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Bare pitch gives Croft dry run for Test place

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins

21 February 1998

EVEN in a drought you get your feet wet and your trousers muddy when you cross the pungent dyke which surrounds the Bourda Cricket Ground, where the fourth Test will start in six days' time.

It was not quite clear as the England team practised yesterday morning on a flat, bare pitch on the square, whether this was the result of a couple of morning showers (even they have been rare since last July in what is normally one of the wettest countries on earth) or if it was associated with the feverish building in progress on a new stand, now barely half completed, though no doubt it will be ready for spectators at the 11th hour.

The players, naturally, were more interested in the Test pitch, which is not at the moment a thing of beauty but which was merely top-dressed, as opposed to relaid, after last season. Until it is known for sure how much of the thick grass covering about three-quarters of the business area remains, it is too early to assess whether it will give spinners a chance of making a significant impact on the series for the first time.

What is certain is that Robert Croft, the Welsh off- spinner who has lost the precedence he enjoyed for most of last winter over his would-be spinning partner Phil Tufnell, could do with an eye-catching performance on the grassless, true-looking pitch at the Everest Club where England will this morning begin their three-day match against Guyana.

It is the first international match to be held at the ground, despite its association with the great Rohan Kanhai. A flat, well-maintained oblong with distant square boundaries but invitingly close ones straight (the grey Atlantic Ocean looks within range but is actually about 200 yards from the middle), it should be better suited to batsmen than any of the Test pitches so far, providing it starts dry.

Rice farmers whose paddy fields have dried up and the manatee at Georgetown Zoo, whose pond has been shrinking daily, are more anxious than cricketers for a return of the rain. Last February Guyana were due to play three home matches at different grounds: every one was abandoned without a ball being bowled.

Among those especially anxious for the rain to wait are the 35-year-old left-hander, Clayton Lambert, who is being widely touted throughout the Caribbean as an alternative Test opener to Stuart Williams, and the Middlesex captain Mark Ramprakash, who will at last play his first match of the tour.

Four years ago, when England came to Georgetown, one month later but with four rather than three Tests still to play, he made 154 not out in his father's original homeland and played in the rest of the series, unfortunately with scant success.

Ramprakash batted at number three in that series, keeping out Nasser Hussain, who brooded furiously for some time. Hussain's performances for England since have shown him to be the tougher player, though whether in terms of talent and technique he is superior is open to conjecture.

John Crawley also having been unable to establish himself at three, though the West Indies fast bowlers have found him to be no pushover, Hussain and Graham Thorpe should now be moving up a place to three and four, leaving Crawley, Ramprakash, Mark Butcher and Adam Hollioake to contest five and six. It is more likely, depending on events in this game, that Butcher will be batting at three next week and one of the other three at six.

Like Ramprakash, Chris Silverwood, who must often have wondered in the last seven weeks what he gained by being promoted from the A tour to take the place of the injured Darren Gough, also plays his first game of the tour today. He and Ashley Cowan, whose only match has been on the other decent batting pitch so far encountered, against West Indies A at Chedwin Park, where he took none for 104 in the two innings, both have an outside chance of toppling Andrew Caddick from the Test attack by doing something remarkable here.

ALONG with the other fast bowlers in the Trinidad Tests, Angus Fraser and Dean Headley, Caddick is missing this game. Fraser, like Alec Stewart, who, along with the flu-ridden Thorpe, was not expected to play against Guyana, would have preferred to keep in match practice, but as usual on a long tour common humanity to the reserves has to be balanced against the desirability of keeping the main Test players sharp. They have good practice facilities at Bourda for those missing this game.

The Guyanese side is led by Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the absence of their resting captain, Carl Hooper, who has stayed behind at his new home in Trinidad. If Guyana bat today, however, there will be greater interest in the performance of Lambert, one of only four men to make hundreds so far this season in the President's Cup, which is the latest name for the sadly unsponsored four-day domestic competition. Big, bald and muscle-bound these days, Lambert has been ignored by the selectors since making a total of 59 in his only Test at the Oval in 1991. He played one of the wilder strokes during Tufnell's spell of six for 25.

The West Indies A team batsman Keith Semple and the fast bowler Reon King also renew acquaintance with England today but much of the bowling will probably be performed by spinners, including the highly-rated left-arm orthodox Neil McGarrell.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 21 Feb1998 - 14:29