Uncertainty and injuries haunt Windies on eve of third Test
By Fazeer Mohammed
August 12, 2004
MANCHESTER, England, (CMC) - As if their opponents are not a formidable enough challenge, West Indies are now coping with injuries, illness, and attention-diverting events off the field that could have them struggling to stay focused for the third cricket Test against England beginning today.
Brian Lara, whose authority as captain must surely be undermined by the delay in naming a skipper for next month’s ICC Champions’ Trophy limited-overs series, is attempting to put a brave face on a deteriorating situation that threatens to leave the regional side relying on the vagaries of the weather rather than their own ability to avoid going 3-0 down in the four-match series.
The omission of long-standing wicketkeeper/batsman Ridley Jacobs and the recall of Barbadian captain and ’keeper/bat Courtney Browne for the limited-overs competition has fuelled speculation that Browne is to be handed the reins of leadership despite Lara having been involved in the selection of the 14-man party.
In leaving the announcement of the Champions’ Trophy skipper until 1 p.m. on the eve of the Test, the West Indies Cricket Board, whatever the decision, has once again displayed a deplorable sense of timing that could only be of benefit to an England team keen to go one better than the series in the Caribbean earlier this year and complete a first whitewash of their opponents since 1928.
Inevitably, Lara had to face up to the selection issues at the pre-match news conference, but insisted that the message has been sent loud and clear to the players where there focus should be.
“We have stressed to them that what is important now is the next two weeks,” said the captain, referring to this match at Old Trafford and the final Test starting in a week’s time at The Oval in London.
“We have tried to get everyone to remain focused. Even those guys who are going home after, they still have to remain focused. You need to be professional and understand that these things are going to happen because tours will almost be overlapping each other.”
Yet that was the limit of his comment on the matter as he refused to entertain questions on his leadership in light of the developing fiasco over the naming of the captain for the Champions’ Trophy squad.
“Could we stick to the Test Match, please?” Lara insisted twice when pressed on the issue, before eventually adding, “I’m here to do a job for the next two weeks which is Test cricket, two matches, and that is my main focus.
What happens after is going to come in due course.”
The tension over the matter was obvious, and with fast bowler Jermaine Lawson definitely ruled out with a side strain, Jacobs struggling with a knee injury, and Omari Banks still a bit under the weather after coming down with a flu virus in Derby over the weekend, there is much for team management to consider overnight.
Curiously, these ailments may actually ease some of the selectorial headaches with Fidel Edwards, Carlton Baugh, Jr., and Dave Mohammed poised to fill the respective gaps.
Edwards’ pace and hostility in a 10-wicket match haul against Derbyshire mandates his recall anyway, while Baugh’s unbeaten hundred and tidy glovework suggests that he is ready for the challenge, as is Mohammed, who should present an unusual challenge to England’s batsmen with his left-arm wrist-spin.
Sylvester Joseph’s 77 in the second innings at Derby underlined his consistency in the warm-up matches and it is felt that a place must be made for the uncapped Antiguan, whether opening the batting at the expense of Devon Smith or at number six with Dwayne Bravo pushed down the order to take on more bowling responsibilities as a frontline seamer.
In any event, either option will be a calculated gamble, not that it will matter too much to Michael Vaughan’s men, who believe only the unsettled Mancunian weather will deprive them of a ninth win in 10 consecutive Tests to equal the standard set by the England side under Mike Brearley in 1978-79.
With the ground left waterlogged on Monday and Tuesday, the hosts quickly dispensed with the services of Gareth Batty as a second spinner in support of the highly successful Ashley Giles, and now only need to decide on Simon Jones or James Anderson as the third frontline seamer.
Local knowledge suggests that the Welshman will be able to exploit the conditions better, although Anderson could be expected to find the extra spark playing on his home ground.
Gone are the days when the fans were drawn in their captivated thousands to see the all-conquering West Indies, as the man now pulling them in is another local hero, Andrew Flintoff.
His career-best 167 in the second Test at Burmingham prompted a surge in ticket sales that has resulted in complete sell-outs tomorrow and Saturday with a near full-house also anticipated on day one even with a forecast of prolonged showers.
Yet even with the city gripped in Flintoff-mania, Lara will inevitably attract considerable attention. He needs seven more runs to become the fourth player to accumulate 10 000 runs in Test cricket.
His record on this ground is impressive, totalling 357 runs (average 89.25) in just two Tests. In 1995, innings of 87 and 145 could not save the West Indies from defeat, but five years later a battling 123 in the second innings rescued a near hopeless position and ensured a draw.
As much as he insists on the importance of an all-round team effort, Lara must know that the burden of responsibility rests heavily again on his shoulders, even as other considerations threaten to deflect his focus.
ENGLAND (probable): Michael Vaughan (captain), Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Robert Key, Graham Thorpe, Andrew Flintoff, Geraint Jones, Ashley Giles, Matthew Hoggard, James Anderson, Steve Harmison.
WEST INDIES (probable): Brian Lara (captain), Chris Gayle, Devon Smith, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Sylvester Joseph, Carlton Baugh, Dwayne Bravo, Dave Mohammed, Corey Collymore, Fidel Edwards.