Ready to play at the Oval


Thursday, February 5, 1998

THERE will be no repeat of the Sabina Park debacle today when the Second Cable and Wireless Test match between the West Indies and England bowls off at the Queen's Park Oval from 10 a.m.

That was the promise of Bryan Davis, Queen's Park's chief cricketing administrator, on the eve of the match yesterday.

``The pitch is a lovely pitch. It has come out very nicely,'' Davis told the Express.

``The head groundsman (Curtis Roberts) has done a fantastic job on the pitch and it looks really good. It looks like a nice cricket wicket.''

Davis added that although they did not get the usual time to prepare the pitch due to the hasty readjustment to the series schedule by the West Indies Cricket Board, they expected the pitch to play as it always has.

``It looks like it's going to be a pretty slow wicket because we hardly ever get fast wickets here. But it certainly will do a little bit for the seamers and what a bowler puts into it ... he can get something out of the pitch,'' he revealed.

``The batsmen will like it as well. I think that maybe before lunch on the first day it will help the bowlers just a little bit more, that preparation moisture still being in it, the grass being fresh and green and the ball being brand new. But after lunch, with the sun beating down on the pitch, it will come out into a very nice batting surface.''

He revealed that the very dry weather conditions had also aided them to prepare a good wicket despite the short period of time they had.

Davis and the pitch crew, headed by Roberts, have been under immense pressure over the last couple days in the wake of the aborted First Test match in Jamaica. But the former West Indies batsman said this was uncalled for.

``From a cricketing point of view this is total nonsense because Jamaica would have a completely different set of preparations, completely different type of surface and type of material that is used for their pitch as compared to Trinidad,'' he explained.

``We have been staging Test matches here over so many years that I don't think there could be a problem here.''

He also expected the pitch to stand up for the full five days, saying confidently: ``Roberts says it could last more than a week. Of course, with the wear and tear of the pitch and no watering you will get the ball maybe turning a little bit more or one or two shooters coming down to the fourth and fifth day. But as far as playing well and not dangerously it will go through five days.''

As a result of the back-to-back matches at the Oval, the umpires have given the ground staff permission to roll the strip for the Third Test during the intervals in this match. They can also do light sprinkling after the day's play. So fans can expect two full Test matches.

Former Queen's Park ground administrator Claude Phillip also gave the pitch the thumbs up, agreeing essentially with Davis' comments.

``The groundsman has put in a lot of preparation and in the circumstances you couldn't get a better wicket than you have at present.''

However, he felt that the skipper winning the toss this morning should field, but that the pitch suited the English attack.

More: WI, England start over


HE and his team were out of the blocks early at Sabina Park before a dangerous pitch in the First Cable and Wireless Test match turned a good beginning into a false start.

But as West Indies captain Brian Lara leads his team into the Second Test today at the Queen's Park Oval, his 50th in Test cricket, he is doing so with the confidence fashioned from more than a successful half-century of Test cricket.

Lara feels his men now hold a psychological edge over Mike Atherton's England team. A week ago, England were reeling at 17 for three when the match was aborted. And the WI captain feels memories of Sabina still linger in the minds of the English.

``I'm sure that what happened in Jamaica would give us a slight advantage and have England thinking a bit more,'' said Lara yesterday morning.

Lara will now effectively start his career at the helm with back-to-back Tests at home. That he will also be appearing in his 50th Test may be the source of great public expectation. But yesterday the 28-year-old left-hander played down the 50th Test talk, stating that he plans to play many more matches at the highest level.

Of more concern to him may be the pitch on which his team will be trying to take the lead in this series.

But Lara noted that it resembles the ``normal Oval wicket'', which should ``seam around'' in the early stages and then ``settle down later on with some balls keeping low''.

With this in mind, Kenneth Benjamin, one of the most respected seamers in the Caribbean, could well return to the Test side after a year's absence.

However, he will likely have to vie with Ian Bishop and Franklyn Rose for the two fast bowling positions behind Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose.

With regards to the toss, expect England to bat first if Lara calls correctly. The captain pointed out that the team batting first in the last two years of Test cricket at the Oval have been dismissed very cheaply.

England got some valuable practice in their two-day match against Trinidad and Tobago earlier this week. But their attack looked lacklustre without the injured Darren Gough.

Fast bowlers Andy Caddick and Dean Headley will bear the brunt of the attack. But veteran Angus Fraser and off-spinner Robert Croft need to improve significantly on their performance at Guaracara Park to threaten the likes of Lara, Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chander-paul.

However, like their opponents, England have a very good batting side with John Crawley, Nasser Hussain, star batsman Graeme Thorpe, all-rounder Adam Hollioake and wicket-keeper Jack Russell expected to follow a world-class opening pair-Alec Stewart and skipper Michael Atherton.

England coach David Lloyd admitted that ``the absence of Gough is a big blow to us'', but he still expects the series to be a very competitive one. And Lloyd is pleased there will still be five Tests to contest.

Today has now effectively become the first day of the series.

And since the first day of a Test rubber usually sets the tone for what is to follow, both teams, especially the West Indies captain, will be aiming to make the best possible first impression. Play starts at 10.05 a.m.

Source: The Express (Trinidad)

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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:32