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Back-To-Back Tests A Challenge

The Nation

February 4-1998

THE prospects of two Tests within three days of each other on what Queen's Park Oval ground manager Bryan Davis expects to be ``slow, low pitches'' will pose questions both England and the West Indies would rather not have had to answer so early in the series.

They will be more pressing for the West Indies.

The first is, how will the fast bowlers stand up to the physical demands of tough, back-to-back matches, especially those aged 34 and 35, namely Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh?

As a corollary, wouldn't the introduction of a spry, young replacement be advisable second time round?

England will have the same doubt about Angus Fraser, their experienced 32-year-old fast-medium seamer now on his third West Indies tour.

The second poser is whether the scuffing that is inevitable on the adjacent pitch for the second of the two Tests will be enough to favour spin?

In other words, will the West Indies be inclined to abandon what seems their obligatory policy of pure pace and bring in either Dinanath Ramnarine or Rawl Lewis and will England supplement the orthodox left-armer Phil Tufnell with the flighted off-breaks of Robert Croft?

With only those 10.1 frenetic overs at Sabina Park last Thursday between them in the past 12 days, Ambrose and Walsh can start the second Test tomorrow fresh.

But a hard grind in the Port-of-Spain heat, such as they had against India last year, will sap their energy and test their aging muscles prior to the third Test at the same venue, starting Friday week.

As the opener Navjot Singh Sidhu dug in for Test cricket's second longest double hundred, spanning 11 1/4 hours, last season, the West Indies had to labour 183.4 overs to dismiss India.

The exertion took its toll. The next weekend, Walsh strained a hamstring muscle and had to miss the next Test in Barbados, the first time he had been forced to opt out of a Test through injury.

Just over a month earlier, Walsh felt the effects of 37.3 overs in Adelaide's fierce heat in Australia's only innings of the fourth Test and, within a few days, damaged his hamstring in the next Test in Perth.

It restricted him to nine overs in Australia's first innings and only courage, cracked pitch and the prospect of victory brought him back for 20 overs at reduced pace in the second innings. He took five for 74 and the West Indies duly completed their consolation.

In Pakistan late last year, Walsh plugged away for 101.1 overs in the three, tightly-packed Tests without flagging, securing 14 wickets in the process. As he enters his 98th Test, he remains a physical marvel but hot sun, hard outfields, slow pitches and 35-year-old fast bowlers don't go together.

Ambrose's back went on him midway through the Pakistan tour and, while there have been no repercussions in his four matches so far this season, he has bowled an average of only 10.3 overs an innings. It will now be put to the test.

Since Ian Bishop, Kenny Benjamin and Nixon McLean have been all too familiar with X-rays, ultra-sounds and needles, it is a time for finger-crossing for the West Indies and for Franklyn Rose, Reon King and other young men of speed to be at the ready.

Rose, of course, is again among the six picked. By every known criterion, he should not have to be wondering whether he will be in the starting eleven, as he wasn't at Sabina, even on Merv Dillon's late withdrawal.

He was the most effective of the fast bowlers against India in his debut season and, as one for the future, is wasted in the dressing room while others on the wrong side of 30 are recycled.

Now his strength and stamina are strong recommendations for his inclusion during the next two, tough weeks.

Source: The Barbados Nation
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:18