Windies out to wrap it up


Friday, March 20, 1998

``WE hope the icing on the cake will be a West Indies victory.''

Antigua's Director of Sports, Pat Whyte, presiding over the opening ceremony for the new Richie Richardson stand was delivering up the main course.

The expansive new structure, broad and panoramic like the former West Indies captain's own maroon floppy hat, was the toast of Antigua yesterday when it was officially opened in the presence of Prime Minister Lester Bird Jnr and Richardson. The public's appetite has been whetted.

And beginning this morning, the throngs who will pay their EC $70 to view the first day of this sixth and final Cable and Wireless Test from the new vantage point will be hoping to have their appetite for West Indian success fully satisfied. The question is however whether Brian Lara's West Indians can deliver the goods, and the series.

He was not there to witness it. But had he been Lara would have become more acutely aware of how past excellence has increased the burden of expectation on his team's shoulders.

``Cricket is a religion for young people. We have to see cricket as an essential part of this island,'' stated Prime Minister Bird before declaring Richardson ``a young man of class and character''.

Lara may not be Antiguan, but he now fills shoes formerly worn by an Antiguan hero.

And on this half-holiday, the ARG is expected to be amply populated to see how Richardson's predecessor, once removed, handles the West Indian ship of state.

But the captain comes into this game, struggling manfully to keep his team on course.

This eventful series against Mike Atherton's determined but limited England team has perhaps been too hard-fought for the liking of West Indian followers. And from selectoral decisions to performances on the field, the signs have been mixed, the results inconclusive.

Sixteen players have so far been shuffled around while the home side has eked out a 2-1 series lead.

And when play starts this morning, a 17th, wicketkeeper Junior Murray, would have been used.

However whether or not Murray, as surprised as many by his recall for this final Test as anyone, will be joined by Franklyn Rose is another murky matter. Strangely ignored so far in this series, the out-of-favour fast bowler may again find himself the odd man out. That fourth bowling spot vacated by lan Bishop could well go to leg-spinner Dinanath Ramnarine.

The failed pure-pace policy on a slow Kensington Oval pitch may force the selectors' hands.

The relaid ARG surface, part of the EC $3.2 million ground renovation project is not expected to cause the horrors that Sabina Park did. And as was the case in Barbados, steady batting should reap good reward.

Sound West Indian batting however, is the last thing Atherton would like to see at this stage. Only once, in the Guyana Test which his team lost, has the English skipper seen the home team score over 300 runs. And having watched the rain deny him a more than reasonable chance of victory in Barbados, Atherton will be hoping that both the weather and his team's tenacious spirit holds up.

Parity in this rubber will appease him.

But there may no consolation whatsoever if past West Indian history influences the present. There will be no English joy if the subdued Lara, Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul play in the spirit of Richi Rich.

Just a sweet West Indian feast.

Source: The Express (Trinidad)

Contributed by CricInfo Management, and reproduced with permission

Date-stamped : 20 Mar1998 - 19:11