Buoyant WI look to go two up

Tony Becca , Senior Sport Editor

February 13, 1998

CRICKET: Port of Spain: The third Test of the Cable and Wireless series between the West Indies and England opens at Queen's Park Oval today with the two teams in different moods.

After coming from behind to win the second Test, the West Indies are bubbling with confidence. As far as they are concerned, once the rain which pelted Port of Spain on Wednesday stays away as it did yesterday, they will be two up at the end of the back-to-back contest at the Oval.

After sighting victory on two or three occasions in the second Test and failing to finish off the West Indies, England are far from confident - so much so that in the words of captain Mike Atherton, their hope is that the gods will smile on them in their bid to level the count and keep alive their dream of winning the six-match series.

The Windies confidence stems not only from the belief that they are more talented than England, and that in captain Brian Lara and Carl Hooper, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh they possess the two best batsmen and the two best bowlers in either side, but also that as a team they are playing at their best, and that when the Windies are at their best no one can beat them.

As confident as they are however, the West Indies must be concerned about batsmen Sherwin Campbell and James Adams.

As a survivor, Campbell is a master, and as he has done on so many occasions, he could still be there when others are gone. His poor footwork was once again exposed by the England pacers however, and if opening bowlers Dean Headley and Andy Caddick are able to move the ball about as they did in the second Test, he could fall as early as he did then.

As a fighter, Adams is second to none, and despite their wonderful recovery in the second innings of the second Test, there is no doubt that the West Indies need someone with his quality in the middle of the order. His tentative play however, highlighted by a recent tendency to play more with his pad rather than his bat, makes the left-hander vulnerable to deliveries cutting from leg to off - the type of delivery which is Angus Fraser's stock in trade.

In their bid to make it two from three - including the abandoned Sabina Park Test, the West Indies, despite the concern over Campbell and Adams, are expected to stay with the winning combination of the second Test - a combination which surprisingly included fast bowler Kenneth Benjamin and not Franklyn Rose.

``You don't, or you shouldn't change a winning combination,'' said selector Joey Carew two days ago.

Although that perception is as old as the hills, if you don't, or shouldn't change a wining combination, there is every reason to change a losing one, and after setting the West Indies 282 to win the second Test and believing that it was enough, after reducing them to 124 for five and then losing by three wickets on a pitch which they continue to describe as poor, England are in the mood for a change.

The change is hardly likely to be among the batsman; and neither, at least not yet, is it likely to be a batsman coming in for Jack Russell with Alec Stewart doubling up as batsman/wicketkeeper.

According to word coming out of the England camp, the change being contemplated is offspinner Robert Croft coming in for left-arm spinner Phil Tufnell - the man who destroyed the West Indies with first innings figures of six for 25 when England won the fifth Test at The Oval to draw the 1991 series, and the bowler they figured would be too good for West Indian batsmen on helpful pitches.

Although Tufnell bowled well in the second Test to finish with figures of 21-8-33-1 and 34.2-9-69-1, England, it appears, are disappointed that with the West Indies resuming on 181 for five and needing 101 to win, he failed to bowl them to victory on the last day of a pitch which to them was poor from beginning to end.

England however, may not yet be ready to discard Tufnell, and if they do make a change, it could be Croft coming in for either Headley or Caddick. There is a feeling in the England camp that these West Indies batsmen do not like the ball leaving the bat and that with three right-handers and three left-handers in the Windies line up, the right-handed offspinner Croft would be a perfect foil for the left-handed legspinner Tufnell - especially if the pitch responds to spin.

That is probably what Atherton is hoping for when he said if the gods smile on them.

The pitch for the Test is the one adjacent, to the east, of that used for the second Test, and no one knows how it will play.

That is another reason for the different moods of the teams as they prepare for the second back to back Test to be played at Queen's Park Oval - the first since 1976 when the West Indies won the second Test against India and India won the third when they rattled up 406 for four in their second innings - the highest fourth innings winning total in the history of Test cricket.

After Sabina Park, and after what he still describes as poor pitch for the second Test, Atherton is wary of this one. Not so the swaggering Lara. ``We beat them here already, and we will beat them again.''

More: All eyes on the pitch

Tony Becca

CRICKET: Port of Spain: The pitch for the third Test between the West Indies and England which gets underway at Queen's Park Oval today has been the centre of attention for the past two days.

The pitch is right next to the one used for the second Test which, although it was not treacherous, the bounce was uneven. This will be the second time it is being used, and the first time a few weeks ago, Brian Lara scored a double century in the annual North/South match. It is not the same pitch, as was previously reported, on which the Trinidad and Tobago/Leeward Islands match which finished in two days was played.

Yesterday, there was a lot of grass on it, but it will be clipped again before the start of play, and Bryan Davis, the Queen's Park Oval cricket administrator in charge of the preparation, says it will have less grass than the one for the second Test and the bounce will be more consistent.

``The pitch for the second Test was too variable in bounce and the lateral movement may have been too much. It helped the bowlers too much. I believe a pitch should be around 55-45 in favour of the batsman and that one was about 65-35 in favour of the bowlers. This one should be more balanced. I believe I can promise a traditional Oval pitch - lively at the start and good for spin bowling towards the end.''

Reacting to Mike Atherton's criticism that the pitch for the second Test was poor, Davis said he could not agree with the England captain.

``My philosophy is that pitches should be different. It is the beauty of cricket and why the game is so fascinating. No one wants all pitches to be built for batsmen,'' said the former Trinidad and Tobago and West Indies opening batsman.

According to Davis, the pitch was being prepared for today's Test when the SOS came for last week's Test and they had to stop working on it.

With hot sun for the five days, the pitch became dry, and immediately the second Test was over on Monday afternoon, it was soaked. Then came the rain on Wednesday however, and prevented it from drying as expected.

``There may still be some water under it,'' said Davis. ``Hopefully, the sun will stay with us. We just have to wait and see.''

Source: The Jamaica Gleaner

Contributed by CricInfo Management, and reproduced with permission

Date-stamped : 13 Feb1998 - 22:31