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Pace hots up as England face aspiring West Indians

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

22 January 1998

THE pace of England's so far satisfactory tour of the West Indies quickens this morning. Pitted against the same six batsmen who laid the basis of the opening win in Montego Bay will be the now familiar leg-spinner Rawl Lewis, the second string West Indian fast bowling attack and several batsmen who aspire to Test cricket, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Ashley Cowan and Robert Croft may get a chance to play in lieu of Dean Headley and Phil Tufnell, but England delayed naming an eleven until this morning following a team meeting at their Kingston hotel yesterday and practice for the second day running.

This time it took place not at their preferred venue, the Kensington Club, but at Sabina Park, where preparation of the relaid Test strip remains tortuous. It is hard to believe it will have the time necessary to make it the ``hard, fast, true pitch'' which one Jamaica board official, the former Test opener Easton McMorris, was predicting it would be last weekend.

For the moment it is the pitch at Chedwin Park, scene of the four-day game against West Indies A, which matters. Although it is surrounded by another rough outfield, it looks true and provided it does not start damp, Mike Atherton would like nothing better than to bat first, allowing himself and the five specialists who follow a chance to get their heads down without any danger of gloves or helmets being rattled by balls rearing from a length.

It is likely the same six will bat in the same order, which is bad luck on Mark Ramprakash and Mark Butcher, but that is the nature of touring, especially now that first-class warm-up matches are being kept to a minimum to accommodate the increasingly congested international programme.

David Lloyd, the coach, said it had been a nip and tuck decision between Ramprakash and John Crawley for the number three position - or for that matter between these two and Nasser Hussain - but that three is Crawley's natural spot.

Whether Lloyd is right to prefer Graham Thorpe at five, below Hussain, seems more questionable to me. ``He could go four again before the series is out,'' he mused yesterday, ``but I like the balance like this: two experienced players, a younger one, two more experienced ones and another less established one [Hollioake] at six.''

There is logic in that, certainly, but Thorpe is the best player - ranked third in the world at the moment - and the best batsman in the side traditionally bats at three or four.

The presence of Lewis in a West Indies A attack also composed of three fast bowlers and one medium pacer (Laurie Williams of Jamaica) is the only thing which prevents this game being an ideal preparation for the first Test.

It was depressing that once again a West Indies Test party of 13 should be named without a single specialist spinner, a matter on which Brian Lara, who regularly makes profitable use of his slow bowlers when he captains Trinidad, commented in familiar fashion. ``We don't want to pick a spinner just for the sake of it,'' he said. It could be an error because Sabina Park will surely allow some turn.

Having been troubled by Lewis in Grenada four years ago but gained some confidence against him in Sharjah (in some cases), England will not be losing sleep over this particular leg-spinner but they will certainly get attuned to what is to come from Walsh, Ambrose, Bishop and company by playing in this game against Nixon McLean, Reon King and the Bajan left-arm over bowler, Pedro Collins. All three toured South Africa with the A team and did respectably well without raising trees.

McLean is the bowler of immediate interest, not least because a major performance here might easily gain him a place in the first Test ahead of Ambrose. He toured Australia last winter, suffering a groin strain and playing only two first-class matches, in one of which he had a five-wicket analysis. Tall and strong, he is genuinely quick and in the nets at least he swings the ball. He is named after President Nixon by a politically minded father who himself took on the names Truman McArthur, added Alexei and McNamara to Nixon's prime Christian name and called his other children Regan, Kissinger and Golda Meir.

The McLean family come from St Vincent, one of the possible venues for the third Test, should political instability in Georgetown force a change of venue. England's manager, Bob Bennett, was advised yesterday, however, by Pat Rousseau, president of the West Indies board, that the compromise between the two political parties after the recent election seems to have put a stop to the civil unrest in Guyana. That part of the itinerary therefore looks likely to be untouched, unlike Trinidad where the scene of the four-day match before the second Test will now be the Queen's Park Oval, not Guaracara Park.

England (from): *M A Atherton, A J Stewart, J P Crawley, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, A J Hollioake, -R C Russell, R D B Croft, A P Cowan, A R Caddick, A R C Fraser, P C R Tufnell.

West Indies A: *R I C Holder, L Garrick, W Hinds, K F Semple, F L Reifer, -R L Hoyte, L R Williams, R N Lewis, R King, P Collins, N A M McLean.

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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:26