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Spotlight falls on Headley in family affair at Sabina Park

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

27 January 1998

OFFICIALS at Lord's cut things fine when they agreed to an itinerary giving them only two preparatory matches for the first Test on Thursday but they have got away with it. A decision will probably have to be taken about whether Adam Hollioake has made a sufficient recovery from his dislocated shoulder but of the rest of the planned eleven only Andrew Caddick and Alec Stewart have not done something of substance, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

In the game which finished in a draw at Chedwin Park on Sunday, Nasser Hussain, Angus Fraser and Phil Tufnell joined Dean Headley and Graham Thorpe, the chief architects of the opening win in Montego Bay, to make five players who will start the match at Sabina Park feeling in really good form. In Fraser's case, this is another quiet personal triumph for a man who never gave up trying after Ray Illingworth's selection committee had made him one of the scapegoats for the series which was lost almost exactly two years ago in Cape Town.

Of England's six main bowlers on that tour, only Fraser will play this Thursday. He will not mind, however, that the spotlight will fall not on him but on Headley whenever England take the field at Sabina. How could it be otherwise for the grandson of Jamaica's greatest cricketer, playing only his fourth Test on the ground where George, the Black Bradman, scored two of his eight Test hundreds against England - big ones, too: 223 in 1930 and 270 not out five years later. In the year before the second war, he came to Lord's and scored a century in each innings.

Jamaica may be a member of the British Commonwealth but it is America and its tourists to whom the country now seems linked in a relationship no less dependent than it was in the days of Empire.

Family links with Britain remain close, however, and the Headleys are typical. It is in a broad West Midlands accent, specifically Stourbridge, that he recalls meeting his revered forbear for the only time, two years before he died.

``All I remember is that he was a very small man. I was probably taller than him when I was 11. I think he bowled a couple of balls to me in the garden but that was all. I'm lucky that I'm playing my first Test match in the West Indies at Sabina Park because of the support I'll get.''

Uncles, aunts and cousins of his father Ron, the long-serving Worcestershire (and, twice, West Indies) left-hander, are coming to watch this week. Ron himself will be at home in Worcestershire, attending to his engineering business and, of course, keeping either an ear on BBC Radio Four or an eye on Sky television. Dean himself expects neither more nor less nervousness than he experienced in his first Test at Old Trafford last July when his impact was almost immediate.

Mark Taylor was a useful first Test scalp, albeit on a damp pitch. He finished the match with eight wickets and only his physical frailty - he is 6ft 4in and broad enough but his legs are relatively slim and the vigorous shift of weight in his bowling action puts immense strain on his body, especially his back -has threatened his regular appearances for England since.

He still has much to learn. Even after Australia had taken home the Ashes once more, he was apparently convinced that the way to get Matthew Elliott out was to bounce him. Fraser, his colleague in the Middlesex dressing room when he was learning the trade from 1991, should have put him right about the foolishness of becoming obsessed with getting good players out hooking, however much they make find the shot irresistible. His bouncer is a good one, but best kept as a surprise. He will no doubt be reminded frequently at Sabina this week that his seven for 37 at Montego Bay was based on bowling remorselessly straight.

His career has blossomed at Kent since 1993 and on his A tours, to Pakistan and Australia. In particular, it was his performances against South Australia in Adelaide last winter, when he took six for 60 and five for 38, which convinced David Graveney and Mike Gatting that he was going to be successful at the highest level too.

``I'll be nervous on Thursday but I'll try and do the same as in my first Test: concentrate on the job in hand and not be afraid of failure. You prepare for a Test match in the best way you can but you can only play the way you normally do. Only a few great players can turn it on specially for a certain occasion. If you were to give me seven wickets in the first Test I'd take them.''

Especially, perhaps, if two of them were Brian Lara's. He does not want to be labelled a specialist against left-handers - he dismissed the Australians Taylor, Elliott and Michael Bevan in both innings of his first Test - but he, like all the England players, realises the significance of getting Lara out, especially, perhaps, early in the series.

If there is a plan, however, he is not revealing it. ``Just to bowl well is the idea,'' he said yesterday before joining seven of his playing colleagues and 13 of the official England party in a golf match against the cricket press at Caymanas. ``Lara is one of the best players in the world, so if you don't bowl well, look out.''

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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:27