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Lara expecting durability from his home pitch

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

3 February 1998

WHATEVER else may happen at the Queens Park Oval in Trinidad during the next two weeks, there will be no repetition of the horrific pitch at Sabina Park, which caused the first Test between West Indies and England to be abandoned in Jamaica, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

For obvious reasons, and although it may not be entirely to the liking of Brian Lara, the objective of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board is to prepare two durable pitches for the second and third Tests starting in Port of Spain this Thursday and the following Friday.

The snag is that, with television money crucial to the very survival of West Indies cricket, let alone its growth and development, the needs of Trans World International, the television company providing live coverage for Sky and highlights for the BBC, have dictated that the two pitches should be placed directly adjacent to each other.

Even on the largest and comfortably best-appointed ground in the Caribbean there are only five pitches, but the positioning of the camera gantry on top of the pavilion requires the two match pitches to be plumb in the centre of a well and evenly grassed square.

That would surely not have been what was wanted by the ground manager Bryan Davis and the groundsman Curtis Roberts had they been given a completely free hand when the West Indies board asked them to rally round after the abandonment of the first Test last Thursday.

Both men are old stagers at Queens Park, but both have also been in their present positions for little more than a year. Davis opened the batting for Trinidad and the West Indies, and Roberts was an assistant groundsman here for 14 years before his promotion. The original plan was to stage the four-day island match against England on the edge of the square, the same strip on which Trinidad and Tobago were bowled out for 125 and 87, losing by 10 wickets to the Leeward Islands 10 days ago.

Television income estimated at 300,000 per Test match, however, brooked no argument, and there is clearly a danger that bowlers following through on to the neighbouring pitch during the course of the first match this week will rough it up significantly.

Roberts, a man of few words, played a dead bat to that one yesterday. ``We'll leave the grass on to protect it,'' he said.

Lara, choosing to practise with most of the West Indies Test squad rather than seek an earlier opportunity against England in Trinidad's two-day match at Guaracara Park in Pointe-a-Pierre, did not deny that the second pitch would almost certainly start with some unwanted wear and tear.

``I hope it's outside the right-handers' off-stump, not the left-handers','' he remarked with a smile.

Thursday's pitch has had its first mow, defining it from the remainder of a lush square, but if even half the present volume of grass is left on the surface in two days' time, the ball will certainly seam around.

So long as it does not do so to an exaggerated extent in the present stifling humidity - swing, slow pace and lateral movement are the common characteristics here - Lara, for one, will not be disappointed.

Having batted at Queens Park since his days as an infant prodigy and made two low scores this season against the Leewards - but also a double hundred in the Trinidad North v South match - he knows that there is a fine line here between the slow, low turners of the kind on which Navjot Singh Sidhu made a double hundred for India last year, and the excessively damp seamers' paradises, which have been equally common in recent years.

England, under Graham Gooch's captaincy, exploited such seam-bowling conditions when they won the toss eight years ago, and the West Indies themselves used a treacherous surface even more effectively when they bowled Australia out for 128 and 105 in April, 1995.

Warning the groundsman yesterday of a forecast of showers in the next 48 hours, Lara asked him to move a hosepipe spilling out water on to a spot where the fast bowlers will be running in to bowl on Thursday.

No one knows better than the new West Indies captain how important it is that Roberts and his staff should strike just the right balance when the curtain rises again for the second Test against Mike Atherton's England side on Thursday morning.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:22