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Tony Cozier's Preview For Sharjah Final

by Tony Cozier

December 19 1997

The West Indies enter the last match of a catastrophic tour here today in the knowledge that it offers them a chance of salvaging at least some of the reputation so devastated during their six weeks in Pakistan.

It is ironic that it should be in the final of the Akai-Singer Champions Trophy, and significant that the opponents should be England. It is a tournament the Board regarded as of secondary importance, turning down the selectors request to adjust the team for the specific task of the limited-overs game. England, if not the same squad here, see it as an opportunity for one upsmanship prior to their tour of the West Indies which starts next month.

The players, with the notable exception of Sherwin Campbell, also seemed to recognise no difference between the two forms of the game. If anything the batsmen have treated this tournament with more care and attention than they did the Tests in Pakistan.

Stuart Williams, who has been outstanding here, has twice batted longer for his 77 against Pakistan and unbeaten 105 against Indian then he managed in all six innings in the Tests in Pakistan. Carl Hoopers disciplined even 100 against England occupied 45 more balls than his shot-filled 106 from 90 balls in a losing causing in the Karachi Test.

There has clearly been a transformation in spirit and attitude out of Pakistan where the three overwhelming Test defeats had been preceded by losses in all three one-day internationals in the quadrangular Golden Jubilee tournament.

The fielding, universally condemned as slip-shod there, has been sharp here. There has been a marked reduction, if not complete, elimination of no-balls, and strategy has been thoughtfully devised and impeccably implemented.

It has involved principally the use of the limited spin reserves on dry pitches, used every other day, that have encouraged turn. Rawl Lewis whose self-confidence could-have been shattered by his wicketless introduction into Test cricket in Peshawar and his subsequent dropping, has effectively executed the plan, restricting the opposition middle order in each of the three matches.

The ground staff has had two free days to water and better prepare the surface for the final and the West Indies may find Lewis, Carl Hooper and Shivanarine Chanderpaul less imposing that they previously were. But they will still be expected to be key figures in captain Courtney Walshs permutations.

If Williams and Hooper have been the only consistent scorers and the tail is so lengthy the top-order can never dare relax, potentially the most potent match-winner remains Brian Lara.

He has endured a lean time throughout the tour. His 88 in the opening match here against Pakistan is his highest in his 12 innings in Tests and one-day internationals and, as was most noticeably the case in Tuesdays against India, concentration seems difficult.

Sharjah has previously been an especially happy hunting ground where he still has the highest and second highest scores recorded. For team and self, he will be desperate to deliver in such a crucial contest.

Philo Wallaces uncertain form has prompted a change in the eleven, Roland Holder replacing him to bat No.6 and Shivnarine Chanderpaul rejoining Williams to open. The temptation to include Campbell, who is patently averse to the shortened game, has been resisted.

England, with a revamped team picked specifically packed with all-rounders and under a new captain, Adam Hollioake, have been the surprise of the tournament. They have won all their round-robin matches simply by adhering to the basic requirements of one-day cricket.

``We are trying to develop a clear strategy to take us all the way to the World Cup (in England in 1999), Hollioake said. ``This involves not so much a number of revolutionary ideas but doing the simple things well.''

These, he explained, are bowling at middle-stump, instead of just outside off, setting straight fields to cover batsmen hitting down the ground and 'throwing in a variety of slower balls.

Their seemingly up-and-down medium-pacers have limited scores to 243 by India, 197 for seven by West Indies and 207 by Pakistan. Supported by keen fielding and strong throwing, this has been their strength.

They have used only one spinner so far, the off-spinner Robert Croft, but are thinking of including a second, the orthodox left-armer Ashley Giles, today to exploit the favourable conditions.

Although it will be a significantly changed team that will meet the West Indies in the Tests in the Caribbean, England realise it would still be a neat psychological point to win.

For the West Indies, it would be even more than that. The US$40 000 champions prize would simply be a welcome bonus.

Source: The Barbados Nation
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:24