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Test 4: Bold promises over pitch fail to hold water

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

26 February 1998

PITCHES have been the recurring theme of the England tour so far and nothing will change when the fourth Test in an increasingly intriguing series begins tomorrow. Traditionally a batsman's paradise, the Bourda Oval looks more likely to be a friend to bowlers, especially spinners.

Former Test batsman Joe Solomon is officially in charge of the ground but he is away from the country on business and the president of the Guyana Cricket Board, Chetram Singh, has appointed Sherlock Attwell, president and former captain of the local Demerara Cricket Club, as overseer. If he remains firm in his intention to order no more watering, I shall be surprised if his confident assertion that ``this pitch will last seven days'' is not about three days wide of the mark.

Attwell, an engaging enthusiast who says he wants a surface which will give everyone some help, also supervised the pitch at Everest where the successful inaugural international match ended in a draw on Monday, despite a rapidly crumbling pitch on which Phil Tufnell and Robert Croft both took five wickets in the second innings. Croft was unwell yesterday, the latest victim of the heavy cold which has been sweeping the England ranks, but the tour selectors would be ill-advised not to find a way of including both their slow bowlers, even if it means a temporary reversion to Alec Stewart as wicketkeeper.

Wes Hall, chairman of the West Indies selectors, gave a strong indication when he announced his party of 13 that the intention was to play the young Trinidadian leg-spinner Dininath Ramnarine. Pragmatism will demand, too, that Carl Hooper's punishment for missing the Guyana v England match is no more than what a local official yesterday referred to as ``a slap on the hand''. Hooper's off-breaks are certain to be needed.

The guessing game continued in Georgetown's unaccustomed dry heat yesterday but the lack of natural water and the introduction of an eight-ton roller on a square which has traditionally made do with one weighing two tons makes a crumbling pitch a virtual certainty unless the imminent full moon and high tide, a combination which normally guarantees rain here, should intervene. It looks like being a very important toss to win. Richie Richardson surprised everyone here four years ago by fielding first but whoever gets the choice tomorow is bound to want to bat.

Despite reports to the contrary, the Test pitch has not been relaid. Harold Dhanraj, captain of Georgetown Cricket Club, who look after the square until it is handed over to the GCB for international occasions, assures me that the resurfacing work was limited to other parts of the square.

The new stand has miraculously acquired a roof in the last few days and at least two tiers of it will be usable by tomorrow, although no one can adequately explain why its construction has been left until the last moment. Tour operators who have bought seats for the largest contingent of supporters from England yet to see a Test in Guyana have not yet been told exactly where their clients will be seated; merely that they will get a good view.

The majority of British cricket watchers - as opposed to Radio Four listeners - will again have to be content with half-hour highlights late at night on BBC Television unless they subscribe to the live Sky coverage which is being so expertly produced for them by the independent company TWI. The times of the highlights have been to a large extent determined by the late finishes which extreme heat, the regular fall of wickets and the consequent slow over-rate have dictated.

Links to the highlights package are put together immediately after play finishes and beamed to the separate TWI production team who produce the programme on the BBC's behalf, but the BBC are not allowed by their contract to transmit any earlier than an hour after the close of play.

A BBC spokesman said yesterday that this had caused some scheduling difficulties - judging by the two Tests in Trinidad, play will end some 40 minutes after the scheduled closing time of 9.05pm (GMT) - but that viewing figures were averaging 1.5 million a day. Estimates of the audience for the tense final day of the third Test are 2.5 million and, begging Mr Attwell's pardon, it will be surprising if their enthusiasm is going to be dampened in the next few days by a batsman-dominated draw.

It is increasingly likely that viewers without a satellite dish will have to be satisfied with evening highlights from 1999, even for most home Tests. The England Cricket Board are confident that they have persuaded the Listing Committee currently looking into the delisting of some special sporting events that it is in the widest cricket interest that only the Lord's Test should remain exclusively the domain of terrestrial television.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 26 Feb1998 - 10:46