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Cricket Selectors Do The Two-Step

by Tony Cozier

March 10 1998

The West Indies' seemingly never-ending search for dependable opening batsmen extended into previously abandoned territory yesterday.

In choosing their 13 for the fifth Cable & Wireless Test against England, starting at Kensington Oval on Thursday, the selectors backtracked over six years to relocate a 36-year-old they, and their many predecessors, had overlooked after a solitary Test match.

In completely changing their top-of-the-order pair, they partnered the left-handed Clayton Lambert, whose one previous appearance was against England at London's Oval in 1991, with the strapping, hard-hitting right-hander Philo Wallace, another player left in the wilderness for almost as long.

Wallace, 27, was first chosen for One-Day internationals in 1992 but had to wait until last December for his debut Test against Pakistan at Rawalpindi. He made five and eight and was promptly dropped.

The selectors have lost patience with the combination of Sherwin Campbell and Stuart Williams, with whom they persevered for 14 consecutive Tests but who repaid their faith with a mere three stands of more than 50, and dropped them both.

Otherwise, they have made no alterations to the 13 they picked for the fourth Test in Georgetown which the West Indies won last week by 242 runs to secure a 2-1 lead in the series.

The change is as drastic, and rare, as the crisis that has undermined the West Indies since Gordon Greenidge made his exit in 1991 and ended his phenomenal association with Desmond Haynes that lasted 13 years and 89 Tests.

We have to crawl through the pages of history to the England series of 1935 to find an instance when both openers were dropped at the same time. Charlie Jones and Kenny Wishart went in first in Georgetown where they remained, while Ivan Barrow and Cyril Christiani took their places in Kingston.

There have been other cases of different openers from Test to Test but in none have both been dropped altogether.

In the Antigua Test four years ago the match of Brian Lara's great record 375 Richie Richardson and Haynes gave way to Phil Simmons and the now rejected Williams but only through injury.

So the desperation is unprecedented in the modern era but not completely surprising.

Quite simply, chairman Wes Hall and his colleagues have been guided by present form which Campbell and Williams clearly lack and Lambert and Wallace just as clearly possess. This is no long-term solution to the problem. This is now-for-now.

Campbell, a real battler with an excellent Test record, was the only consistent batsman in the disastrous series in Pakistan as recently as last year. At the same age as his old Ellerslie School mate, Wallace, he is surely part of the future.

For the moment, this uncertain period his highest score in 16 first class innings this season is 48 not out has made him expendable.

Williams' statistical credentials are far less presentable and his vulnerability to the moving ball is evidenced by his four edged catches to the slips in six innings this series. But, with a dearth of contenders around, he will remain very much in the picture once form is the criterion.

Both might feel a little aggrieved that, having endured three rough pitches so far, they now miss out on what it bound to be a belter especially since Campbell is at home.

If nothing else, the Lambert-Wallace combination should prove entertaining.

They are both big men with an inclination to use their power to do serious damage to a cricket ball. Neither is particularly orthodox Lambert's stance, leading shoulder pointing towards midwicket and all his stumps exposed should get an X-rating on any coaching video but they can both decimate an attack when going.

Lambert has an imposing first-class record (average of just under 50) and a particular liking for Kensington where he has scored hundreds for Guyana over the last two seasons.

He got another against Trinidad and Tobago in Guyana over the weekend just to settle the selectors' minds.

Wallace has become more disciplined and selective in his shot-making this season and his last five scores have been 129, 87, 79 not out, 68 and 31 not out.

There is some surprise that lan Bishop has been retained among the four fast bowlers, all of whom will likely play.

Last season's bright, young hopes, Franklyn Rose and Mervyn Dillon, continue to be confined to watch from their sofas, not an encouraging sign for West Indies cricket. Again, it's now-for-now, especially since Bishop's level-headed batting gives a little substance to the tail.

The next selectorial dilemma comes on Thursday morning when they must decide who should bat at No. 6 - Jimmy Adams or Roland Holder. On yesterday's evidence, form should count most, which translates to Holder.


Brian Lara (captain), Philo Wallace, Clayton Lambert, Carl Hooper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jimmy Adams, Roland Holder, David Williams, Ian Bishop, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Nixon McLean and Dinanath Ramnarine.

Source: The Barbados Nation
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Date-stamped : 11 Mar1998 - 14:22