Both Windies and England seek sparkle
By Jonathan Agnew
March 2, 2004
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Cricketers these days really have no chance to rediscover lost form - England, for example, have just six days cricket here before playing two back-to-back Tests and there is then only one more three-day game before the remaining two Tests.
Coaches are reluctant to play anything other than their likely Test team in the early games, and then rest those same players between the Tests.
So if you are an important member of the side, but out of touch halfway through the series, you might not have the chance of any confidence-boosting practice.
It is the modern dilemma, driven by any number of factors.
The players and travelling media all want to spend less time away from wives and families.
The administrators want to cut down the costs of lengthy tours and condense the Test matches. It is no wonder that the preparation is being squeezed so dramatically and, one day, I can't help but feel that the players will object.
But that's the way it is now, and why this series is too close to call in advance. The two teams are equally matched in terms of personnel, but also in their weak bowling.
What West Indian supporters of 20 years ago would have made of this attack, I dread to think.
The fact is that this combined attack would not have played for a first class team then, and probably not even a second.
Mind you, the West Indies of the 1980s were rather special!
It is in series like this where the special talent stands out.
Brian Lara is capable of winning the series by himself. So is Michael Vaughan.
Most likely, though, is that the batsmen of both sides will take advantage of the depleted bowling attacks and mount totals which are large enough to place the team batting last on a wearing, uneven pitch at a disadvantage.
That will be the game plan of both teams.
However, there is a glimmer of hope for both teams and the possibility of some unpredictable excitement for spectators.
Simon Jones, who arrived here yesterday, represents the cavalry for England.
Fast, hostile, enthusiastic, erratic, unpredictable and injury-prone, it is clearly expecting a great deal for Jones simply to step up to this level and make a difference.
However, he could. So could the fiery Jermaine Lawson who burst so spectacularly onto the West Indian team only to be called - quite rightly - for chucking.
He has not played since May, but is in the squad facing England presently.
That game, against a Jamaican X1, has already been given some much-needed bite as a result.
Fast bowlers do that, which is why both teams will be desperately hoping that their wild cards develop into their trumps over the next two months.