WI-England start battle

Tony Becca , Senior Sport Editor

January 29, 1998

Curtly Ambrose is all smiles at training earlier this week.

CRICKET: The West Indies take on England in the opening Test of the 1998 Cable and Wireless series at Sabina Park this morning starting at 10.05, and in every respect, it should be a thrilling curtain raiser to what promises to be an exciting and keenly contested battle for the Wisden Trophy.

In the 70 years since the teams first met in 1928, there have been 26 series and 115 Test matches with the West Indies on top after winning 14 series and 48 Test matches to England's seven and 27.

In the beginning, in the 10 series up to 1960, it was England on top with five victories to the West Indies three and in the 13 series up to 1990, it was the West Indies with 10 to two including a glorious run between 1976 and 1990 when they won all seven, ticked off back-to-back 5-0 victories, and lost only one match.

Since then however, it has been close and with the West Indies drawing one, winning one and drawing one, then losing successive series to Australia and losing all three matches in Pakistan.

England believe that the West Indies are ripe for picking and that they can defeat them for the first time since 1969 - and for the first time in the West Indies since their 1-0 triumph in 1968 when England romped to victory following Gary Sobers' famous declaration in the fourth Test at Queen's Park Oval.

The question is who will strike first, will it be the West Indies under their new skipper, or will it be England under their experienced captain?

Looking at recent results, the odds favour England. Looking at the players expected to line up for the opening exchange however, the West Indies should be the favourites.

In Atherton and Graham Thorpe, England possess two of the world's best batsmen and although John Crawley seems a bit out of his depth at number three, the presence of Alec Stewart Atherton's opening partner who ticked off a pair of centuries at Kensington Oval in 1994, Nasser Hussain and the stroke-playing Adam Hollioake who, according to reports out of the England camp, should be fit and ready for action, the tourists' batting looks good if not awesome.

In pacers Angus Fraser, Dean Headley and Andy Caddick, and spin bowler Phil Tufnell, their bowling also appears to be in good hands.

As successful as Fraser has been however, the quality of the attack, on West Indian pitches and against West Indian batsmen, could depend on Headley and Tufnell - the left-hander who skittled the West Indies at The Oval in 1991 with figures of six for 25.

Headley swings the ball both ways, he bowls a good length and line, and could make life difficult for the left-handed batsmen in the West Indies line-up. And Tufnell who spins the ball appreciably and varies his pace well, could be a handful for the Windies batsmen - especially if they are not prepared to wait.

In Lara, the West Indies possess the world record holder; in Carl Hooper, they possess one of the finest stroke players around; and in Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, they possess two of the best fast bowlers of all time.

In Pakistan, the West Indies scores were 151 and 211, 303 and 139, 216 and 212. Against that, Pakistan scored 381 - after easing to 143 for one, 471 - after strolling 387 for two, and 417 - after opening up with 298 without loss.

England however, always seem to motivate the West Indies to their best and against their bowlers on West Indian pitches, Sherwin Campbell, Stuart Williams, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Lara, Hooper, James Adams could run into form and against their batsmen Ambrose and Walsh could still be devastating - certainly enough to inspire their younger colleagues.

The question is which four of the six fast bowlers will be in action.

For Ambrose and Walsh, it should be their last shot at England. From all reports they are rearing to go and they should lead the attack. The other two should be Franklyn Rose and Mervyn Dillon, but although he took five wickets in the last Test against Pakistan - his only match of the series, Dillon, like Nixon McLean, may be left out and Ian Bishop included.

As the two teams prepare for the battle which could set the stage for the rest of the series, the concern is the pitch.

In the President's Cup match between Jamaica and Barbados, the new pitch was awkward and unpredictable and while it looks better than it did then, the surface is still a bit uneven, runs could be at a premium and the chances are that the captain who wins the toss will bowl first.

Source: The Jamaica Gleaner

Contributed by CricInfo Management, and reproduced with permission
Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:21