in late 2004 to advise NSC staff on what could be done to improve the dire quality of the pitches — which were giving cause for concern as far back as 2003 because of their uneven bounce and alarmingly rapid deterioration.
And last year he was back in Bermuda again, collecting soil samples and conducting tests along with NSC head groundsman Trevor Madeiros — before concluding in a report that there was no local soil available which could withstand the rigorous beating endured during international matches.
Bermuda have not played an official ODI on home soil since being granted the status after qualifying for the World Cup in 2005. Richard Donne, the ICC's high performance manager, has already stated publicly that the Island faces the prospect of losing ODI status prematurely if not in a position to play home games by next summer.
Despite knowing of the severe local resistance to the rule change, Atkinson was sticking resolutely to his guns yesterday, highlighting several examples of where soil was imported successfully in other countries and stressing that in light of the research he had conducted, there was 'simply no other option'.
'If you want pitches that last longer than a day and are capable of hosting international games in the future, then importing high-quality soil is the only answer and all the controversy being stirred up at the moment seems like a bunch of political claptrap to me,' he said.
'The square at the Sports Centre is good enough for club cricket, but when you're talking about One Day Internationals or longer games then I'm afraid it's a no-go.
'The soil in Bermuda, no matter where you look, is just not strong enough, it's too sandy and won't hold together.
'I've been out there, I've done the research, Trevor (Madeiros) and I tested soils from all over the Island. I've now written two big reports on it and I met in London not so long ago with all the top-brass (of the Bermuda Cricket Board) and we kept coming back to the same solution: imported soil.
'There are no short cuts. Soil can be imported safely and has been in other countries. As long as you are strict about sterilising it at it's place of origin as well as when it arrives in Bermuda then there won't be a problem. I cannot understand what all the fuss is about. The US, for example, are very strict about that sort of thing but during my time it has happened there with cricket pitches, soil has been taken from South Africa and imported for use on the pitches in India as well as in England without any problems and as long as all the proper precautions are taken there shouldn't be an issue.
'Now I don't know where they are intending to get the soil from, but I would suggest they get it from England because we have very few problems with pests or parasites over here.
'But I've tried everything that I know and I've been preparing pitches all over the world for the best part of 30 years. If you want to build a house, you've got to make sure it is built properly and with the right materials — otherwise it will fall down.
'You've got a lovely facility there at the Sports Centre which would be ideal for hosting international cricket — it was possible World Cup venue at one stage after all. But you need a proper square there and there's only one way that is going to happen.
'I don't mean to upset people but I can only give my honest opinion and no matter what anybody else tells you, the soil is just not good enough.'