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Bourda will encourage spin strategy

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

27 February 1998

ENGLAND have picked Mark Ramprakash in place of John Crawley and named both their spinners, Phil Tufnell and Robert Croft, in their 12 for the fourth Test starting at Bourda this morning.

The likelihood is not only that both spinners will play but that the West Indies will also award a first cap to the 22-year-old Trinidadian leg-spinner Dinanath Ramnarine. The rare and exciting prospect for a Test in the West Indies is for a slow turner, which will be at its best on the first day and increasingly tricky as the game progresses.

Whichever team win this match in Guyana should also win the series, given the hope of truer pitches in the last two games. It is Mike Atherton's 50th Test as captain and he would give much to call correctly for the fourth time in this series this morning.

The 800-gallon water tank, which the Georgetown Cricket Club keep for dry periods such as this, was still being tapped yesterday morning as the groundstaff did their best to bind together a surface which is bare apart from a patch of thatchy grass in the middle.

Sooner or later, however, both ends are bound to crumble, and the figure of six being offered as the expected number of wickets for spinners in the match by the spread betting firm Sporting Index yesterday, not to mention that of only nine wickets throughout the series for Tufnell, seemed low. It is an oft expressed argument that on a pitch keeping low and inclined to play tricks as it wears, batting becomes more awkward the faster the ball is bowled.

There are those, therefore, who believe that the West Indies will stick to their four fast bowlers and keep young Ramnarine waiting, using only Carl Hooper's off-spin. Unless there has been sufficient late watering for the pitch actually to start wet and for a gamble to be taken on fielding first, I do not subscribe to that theory.

Ramnarine is likely both to play and to play an important part. It may well be, indeed, that the game will be decided either way by him. England have been inclined to play down his five wickets at Guaracara Park in Trinidad on the grounds that several wickets were gifted to him in the interests of giving everyone a bat in a two-day match.

That may well be true, but the wickets of Graham Thorpe and Adam Hollioake, both out for ducks, were not cases in point. There was an impressive air about Ramnarine's approach on that occasion, and in practice these last two days, that suggested he would not be overawed.

This should be the start of a longer career than those enjoyed by Norman Marshall and Tony Howard, off-spinners whose one and only Test was played at Bourda.

Ramnarine toured England with the West Indies Under-19s in 1993 and was equal top wicket-taker in the A team tour of South Africa. Moreover, the very thing which the England batsman believe to be his weakness - the amount of air he now gives the ball - is exactly what Ramnarine himself now perceives to be his strength.

``I used to bowl it a little too fast,'' he said yesterday. ``By bowling almost every day in South Africa I learnt to trust myself to flight the ball.''

The prospect of his doing so on a small ground against players like Graham Thorpe, Nasser Hussain and the deservedly recalled Ramprakash, who all like to take the game to spinners, is fascinating. No more so than that of seeing Tufnell and Croft paired together against batsmen of the class of Brian Lara and company.

The home side now have a leader in Lara, who is accustomed to using spin and has much confidence in his new recruit.

Atherton said yesterday that England might still stick to an attack of three fast bowlers plus a spinner - indicating, but no more, that Croft would be the unlucky one if so - but the presumption is that Andrew Caddick will be the bowler omitted.

In the Guyana game at Everest Cricket Club last weekend, Croft and Tufnell took 17 wickets between them. Bourda may be a better prepared pitch, and Atherton will not have forgotten how impotent an attack of Fraser, Lewis, Igglesden, Salisbury, Hick and Ramprakash (15-1-35-0) proved here four years ago.

Two things should make life harder for batsmen - the deterioration of the pitch in due course and the unusually large seams on the English-made Dukes balls being used in this series. David Lloyd, the England coach, has a theory that they may be from a batch of balls made before the number of strands in each seam was reduced in 1990 on Ted Dexter's initiative as England chairman.

For the good of Caribbean cricket we must hope that the El Nino effect continues to keep the rain at bay these next few days.

It would be good, too, to see the series played in the spirit which has generally prevailed so far, best demonstrated by the generous way in which Walsh warned Dean Headley for backing up too far during the tense late stages of the third Test.

Hours later Lara entertained both teams to a party at his house overlooking the Savannah. That, like the prospect of a match dominated by spinners, was cricket as it used to be.

West Indies (from): *B C Lara, S L Campbell, R I C Holder, S C Williams, J C Adams, C L Hooper, S Chanderpaul, -D Williams, C E L Ambrose, N A M McLean, C A Walsh, D Ramnarine.

England (from): *M A Atherton, A J Stewart, M A Butcher, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, M R Ramprakash, -R C Russell, A R Caddick, R D B Croft, D W Headley, A R C Fraser, P C R Tufnell.

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Date-stamped : 27 Feb1998 - 15:15