Barbados Test match with a difference

By Tony Cozier
Guyana Chronicle
March 29, 2001

SOUTH AFRICA start the third Test of the current Cable & Wireless Series against the West Indies at Kensington Oval today with evidence all around of the changes that have overtaken the home team in the nine years since they last met on the ground.

The 1992 Test was South Africa's first after the collapse of apartheid ended their banishment from world sport.

The West Indies had not lost a Test at Kensington since 1935 and had gone 12 years without losing a series.

They put out their usual quartet of fast bowlers and Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh dashed South Africa's hopes of a famous victory by dismantling the last eight wickets on the last day for 26 runs.

It was an astonishing triumph played out before stands emptied by a public boycott, protesting the omission from the West Indies team of the Barbadian, Andy Cummins, a run-of-the-mill fast bowler.

This time, South Africa have a 1-0 lead following their win by 69 runs in the second Test at the Queen's Park Oval eight days ago and Kensington no longer has its fortress reputation after England and Australia won there in 1994 and 1995.

The West Indies' record of invincibility has long since been shattered (since the 1992 match they have lost six of their seven Tests against South Africa) and their traditional fast bowling power-base has been so depleted that two wrist spinners, Dinanath

Ramnarine, and the left-handed Dave Mohammed, a 21-year-old in his first season, have been included in the squad of 13.

It is a significant departure from the conventional selection policy in Barbados, the breeding ground for a multitude of incomparable fast bowlers from Herman Griffith, George Francis and Manny Mantindale of the early days to Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Sylvester Clarke and Wayne Daniel of more recent vintage.

The public has now become so accustomed to the present plight of Barbados cricket, there has not been so much as a hint of a boycott, even though there is no Barbadian in the West Indies team for the first time after 36 Tests at Kensington.

It is a humbling first for an island that prides itself on its cricketing heritage but is assuaged for the majority of those who will pack the stands over the next few days by the presence of Carl Hooper, not only in the team but leading it.

There was an uproar over Hooper's appointment as skipper for a number of valid reasons but he will find no more passionate supporters and no warmer welcome than in Barbados.

His batting consistency and his thoughtful captaincy in the preceding two Tests have gone a long way to putting his unsettled past behind him and convincing the doubters that he is worthy of his promotion.

Even given their record of losing only one series at home in the past 27 years, the West Indies have been more competitive in the first two Tests than could be hoped for after their 5-0 thrashing in Australia.

Their present opponents are, after all, rated behind only Australia on whatever Test ratings you choose.

Yet the plain truth is that they are one down with three to go in the knowledge, as observed by coach Roger Harper, that the South Africans will get better the more they get used to Caribbean conditions.

The West Indies have done well so far to bowl South Africa out for 332 in the first Test and 286 and 287 in the second. In their six Tests in their recent home season, three each against New Zealand and Sri Lanka, South Africa's first innings totals were between 361 and 504 for seven declared.

After the collapses in England last summer (54, 157, 61, 125) and Australia subsequently (82, 124, 173, 141, 165, 109), successive totals of 304, 333 for seven declared and 342 have been encouraging for the West Indies.

It was heartening to see, for a change, the opposition in disarray as they were when Hooper and Ramnaresh Sarwan were upping the scoring rate on the fourth evening at Bourda and when Ridley Jacobs and Merv Dillon were adding 71 for the eighth wicket at the

Queen's Park Oval.

But, in the end, the batting again failed when it mattered most, all for 162 on the last day at Queen's Park and defeat.

Every recent captain, from Courtney Walsh, to Brian Lara, to Jimmy Adams, has bemoaned such inconsistency and the West Indies will continue to struggle against strong opponents until they overcome it.

No one, of late, has been more inconsistent than their best and most influential batsman, Brian Lara.

Since his break from the game and resignation from the captaincy last year, the brilliant left-hander has averaged half what he once did.

Kensington is the scene of his greatest achievement, the breathtaking, unbeaten, last day 153 that beat Australia two seasons ago. He has not played there since, missing last year's Test against Pakistan as he took his sabbatical.

A repetition, or even something approximating it, could be catalyst for another stirring victory. Or is that cock-eyed optimism?