Sabina pitch holds key

Colin Croft Contributor , Contributor

January 29, 1998

CRICKET: Almost everything is ready. Almost everyone is in place. The air is tight with expectancy, hope, tension and resolve. Sabina Park is a picture. Yet, the only question mark, the only unpredictable ingredient in this cauldron of tight bellies and straining sinews, is the actual playing strip, the 22 yards of a pitch.

This piece of real estate could be the immediate turning point of this first Test match, as no-one really knows how it will behave initially, much less how it is supposed to settle down over the next five days. Uncanny.

If the pitch plays well, a great hope by all involved, then the West Indies fast bowlers, all six of them - Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop, Mervyn Dillon, Franklyn Rose and Nixon McLean - are probably better equipped, physically, ability-wise, psychologically and emotionally than their English counterparts, to cope with the rigors of bowling lengthy spells on an unresponsive pitch.

At practice on Tuesday, Dillon especially was bowling ``throat balls'' pitched on good lengths. McLean was getting the deliveries to deviate appreciably, as did Ambrose. Rose and Bishop were steady and surprisingly consistent. Courtney Walsh, reliable as ever, could always be depended on to tighten things up if they go slightly out of hand. Yes, the West Indies fast bowling department especially has looked good this week.

Sherwin Campbell has just come from a poor game for him, against Guyana last week, yet, after Pakistan, no one, especially me, should ever doubt his endeavour, commitment and production at the highest level again. Stuart Williams must know that he is under the microscope. Out of adversity could come good. He could show us all that he belongs by batting sensibly and patiently.

Carl Hooper had a brilliant game against Barbados, perhaps bowling his off-breaks better than he batted and his over 100 runs for the game, being only once out, were superb. He is in magnificent touch. Shivnarine Chanderpaul's timing has been somewhat off, but his ingrained patience, determination and knowledge of playing within his limitations saw him to a century last weekend. Doggedness is a wonderful attribute when used for positive situations.

Brian Lara and James Adams are probably the least accomplished in the very immediate past, yet Lara had a great double century three weeks ago, while Adams was easily the best batsman on the West Indies A team tour to South Africa. Each could sparkle with their newly acquired responsibilities and elevations.

The batting overall, the West Indies cricket team's ``Achille Heel'' in recent years must immediately give confidence to the bowlers, beleaguered over the last few tours. If the West Indies bat well overall this first Test and over this series, then they will win easily.

David Williams, the wicket keeper, selects himself. He had a truly wonderful tour of Pakistan. Indeed, he was probably the best player, overall, on the tour. Most of the reserve wicketkeepers in the Caribbean are competent, but none are yet special, ``Willie'', committed, determined, efficient and low key, perhaps plays the greatest roll in all this. His concentration and ``cheer-leading'' attitude must endure, never waning.

Pride is the greatest asset any West Indies cricket team ever had, from 1928 to now. That emotion would easily allow this present West Indies cricket team, most of them with two losing recent tours behind them and an aggressive, cocky but cautious, even curious England in front of them, to be as deadly, doggedly, determined without distraction, to do the job at hand properly. It is now or never.

The preparation is now over. Already the West Indies cricket team's pride is hurt by recent results. Both coach Malcolm Marshall and manager Clive Lloyd are smiling with their teeth, but not with their eyes. The pressure is certainly on.

This must be the beginning of a ``new'' West Indies cricket era, even with a somewhat veteran team. England are in the way. They should beware. If this Caribbean machine really gets working and moving well, then it could be over very soon, bar the shouting. Let the games begin!!

Source: The Jamaica Gleaner

Contributed by CricInfo Management, and reproduced with permission
Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:18