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Toss Winner Faces Tough Decision

by Tony Cozier

11 March 1998

THE captains face a familiar dilemma even before a ball is bowled at Kensington Oval in the fifth Cable & Wireless Test tomorrow morning.

Brian Lara and Mike Atherton would have examined the pitch and chosen their final elevens. Whoever wins the toss, must then decide whether to bat or bowl first.

That the pitch looks to be the first true one of the series will be of little consequence. Only at parched Bourda was it a foregone conclusion that the lucky skipper would be at an immediate advantage.

Even with Sabina's moonscape before him, Atherton followed his natural instincts to go in first and he and his batsmen underwent an hour's torture before the Test was abandoned.

When he called correctly in both Tests at unpredictable Queen's Park Oval, Atherton alternated his choices. He batted first time round and lost the match, he bowled the following week and won, but in neither case did the toss really matter.

Even history is not a reliable guide at Kensington.

In the 11 Tests since 1986, ten captains have gambled by sending the opposition in on winning the toss and lost.

Five times in that period the West Indian captain has won the toss. Only once did he choose to bat, against Australia in 1995. The West Indies, under Richie Richardson, were bowled out for 195 on the first day and were beaten by 10 wickets inside three.

Significantly, when they were defeated by England the previous year, their first loss at Kensington since 1935, Richardson decided to bowl.

Of the 11 relevant first innings totals, three have been over 400, three over 300, two over 250 and only three under 200 195 by New Zealand in 1996 and West Indies in 1995 and 149 by West Indies in 1991 when they went on to beat Australia by a whopping 343 runs runs.

If Lara follows the trend of West Indies captains (see accompanying statistics), he will send England in so that his fast bowlers can take advantage of the only assistance they are likely to get, when there is still a little preparation moisture in the surface.

Logically, the decision would be determined by the composition of the attack bowl if the final place goes to Nixon McLean or Ian Bishop, bat if it's Dinanath Ramnarine.

But Lara has already shown that he is not always guided by accepted principle.

The sight of the inviting conditions might well tempt him to let him and his batsmen, of whom Clayton Lambert, Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul have just come off President's Cup hundreds, to have a go.

Atherton's record with the toss indicates a definite preference for batting and he would have had detailed reports of Barbados' 472 for six declared after winning the toss and batting on a neighbouring pitch in the match that ended in a draw on Monday.

Source: The Barbados Nation
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Date-stamped : 11 Mar1998 - 18:23