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RAYS OF HOPE: Windies victory brings 'rebirth'

Report by Tony Cozier

11 February

PORT-OF-SPAIN – It has taken less than a day for the mood of West Indies cricket to change from the doubt and defeatism that were the natural consequences of the rout in Pakistan to triumph and optimism.

At 124 for five in their second innings, 40 minutes after tea on the fourth day of the second Test Sunday, the portents were grim.

Another heavy defeat to follow the successive three in Pakistan loomed, against far weaker England, the repercussions of which would have been dire.

By the same time Monday, Carl Hooper and David Williams had turned things completely around with their calm resolve and their wonderful, match-winning partnership, the West Indies were one up with the next Test to come at the same venue in three days’ time.

The contrasting dispositions were starkly obvious at the presentation ceremony afterwards.

West Indian smiles were as wide as the Queen’s Park Oval itself and as expressive as the joyful strains of the steelbands that reflect the spirit of carnival at this time of year.

Brian Lara hugged Hooper, his heroic vice-captain, and thanked him for a personal victory in his first Test as captain in his homeland.

The big fast bowlers lifted little “Willie” and tossed him around like a doll in their unrestrained joy at the success of a popular and unpretentious teammate who had contributed so much to the cause.

On the opposite side, Mike Atherton and his men stood grim-faced, choking back their utter disappointment at losing a Test they were so consistently well placed to win.

David Lloyd, the highly-strung coach, was reportedly near to tears and so crest-fallen he didn’t attend the Press conference at the end of the match.

While England captain Mike Atherton castigated the pitch as “poor” and admitted that “we have only ourselves to blame for throwing the match away”, Lara was calling it “a good cricket pitch” typical of Queen’s Park and praising Hooper, Williams and his other main men.

Right away, the West Indies selectors have announced an unchanged 13 for the next Test which, almost certainly, means an unchanged starting eleven.

England have given their players two days off and are contemplating what to do to boost a bowling attack in which only the admirable Angus Fraser was at all threatening.

In other circumstances, there would have been a case for Roland Holder, whose record at Queen’s Park is so imposing, to replace Jimmy Adams but not just yet. The selectors have already seen effects of chopping and changing with their opening batsmen and their wicket-keepers.

Curtly Ambrose has dispelled earlier concern about his fitness, match-readiness and overall effectiveness and the recall of Kenny Benjamin – described by coach Malcolm Marshall yesterday as “the best old-ball bowler in the West Indies” – proved a justifiable selection.

Like all coaches, Marshall is wary about complacency setting in.

“We are convinced we are the better team,” he said. “But they’re four Tests to go and we can’t drop our guard.

“We will be working to improve on our strength and eliminate our weaknesses,” he added.

Marshall identified the pluses and negatives in the West Indies’ performance.

“We lost the initiative too many times,” he said. “We should have bowled them out for around 160 on the first day and we didn’t bat well in our first innings when we lost too many wickets to bad shots.”

But, he revealed, an overnight discussion resulted in a much straighter line by the bowlers at the start of the fourth day, when Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh finished off England’s second innings by taking the last six wickets for 39.

“That left us with under 300 to win and I always thought we would do it,” he said.

“No praise is too high for Carl,” he said. “That was a fantastic innings, everything was right about it, the way he paced himself, the way he approached the situation. I don’t think he was beaten by one ball and that was something on a pitch where the odd ball was bouncing unpredictably.”

“We mustn’t forget little Willie,” the coach added. “It wasn’t only that he shared that partnership (129) that brought us back into the match but how freely he was scoring. He actually outscored Carl.”

Marshall did not agree with Atherton’s condemnation of the pitch.

“So often we see the Trinidad pitch a graveyard, with the ball not coming through and keeping low,” he said. “This time there was enough bounce in it that the snicks were carrying through to the keeper and slips. It was a little uneven but you could get runs with discipline and graft.

“I’ve played a lot in England and I wouldn’t say the pitch at Headingley is good or even, sometimes, Lord’s,” he noted. “Edgbaston in 1995 was certainly poor. But we don’t complain. You just play on what’s provided.

“Gone are the days when all pitches are flat and made just for batting,” he said. “And we should remember that England have won the toss both times and batted.”

Source: The Barbados Nation
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Date-stamped : 11 Feb1998 - 22:29