Preview: Will ARG Produce a Run Feast?
Thu, May 9, '02
The stage is now set for the next test match of the series, at
the Antigua Recreation Ground in St. John's, Antigua. Both teams
should be looking forward to this encounter, since they would
justifiably feel that the series has been evenly balanced so far.
With batsmen from both sides, especially the West Indies, coming
into their own, the smart money is on a high scoring encounter.
West Indies will be without Stuart Williams, who has had the misfortune of missing a home Test after forcing his way into the West Indies team. Williams looked good in one inning, but extremely shaky in his other three. He would still be in contention for a place in the one-day squad. His place in the test team will be taken by Wavell Hinds, who is certain to play. The right-left combination of Williams and Gayle would have forced the Indian bowlers to constantly adjust their line. This would have been especially so if Williams and Gayle had been involved in a long partnership, which never did happen so far.
On the other hand, Hinds and Gayle are both rather attacking
left handers. Srinath for one, will relish bowling to this pair
since his stock ball pitches in line with the stumps and leaves the
left hander. On the other hand, the combination of two left handers
will work against both Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan, both of whom
would probably prefer to use the angle against the right hander.
Wavell Hinds and Chris Gayle have played together for Jamaica, and
are about the same age. Both are talented strokeplayers, and are
playing for a permanent place in the West Indies team. So the West
Indies could expect to see some healthy competition between them.
Sarwan, who has gone 20 tests without a century inspite of crossing fifty on eleven occasions, should really be looking for a century in this test. Along with the fact that the wicket in Antigua traditionally assists batsmen, this Test is also likely to be less high-pressure than the one in Jamaica, which could decide the series, even if one team wins in Antigua. The West Indies may be thinking in terms of asking Sarwan to open, but this would be an unwise move for several reasons. First, Sarwan looks very much at home in his one-down position. Secondly, Wavell Hinds has opened before, and having forced his way into the squad, the onus should be on him to take his opportunity and score big, no matter at what batting position.
Lara, Hooper and Chanderpaul look extremely settled. Lara will no doubt have fond memories of this ground, both for his record breaking feat here in 1994, and for his sizzling century against Australia in 1999. Hooper already has his best ever aggregate in this series and should be looking to build on that. Chanderpaul has been consistent as always, but of the 28 times he has crossed fifty, he has gone on to make a century only on four occasions. His century in the last Test was an invaluable effort, and West Indies will be looking for more of the same from him.
Ridley Jacobs replaced Murray for the Barbados Test and promptly matched Murray by scoring a duck. He did a fine job with the gloves, but Murray did not do badly either. So the pressure will be on Ridley to score runs and ensure that the tail does not start with the wicket-keeper, something impossible to justify in today's international cricket.
Dillon and Cuffy are certain to play. After his man-of-the-match performance in Barbados, all eyes are on Dillon. He bowled with purpose and aggression and was probably the difference between the two sides in Barbados. The surface at the ARG won't be as helpful, but Dillon should still take wickets. Cuffy, at one point, bowled 18 overs for 3 runs in Barbados, and the pressure he applied on one end resulted in wickets falling at the other.
Sanford is also a likely choice to play, also because he is playing on his home ground. He shows good promise, and when he runs in faster and uses his left arm, will prove to be a much more dangerous bowler. To be fair to him, none of the pitches have been that supportive of his style of bowling so far, except for the Barbados pitch on the first day. If the West Indies' expect to rely on pace for the future, the pitches should be the first thing on the minds of the administration.
Pedro Collins did not bowl badly in Barbados, but he took his time to come around the wicket and in the meantime, Wasim Jaffer played some astonishing backfoot shots with the angle to ruin his bowling figures. Once Collins got into his groove, he bowled rather well and caused some bother to the Indian batsmen with the delivery that was angled in and left the right hander after pitching. Whether or not Collins will be retained will depend on the pitch. Ramnarine is tipped to play, but the Indian batsmen are expert players of spin and this would be a brave decision on the part of the West Indies' management, inspite of the fact that Ramnarine did so well in the tour game against the Indians.
The Indian team may have solved the problem of the opening pair for the time being. Jaffer looked very good in Barbados, and looked like taking the game away from the West Indies till he was run out. Geoff Boycott, who should know an opening batsman when he sees one, pointed out that Jaffer looked so very good on the backfoot, which is rather unusual for batsmen from the subcontinent, who play so much on the front foot because of the lower bounce on the pitches there. Das is a trier and his stint in the second innings of the Barbados test must have induced doubts in the minds of the Indian team management, in case they were thinking of removing him after his first ball duck in the first innings.
The middle order of Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman is world-class, as Hooper has emphasised in each interview he has given on this tour. With this being probably the best batting surface in the West Indies, Tendulkar should be looking for a big score. Laxman has scored in almost every innings so far, but Cuffy and Dillon will surely take note of the fact that he has twice inside-edged deliveries into his stumps in the series so far. The tendency to play away from the body remains Laxman's weakness. As with many batsmen's "weaknesses", such shots are also a source of many of his runs square on the offside.
There is talk that Kumble will play in place of Harbhajan, which the West Indies may not mind for several reasons. For one thing, Kumble did not trouble Wavell Hinds and company in the game against the Busta XI. Secondly, Harbhajan has looked good when he has flighted the ball. With the plethora of left handers in the West Indian team, Harbhajan's turn away from the bat will need more careful watching than Kumble. With his experience, though, Kumble can never be underestimated. If the wicket has unpredictable bounce or wears as the match progresses, he will be very dangerous.
The Indian seam attack should not see any changes. Srinath is the spearhead. Both Nehra and Zaheer have bowled well, and Zaheer has done his chances no harm at all with that attacking innings in the second test. Unless the Indian think tank goes with the very unlikely option of playing both Harbhajan and Kumble, both Zaheer and Nehra should play.
There is talk that Dasgupta will replace Ratra, but this could potentially damage the Indian cause. A batsman like Lara or Hooper needs only one miss to make the fielding side pay heavily. Whatever runs Dasgupta is likely to add to the total are not likely to be worth the risk of playing a less-than-solid keeper.
On now to the Antigua Recreation Ground, St. John's, Antigua, home of Viv Richards, Andy Roberts, Richie Richardson and Curtley Ambrose.
* Venky Maly is a special correspondent for CaribbeanCricket.com. His daily match reports and analysis will be appearing throughout the remainder of the series.