Better pitches will not hurt Orin Davidson's Eye on Sport
Stabroek News
February 24, 2002

Guyana will have to justify the well known expression " the race is not for the swiftest but for who can endure it to the end," if they are to win this year's Busta cricket competition and redeem themselves after stumbling at the final hurdle last year.

The 2001 runners-up are beginning to play catch up after crashing to two surprising outright losses in the first and second rounds. They eventually played to their full potential to defeat second round points leaders the Windward Islands in the third round and went on to brush aside Bangladesh `A' in the next round of matches.

Now, with the advantage of home play in their remaining three preliminary round games, including the current fixture against Trinidad and Tobago, and with the availability of Test players Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Guyana should coast into the semi-finals, even after starting the fifth round in fifth place.

Three obstacles though, stand between Guyana and their first ever Busta championship win. Initially they have to qualify for the last four Busta Shield playoffs, then win their semifinal match and then take the grand finale.

Current points leaders Jamaica seem a runaway certainty to secure the first semifinal place, as apart from compiling 39 points, they are left to play two of the weaker teams in the competition and Trinidad and Tobago. It means they are unlikely to be caught, barring miraculous results at the Botanic Gardens in Dominica, the new National Cricket Stadium in St Lucia or at Alpart in rural Jamaica.

Despite their seemingly irretrievable position, Guyana on 24 points, in reality, are only one outright win behind second place Trinidad and Tobago (33 points), over whom they have exerted a dominant position to push for an out right win after yesterday's play at Albion.

Guyana's next two games are against the unaccomplished West Indies `B' and the Leewards and with both games slated for the Land of Many Waters, it will be difficult seeing the home team not winning both outright or at least attaining 18 points, if they fall short of 24, from the final two rounds.

Trinidad and Tobago, in second place have tough assignments in their next two matches against the strong Jamaica and Windwards teams, with the game against the former side being away from home.

Third place Windwards, on 30 points are currently hard pressed to avoid an outright loss against the strong but unpredictable Leewards in Tortola and at best are not likely to earn more than first innings points (six) from Trinidad and Tobago who they play at Guaracara Park, even if they defeat Bangladesh `A' outright. Fourth place Leewards were only three points ahead of Guyana at the beginning of this fourth round and should not earn more than 12 from their last two matches against the hapless defending Cup champions Barbados, and as has been stated earlier, are not expected to get any at Albion from Guyana, given their susceptibility to spin, for which Guyana have become very strong with Hooper's return, to team up with Mahendra Nagamootoo and Neil McGarrell.

Should the remaining matches go true to form it looks like another Jamaica-Guyana final in Jamaica, who seem poised to top the preliminary competition and win the right to host the tournament's deciding game once again.

This development surely will not go down well with the Guyana fan support given the fact that Jamaica controversially were made hosts for last year's final. in addition to having all five Red Stripe Bowl finals held there since 1997.

Nevertheless the facilities at Sabina Park, can be considered the best for playing in the region. The pitch has been rated number one in terms of assistance to bowler and batsman, by South African captain Shaun Pollock and justifiably won the prize put at stake last year by the West Indies Cricket Board.

The same though, cannot be said for the Albion strip which according to reports is woefully slow and is proving to be a nightmare for batsmen and painful for fastbowlers.

In normal circumstances slow pitches are supposed to be advantageous for batsmen, but Albion's extreme benign state is effecting the reverse as making shots becomes a difficult skill against good spin bowling, resulting in wickets tumbling in bundles.

Teams unaccustomed to this type of pitch will perish as Trinidad and Tobago are discovering and as Bangladesh `A' did last week. The Guyana Cricket Board's decision to schedule two matches at Albion is justified from an economic perspective, but it is not so for player development.

Bourda, too, is not much different as its slowness was lamented by Bangladesh `A' officials and by both the West Indies and South Africa teams after last year's Test which ended in a draw despite five full days of play. The importance of proper facilities is now dawning on the GCC as they try to get over the stringent requirements made for hosting World Cup matches.

That list of requirements does not include having cricket friendly pitches that would help both batsman and bowler, but it is an unwritten rule which the more developed nations like Australia and South Africa, strive hard to adhere to.

The GCB thus, should start thinking of making greater efforts to have the worn pitches at Albion and Bourda replaced, or resurfaced before it is too late.