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A Job For Spin Bowlers

by Tony Cozier

Friday, 27 February, 1998

GEORGETOWN – Not since the heyday of Lance Gibbs in the 1960s and the magical Indian quartet, Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan in the 1970s, can spin bowling be accurately said to have won a Test match in the West Indies.

Neither team can realistically expect it to now, especially since the West Indies have no Gibbs and England no Bedi or Prasanna.

Nevertheless, both are counting on what they have at their disposal to make a definite impact on what England captain Mike Atherton yesterday correctly described as the “key” Test of the series starting at Bourda this morning.

Their assessment is based on a pitch in the middle of a parched, dehydrated outfield that is bound to suck up any water in the vicinity. There has been no significant rain in Georgetown since September and forecasters gloomily predict there won’t be any for another three months.

Both West Indies team coach Malcolm Marshall and his former fast bowling colleague Michael Holding used the word “flaky” on examining it and, like almost everyone else, expect it to respond to spin before very long.

It will be up to Dinanath Ramnarine, the 22-year-old leg-spinner from Trinidad and Tobago, to exploit it for the West Indies in his debut Test and unpredictable left-arm spinner Phil Tufnell and, possibly, Robert Croft, an off-spinner with 28 wickets in his ten Tests, to do so for England.

The West Indies also have the underrated but experienced off-spin of Carl Hooper and the more speculative orthodox left-arm support of Jimmy Adams to call on, as captain Brian Lara did with some effect in both earlier Tests.

If Lara has to call on him here, everyone would have badly misread the conditions.

Tufnell, with 95 wickets in 31 Tests, knows what it is to win Tests on his own, as recently as the last Test of the Ashes series against Australia at the Oval last August when he had a match return of 12 wickets for 108.

But he has always been an enigma, Dr Jekyll one day, Mr Hyde the next, and has managed only two wickets for 135 runs from 79.2 overs in the back-to-back Tests on helpful pitches at the Queen's Park Oval.

Atherton dismissed Tufnell’s lack of wickets yesterday, stressing the pressure he had maintained on the West Indies batsmen that helped the faster bowlers, Angus Fraser especially, to make their inroads.

He, and others of his type, would be expected to achieve a bit more if the pitch behaves as it looks.

Both teams have so far depended heavily, almost exclusively, on their tall seam bowlers, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose for the West Indies, Fraser for England.

Whatever the conditions, they are likely to be at the fore again.

While the concentration is on the pitch, and the spin bowling, West Indies captain Brian Lara again stressed the obvious. His batsmen, he said again, need to put together totals of between 300 and 400 to ease the burden on the bowlers.

England have quickly dropped John Crawley, the batsmen who has yet to perform, replacing him with Mark Ramprakash who topscored with 77 in his first innings of the tour against Guyana on a spinners’ pitch last weekend.

Left-hander Mark Butcher, a specialist opener, will move up to No.3 from No.6 from where he guided England to their third Test victory. Ramprakash will go in at No.6.

Both teams abandoned the sub-standard pitch at Bourda yesterday and had lengthy and worthwhile practice sessions at other venues.

England were at the Everest Club, venue of their match against Guyana, and the West Indies at the Demerara Cricket Club.

Wicket-keeper David Williams was again missing, staying in bed with a hint of the flu. Vishal Nagamootoo, the little Guyanese, performed duties for him – as he will have to do this morning if Williams is still not up to it.

The teams:

West Indies (from): Brian Lara (captain), Sherwin Campbell, Stuart Williams, Carl Hooper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jimmy Adams, Roland Holder, David Williams, Ian Bishop, Curtly Ambrose, Nixon McLean, Courtney Walsh and Dinanath Ramnarine.

England (from):

Mike Atherton (captain), Alec Stewart, Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe, Mark Ramprakash, Andy Caddick, Robert Croft, Angus Fraser, Phil Tufnell.

Umpires: Steve Bucknor (West Indies), Darrell Hair (Australia).

Match referee: Barry Jarman.

Source: The Barbados Nation
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Date-stamped : 28 Feb1998 - 10:20