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England facing trial by leg spin as West Indies react to drought

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

25 February 1998

FOR 20 years now, the sight of a spinner in the West Indies team has been rarer than a woman in the pavilion at Lord's.

There was much interest, therefore, when it was announced yesterday that the West Indies selectors have reacted to the drought in Guyana and their failure to bowl out England in the fourth innings of the third Test by selecting an uncapped leg-spinner, Dininath Ramnarine, in the squad for the fourth match of the series starting in Georgetown on Friday. It is a clear indication of how the home side expects the Bourda pitch to play and virtual confirmation to England that they should have the courage to play both their own specialist spinners, Robert Croft and Phil Tufnell. England's official line is that no decision on that will be taken until the pitch has been assessed on Friday morning.

It was a day of rest for them yesterday, spent by some on an expedition up the Demerara River, after Croft and Tufnell's rapid demolition of Guyana's second innings in the match which ended in a draw on Monday.

The West Indies, whose side was chosen in Barbados on Monday night and announced yesterday, have left their batting line-up untouched but added Roland Holder, the only batsman to score a century against England on the tour so far - an outstanding 183 for West Indies A at Chedwin Park in Jamaica.

For the moment, his return to the squad - he was dropped to accommodate the return of Jimmy Adams after playing in the final Test in Pakistan - is likely to be no more than a warning to a group of batsmen who have failed to deliver recently. The West Indies have scored more than 220 only twice in their last five Tests.

As expected, Kenny Benjamin returns to the ranks - perhaps not to be seen again in Test cricket - after being chosen for the Trinidad Tests largely because his sort of skiddy seam bowling was expected to be more dangerous than the steeper bounce achieved by taller bowlers like Ambrose, Walsh, McLean, Rose and Dillon.

The latter failed to do enough in Trinidad's match against Jamaica last weekend to be restored to the squad and Rose, having been superseded by McLean despite a promising start to his Test career last year, has now been mysteriously omitted altogether from the squad of 13. Compared with the last one, he and Benjamin are omitted and Ramnarine and Holder substituted.

Shambolic may be the only word for much of the administration of West Indian cricket at present but they still know what they are doing, or at least trying to do, when it comes to making the most of their playing resources. Rawl Lewis was officially the first in line for selection if a spinner was to be picked against England but although he has good control for a wrist spinner, apart from bowling too many no-balls, he is a blander, more predictable bowler than Ramnarine.

This slim 22-year-old of Indian extraction has the advantage of having played under Brian Lara's leadership for Trinidad. Good judges in the Caribbean had already put him ahead of the other contender, Randendra Dhanraj, whose eight wickets at 74 runs each in his four Tests during the Richie Richardson-Courtney Walsh era hardly encouraged the selectors to break with their successful policy of playing four fast bowlers whatever the conditions.

Ramnarine could be good enough to break the mould, given England's relative weakness against wrist spin - witness Shane Warne and Mushtaq Ahmed in recent series against them -and his own considerable promise. He took 19 wickets - equal top with the left-arm fast Pedro Collins - in the recent West Indies A tour of South Africa and five for 72 for Trinidad against England in the two-day game at Guaracara Park.

Ramnarine was flattered a little, perhaps, by his figures at Guaracara because several England players got themselves out to give everyone a bat on one of the better pitches encountered so far. It is worth noting, however, that Croft's figures in the same match were two for 84 from 31 overs.

The West Indies board declined to make any comment about the fact that their vice-captain, Carl Hooper, chose not to play for Guyana, whose captain he is supposed to be, against England, preferring to rest in Trinidad, his new home. He apparently ignored the firm advice of the coach, Malcolm Marshall, that all the West Indies batsmen should play a game between the third and fourth Tests. The others did so, Jimmy Adams scoring a double hundred for Jamaica against Trinidad.

Hooper is, nonetheless, expected to be disciplined. He has still failed to expain why he refused to lead the West Indies when chosen to do so for the Hong Kong sixes last year. One possible explanation of Holder's selection is that the severest view will be taken of Hooper's apparent defiance of Marshall. If so, having played much in accordance with his form throughout his Test career in this series so far - three failures but also a sublime, match-winning 94 not out - it is conceivable that he might be dropped 'pour encourager les autres'.

Discipline rather than talent may turn out to be the difference between England and the West Indies when the Test series has run its course. Man for man, any selector would still include more West Indians than Englishmen in an eclectic XI for the two sides.

But while members of the West Indies board are considering whether to make an example of their new vice-captain, not much more than a month after his appointment, England's thorough approach to all aspects of their cricket has been exemplified this week by the one to one discussions which their consultant sports psychologist, Steve Bull, has been having with every member of the touring team.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 10:21