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ARG Set For A Draw

by Tony Cozier

20 March 1998


THEY have dug up the square and relaid it.

They have excavated the outfield and, thanks to American ingenuity and Antiguan diligence, will and money, proudly transformed it in three months from a wasteland of mud into a lush green pasture.

They have built a spanking new stand and named it after Richie Richardson, one of their many celebrated cricketers, and are boasting, with justifiable hyperbole, that they are now the best appointed Test venue in the West Indies.

Yet, if the man who knows the Antigua Recreation Ground (ARG) as well as anyone else is to be believed, nothing much else will change in the sixth and final Test between the West Indies and England that begins there this morning.

Andy Roberts predicts a pitch of even bounce, “without fire”.

As certain Barbadian journalists found out last year, they are very touchy about intruders on their hallowed turf here, and even more so in its fresh, new guise. But its appearance from the safe distance of the media centre presents no reason to doubt him.

It is beige and bare and typically ARG. It should be another feast for batsmen.

In the 12 Tests it has hosted since Viv Richards marked its initiation in 1981 with his wedding and an inevitable hundred, seven have been drawn.

There have been 24 individual hundreds, including the highest of them all, Brian Lara’s 375 in the corresponding Test four years ago, and the fastest of them all, Richards’ 56-ball 100 in 1986.

The statistics are not encouraging for England.

They are behind 2-1 and must win if they are to salvage some satisfaction from a series they arrived in January confidently expecting to win against opponents reportedly in a state of shock after their 3-0 mauling in Pakistan.

Their hopes are raised by the unreliability of the West Indies batting that they have witnessed first-hand throughout this series.

It has raised over 400 only once in its past 19 Tests. Even so, it is stretching the imagination to think that it would fold twice in the conditions promised against bowling that, for all Angus Fraser’s effectiveness on the sub-standard pitches early in the series, is hardly imposing.

The scenario is the same in reverse.

The West Indies depend too heavily on Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh who, like all bowlers who have gone through the mill for as long as they have, are uninspired by a true pitch and, consequently, uninspiring.

The drawn Kensington Test a few days ago was the latest example of the West Indies bowling reduced to impotence by an unresponsive surface. England, 51 for four before lunch on the first day, amassed 403 and 233 for three declared and were doing much as they pleased towards the end of their second innings.

The possibilities of an outright result hinge on two factors.

The first is England’s approach to the reality of their situation. They have to take risks to press for the only result that should interest them, an outright victory, and that inevitably involves danger.

The second is that the pitch doesn’t turn out to be quite what has been predicted.

Last year against Sri Lanka, it was excessively watered, up until the morning of the match, the ball did everything but talk on the first day, Ambrose took five wickets on his way to his 300th and Sri Lanka’s first innings 223 was the highest total of the match.

That is highly unlikely this time, after the experiences of Sabina, Queen’s Park and Bourda.

If there is any help, it is more likely to be for the spinners later in the match, consideration enough to influence the inclusion of leg-spinner Dinanath Ramnarine as the fifth bowler in the West Indies team rather than Franklyn Rose.

The smart money would be for a familiar result in an unfamiliar environment at the spruced up ARG - a draw.

Teams:

West Indies (from) - Brian Lara (captain), Philo Wallace, Clayton Lambert, Carl Hooper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jimmy Adams, Roland Holder, Junior Murray, Curtly Ambrose, Dinanath Ramnarine, Nixon McLean, Courtney Walsh, Franklyn Rose.

England (from) - Mike Atherton (captain), Alec Stewart, Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe, Mark Ramprakash, Jack Russell, Robert Croft, Dean Headley, Andy Caddick, Angus Fraser, Phil Tufnell, Adam Hollioake.


Source: The Barbados Nation
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Date-stamped : 20 Mar1998 - 19:11