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Kensington Oval pitch should ring true

by Tony Cozier

9 March 1998


AFTER three Tests, it's still impossible to properly assess the two teams in the Cable & Wireless series.

The pitches have dictated too much of the play for that and only when we get a surface that's not like a galvanise paling, the Pitch Lake or the Gobi desert can relevant questions be answered with some degree of certainty.

Kensington's has been given careful and constant attention for several weeks now and, if appearances and the first day of the Barbados match are anything to go by, it should provide the first authentic Test match conditions of the series.

It's good news for the batsmen who, from Sabina to Bourda, have never known what was coming at them from one ball to the next. As was the case yesterday, they should be able to execute their drives, cuts and pulls with welcome certainty.

Only on the first day at Bourda, before the top soil started to turn to dust and Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Carl Hooper indulged themselves, have they been able to do so.

Lara and Hooper, if not Chanderpaul, are the two on either side most likely to decimate the bowling in such a friendly environment and direct the course of the match.

Explode

There is the unmistakeable feeling that Lara is about to explode with a really big bang.

Like La Soufriere, the longer he bubbles, the more dangerous he gets and he has been bubbling for a long time now.

He was just starting to smoke in the first innings at Bourda when Robert Croft floated like a butterfly to sting like a bee. A vintage double-hundred from the captain and the Wisden Trophy will be secure.

But it is not only those on the West Indies side who should appreciate the change. England have strokeplayers, too.

They return to the ground of which most of them have happy memories from four years ago, not least Alec Stewart with his hundreds in each innings.

Even on what he has been provided so far, Stewart's bat has had an ominous ring to it every time he has been in.

Mike Atherton, Graham Thorpe and Nasser Hussain, we know, are better than they have shown and Hussain is due some luck. And, Stewart notwithstanding, Mark Ramprakash looked their most accomplished batsman at Bourda with a couple of matured innings for which they have long waited.

If both teams bat reasonably, it is not difficult envisaging that long-forgotten result at Kensington, a high-scoring draw except that both are so prone to sudden and inexplicable collapses.

With the brittleness at the top and bottom of the order, whatever total the West Indies get these days depends on their middle.

Caved in

Repeatedly over the past couple of years, already four times in this series, it has caved in.

The habit of two batsmen getting out one after the other after a promising partnership was once more needlessly repeated by Adrian Griffith and Philo Wallace for Barbados yesterday, a sure recipe for the disasters that have befallen the Test team.

For the West Indies, the likes of David Williams, Ian Bishop and Curtly Ambrose have been too often left to squeeze out runs at the end. If it happens again, it could cost the match.

The other factor in the equation is how the bowling adjusts to the change.

Will Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Fraser, the over-worked thirtysomethings, be fresh enough this far into the series to keep pegging away if the opposition is, let's say, 320 for three by lunch in the heat on the second day?

The three have been revelations.

They have carried the respective attacks and none appears to have lost anything in pace, control, motivation or fitness in the four years since they last opposed each other in the Caribbean.

But, however else it might appear, they are only human and they are in the twilight of fast bowling life.

After three tough Tests their support bowlers will be vital and, unexpectedly, the West Indies' attack has so far been not only stronger but the better balanced.

Carl Hooper, no longer regarded as a stop-gap between the fast men, has outbowled Phil Tufnell and Croft who, in spite of the help Bourda was willing to give them, hardly made the ball deviate off the straight and narrow.

Although he is unlikely to play at Kensington, Dinanath Ramnarine's leg-spin added a new dimension to Lara's options.

With more pace and bounce, the distinctly sharp Nixon McLean will return and probably Mervyn Dillon as well.

It will give the bowling a more hostile look but it is the batting that should enjoy the five days' cricket more.

Thank heavens for that.


Source: The Barbados Nation
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Date-stamped : 09 Mar1998 - 20:00