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Trinidad Pitch Ready For Replacement Test

by Tony Cozier

February 5 1998

PORT-OF-SPAIN First things first and, after the infamy of Sabina Park and particularly as it's the Queen's Park Oval, that means the pitch.

That prepared for the replacement Test starting this morning now the second of six but, more accurately, the first of the Cable & Wireless series was like a well tended, closely cropped lawn yesterday morning compared to the cart track of Sabina.

Before it was strangely placed under the roll-on covers in the mid-morning heat, it carried an even covering of verdant grass and, while it is to be mown before the start, it will still have a green tinge that should bring a sparkle to the eyes and a spring to the steps of the fast bowlers.

How it will behave is another matter. Queen's Park has always been the most capricious surface in the Caribbean, widely varying from one match to the other and defying the predictions of even those who know it best.

Bryan Davis, the former Trinidad and Tobago and West Indies opener, who has overseen the preparations this time, has been at the host Queen's Park Cricket Club in several capacities since he was a boy, as player, as coach and now as club manager and ground supervisor.

His verdict is that it will have little pace or bounce but will offer movement for the seam bowlers, specifically referring to Kenny Benjamin, who has been recalled by the West Indies for his first Test in more than a year, and Dean Headley, England's spearhead of famous West Indian pedigree.

They are similar in style, relying on deviation off the seam rather than steep lift, as the other, taller fast men on both sides do.

Given the history, ancient as well as modern, even Davis must have some doubts about the accuracy of his forecast. The last two first-class matches played on it last season and the only one so far this season emphasise its vagaries.

Trinidad and Tobago's drawn Red Stripe Cup match against Barbados last May yielded totals of 394, 361, 368 and 99 for one. Less than two weeks later, the Leewards won by 55 runs in three days and totals were 208, 110, 95 and 138. They followed the drawn Test against India in which Navjot Sidhu compiled his 11-hour double hundred.

Last month, the Leewards were back to finish off Trinidad and Tobago again, this time in two days, with totals of 125, 175, 87 and 38 for no wicket.

Davis accepted that the grass was not cut sufficiently low for that match when Benjamin convinced the selectors he was the horse for this particular course with eight wickets for 57. Davis will make sure, this morning, the same mistake isn't repeated.

Everyone, most of all the beleaguered and now financially strapped West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) but also frustrated players and public, is praying to God he and head groundsman Curtis Roberts have got it right. West Indies cricket cannot afford any further loss of either money or prestige or, for that matter, a Test match.

Following the abandonment of Sabina, this has become the first opportunity for basically the same team, under new leadership, to erase some of the painful memories of the 3-0 thrashing in Pakistan late last year.

Brian Lara enjoys the considerable advantage of not only starting his reign as captain in his native land where he is king but of now having two successive Tests to boot.

He spoke yesterday of the confidence among his players and of the psychological advantage he believed his team had gained by the dramatic events, brief as they were, in Jamaica.

Whatever the state of the pitch here, the memories of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose firing their missiles at Sabina are still fresh for Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart, Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe.

Those of four years ago, when the same two hit men shot out England for 46 on a basically good pitch at the same Queen's Park Oval for a famous West Indies victory, may be somewhat more faded.

All the same, Atherton, Stewart, Thorpe, Jack Russell and Andy Caddick were all here then and return to the scene of that mayhem, inevitably with some trepidation.

A few early wickets when England go in this morning Lara hinted strongly yesterday he will bowl on winning the toss, Atherton that he will bat would be enough to create instant panic in their dressing room. Conversely, a steady start would soothe fraught nerves.

It is a vital opening day.


West Indies (from): Brian Lara (captain), Sherwin Campbell, Stuart Williams, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Carl Hooper, Jimmy Adams, David Williams, Nixon McLean, Curtly Ambrose, Kenny Benjamin, Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop, Franklyn Rose.

England: Michael Atherton (captain), Alec Stewart, John Crawley, Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe, Adam Hollioake, Jack Russell, Andy Caddick, Angus Fraser, Dean Headley, Phil Tufnell.

Umpires: Steve Bucknor (Jamaica), Srinivasa Venkataraghavan (India).

Source: The Barbados Nation
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:24