By Scyld Berry
BARBADOS is the same size as the Isle of Wight. At the moment, in fact, Barbados could be the Isle of Wight as it is covered with English holidaymakers turning ruddy, while England's performance in the field was equally relaxed.
On the first of the three days of England's last practice match, supporters of the visiting side far outnumbered followers of the home team. Estimates of England cricket followers coming for the fifth Test vary between 8-10,000, which will leave Barbadians as the minority among ticket-holders: but resentment will be diminished if, as the prime minister Owen Arthur has urged, the match is broadcast on local television.
If Barbadian cricket followers turned up in small numbers yesterday, even though their team made some entertaining runs in the sun, it may have been because they did not fancy sitting in the present environment of Kensington Oval. Even in Barbados, which prides itself on being the most orderly of islands, there seems to be a compulsive need to turn a cricket ground into a building site on the eve of a Test match.
One quarter of the ground is littered with concrete and rubble; painters tied to ropes swung up and down the roofs of the stands. Some of the Barbadian batting was just as risky, but happily for them England's seam bowling was rusty long before tea Nasser Hussain, on his first-class debut as England's captain, had learnt how hard it is to look good when in command of an undistinguished attack.
At least Andy Caddick, certain to reclaim his place after the failure of the two finger-spinners plan, Ashley Cowan, looking for his first wicket of the tour, and Chris Silverwood were given a game. John Crawley was nothing but a sombre 12th man; little can he have realised when he turned for a second run off Carl Hooper's off-break in Port of Spain, to be run out by Kenny Benjamin, that his Test career was about to be suspended.
Phil Tufnell, another omission, has probably played his last game of the tour as well. Robert Croft was given this chance to experience the breeze which blows off the Caribbean and has more than a whispering say in Barbados Tests, and he was first to give his new captain a measure of control in the field.
Jack Russell, however, has not been dropped, and not surprisingly his wicketkeeping yesterday was far tidier as the ball came through at a predictable and decent height. He did modify his stance by facing a straightish mid-off when standing back, rather than making extra cover his Mecca as he has done. Off the seamers on this tour his main mistakes have been down the leg side, when he has had to twist his body more than 90 degrees. It was only through an eye defect that Bob Taylor adopted the stance of pointing towards mid-off.
Standing up to Croft, Russell again looked better on a pitch of relatively even bounce, and he had plenty of balls to take as the flamboyant left-hander Adrian Griffith went through his repertoire of air shots against the off-spinner. Standing up with his hands hanging loosely down, instead of the traditional posture of staying down, has not worked when the balls have kept low and scuttled like burrow-bound rabbits.
It was here, too, that Russell played what was nearly the innings of his life, when defying the West Indies for five hours on the last day of the 1990 Test, which culminated - as Curtly Ambrose was borne from the field - in a conga line of Barbadian middle-aged women and men parading and singing in praise and thanksgiving. For all his failures with the bat on this tour, Russell still averages 21.8 against the West Indies, which by a touch is more than Ian Botham did.
Russell participated in the first wicket to fall when a ball from Silverwood exploded from the surface at Sherwin Campbell and was gloved to the wicketkeeper.
It was the only ball in the first two sessions which did misbehave, yet it only takes one to alter the mindsets of the batsmen and the match, as the Guyana Test showed. If Kensington Oval has the finest pitch in the West Indies, it is not the proudest boast.
Campbell requires runs in his second innings as he has managed 79 so far in this series and appeared frail at the crease, pinned as he is within it.
The first two of his four boundaries yesterday were edges off Caddick between slips and gully. Only when Silverwood offered him the chance to square cut did Campbell brighten and then briefly.
England, who have to win this week if they are to take a major series at last, have the memory of their last Test here to warm them, but that victory has achieved a rather false status in their folklore.
The West Indies, 3-0 up, had won the series and hit away merrily on the last day instead of trying their hardest to save the game.
µ Fears that the sixth Test would have to be relocated from Antigua have been allayed.
While English eyes were on their match against Barbados, a few ears were turned to radio commentary from Antigua on the first cricket match to be staged at the Recreation Ground since it was entirely re-laid, and those reports were highly encouraging.
Day 2: Stewart leads stylish reply on run-laden batting strip
SUDDENLY cricket in the West Indies is a batsman's game again. For Roland Holder, who in five innings on England's two latest tours of the Caribbean has now scored 585 runs at an average of 117, it has never been anything else, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.
England's bowlers, by contrast, would cheerfully go back to some of the moth-eaten, drought-stricken pitches which have been standard for most of the tour.
Barbados kept them in the field (thanks to underground sprinklers and fertilisers, the greenest field yet seen at Kensington) until mid-afternoon on the second day of the game, which ends today.
Having declared at 472 for five, they then faced themselves the reality of what it means to bowl on the sort of pitch on which a batsman plays forward to a good-length ball and sees it disappearing past mid-off for four.
The resting Mike Atherton, the object of misplaced criticism for missing this match, will only need some luck against the new ball later this week to enjoy a Test pitch which is already marked out (even the creases) and looks perfect for batting.
His Test partner, Alec Stewart, and the latest No 3, Mark Butcher, relished the conditions and put on 117 for the first wicket in 23 overs, savouring the almost old-fashioned joy of batting against a non-swinging new ball on a pitch which can truly be relied upon.
Even allowing for this, England's bowling in 4.5 sessions was at best innocuous and sometimes very poor. Worse, the behaviour of their quickest bowler, Andrew Caddick, whose three wickets cost 119, became boorish and unpleasant under provocation, which was largely, although not entirely, in his own imagination.
England obviously felt that Barbados should have declared earlier and they had a point. Philo Wallace, captaining the home team and contributing a robust 68, would no doubt argue that on such a flat, true, easy-paced surface there was only one way that he could win the game: to make a seriously large total and hope that his bowlers would run through England twice.
In the event Stewart stroked 11 fours in a fifty off 49 balls with batting of the highest quality before he edged the lively Pedro Collins low to second slip. He had to be given out before he would walk. Butcher pressed on with assured front-foot striking until, playing back to the leg-spin of Terry Rollock, a waiter at the Grand Barbados Hotel, he was lbw shortly before the close.
Briefly Stewart upstaged Holder's third successive hundred against England touring teams. Holder is the epitome of a well-organised player, dead straight in defence, assured and light-footed against spin and quick to take scoring opportunities off either foot.
His cutting, forcing and pulling was clinical again yesterday once he and Ricky Hoyte had overcome such threat as there was from the shine still remaining on the second new ball. Holder will surely be picked for the fifth Test, either as an opener or at No 6.
Ashley Cowan, on the other hand, will return home to Essex in 10 days' time - one of at least seven players to do so before the one-day matches - without a wicket to his name all tour. In 67 overs, such is the meagre fare for those who do not make the Test team, his figures are none for 177. Chris Silverwood, after one good and one dreadful spell on Saturday, bowled the better of the two, and it was his fine pick-up and throw from a one-saving third man position which finally ran Holder out with a direct hit. He had hit 24 fours and batted for more than six hours.
Croft and Caddick both thought they had got his fifth-wicket partner out after lunch, but the umpires did not agree. The left-handed Hoyte, despite his name, is a son of a Test player, David Murray, and reputedly grandson of one of the greatest, Sir Everton Weekes.
There would have been no disinheritance yesterday, although the 64 runs Hoyte made were relatively laboured. He eventually drove to mid-off, paving the way for Ottis Gibson to smite two sixes and Rollock to add a third.
It must be of serious concern to them that two of Caddick's wickets in 30 overs of spirited bowling - whatever one might say about the futile hostility of his body language, he never stopped trying nor lost control - were gained through top-edged hooks to long leg.
His manager or coach ought to be telling him in unequivocal terms that hostile bowling, properly controlled, is good, but that his reaction to umpires and batsmen who resist him is too often unacceptably churlish.
Day 3: Old order changes as West Indies axe openers
THE West Indies selectors finally lost patience with their opening pair, Sherwin Campbell and Stuart Williams, yesterday, dropping them both. Into their places in an otherwise unchanged 13 for the fifth Test starting in Bridgetown on Thursday come the Barbados captain Philo Wallace and the 36-year-old Guyanese left-hander, Clayton Lambert.
Both are sure to play and both will be playing their second Test match after Campbell and Williams have played together in the last 14 Tests. Williams batted at three in one of them when Wallace, the brawny, hard-hitting right-hander, a Barbadian version of Phil Simmons, was given his only chance in the recent series in Pakistan. He found England's bowlers more to his liking in making 68 for Barbados on Saturday.
Aged 27, Philo Alphonso Wallace's birthplace is given in Wisden as Around-the-Town. He will be fun to watch if he gets going but the odds are against his becoming a long-term answer to the problem area of the West Indian team.
Lambert's only previous Test was against England at the Oval in 1991. A heavyweight left-hander with an open stance, he has been prolific for Guyana for more than a decade and cricketers in the north-eastern leagues of England know what a destructive striker he can be. His place was sealed, however, by a grafting hundred for Guyana at the weekend.
One by one, England's batsmen had a useful preparation for Thursday - in effect a net in the middle - before finding a way of getting out as the three-day game against Barbados ended in a pre-ordained draw yesterday. England were eventually bowled out, giving Ashley Cowan the chance to take his first wicket of the tour. Amidst much rejoicing he found Campbell's outside edge.
Somebody should most certainly have made a hundred on a pitch made for batting. There was an element, perhaps, of each of the batsmen who got himself thoroughly set not wishing to use up his runs before the biggest game of the tour.
Alec Stewart, admittedly, had belied that impression on Sunday by his initial refusal to walk for what seemed clear to everyone else was a perfectly legitimate slip catch, but yesterday Nasser Hussain, after 160 careful minutes, was caught at backward point, driving, and Graham Thorpe and Mark Ramprakash also got out in a way which they would strongly have regretted had this been a Test match.
Ramprakash had played with cool mastery again before pulling a big leg-break to mid-on. Like Hussain's, Thorpe's was a most workmanlike innings with few full-blooded shots but it ended disappointingly when he was caught off a thin leg glance the very ball after a similar stroke had only just evaded the wicket-keeper's grasp and sped away for his sixth four.
In each case labouring bowlers deserved some reward. Marlon Blagrove, lightly muscled for a West Indian, bowled fast-medium with a smooth action and all his heart. Ottis Gibson, strong as an ox, also gave it all he had. The most interesting bowler, however, was 35-year-old Winston Reid, who varied his left-arm orthodox cleverly and got sufficient turn to make England's watching strategists at least question whether they are right to be planning to play only one spinner in the Test.
Reid would make some Lancashire League club a reliable cheap investment. Bald, and built like a fast bowler, he delivers after two paces with excellent control and in the days of wetter summers and uncovered club pitches he would have taken a hatful every weekend.
Ramprakash and Hollioake certainly found Reid and Terry Rollock, the leg-spinning waiter, rather less straightforward a proposition than the seamers during their partnership of 65, in which the captain of Middlesex made barely a false move and the captain of Surrey batted with his usual uncomplicated aggression before charging Reid and missing.
If in Hollioake's case this was only a rather useful preparation for the one-day matches it is a pity. It is more a run-out not of his own making and the untimely back injury in Trinidad rather than any failure on the field which has lost him the chance to establish himself as England's number six.
Whilst the game proceeded to its inevitable conclusion there was much activity on the sidelines as everything builds towards the major event of the entire tour, the Bridgetown Test.
David Graveney joined the bandwagon again yesterday in advance of the group of one-day specialists who are flying to Antigua next week. They will be his particular responsibility until they become part of the official team for the five internationals with which the tour concludes. The chairman of selectors was unwilling to speculate on Mike Atherton's role in the one-dayers, knowing both the captain's strength under pressure and that it is the next two Tests which will decide his future. For the moment, he reported, the captain is ``very upbeat, very relaxed.''