Cricket: Fourth Test: Spinners ready for action in dry zone

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The Independent Online
NOT since the heyday of Lance Gibbs in the 1960s and the magical Indian quartet, Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkat, in the 1970s can spin bowling be accurately said to have won a Test match in the West Indies.

Neither team can realistically expect it now especially as the West Indies have no Gibbs and England no Bedi or Prasanna. Nevertheless, both are counting on what they have at their disposal to make an impact on a match likely to decide the series.

Their assessment has been based on a pitch in the middle of a parched, dehydrated outfield that is bound to suck up any water in the vicinity. There has been no significant rain in Georgetown since September and forecasters gloomily predict there will not be any for another three months.

El Nino has not only proved a bother to the rice and sugar farmers but also to groundsmen. Although there was still moisture a foot and a half down when the television crew dug its hole just behind the middle stump for the installation of camera and microphone on Thursday, the surface seems dry and is virtually grassless.

The West Indies team coach, Malcolm Marshall, used the word "flaky" on examining it and, like England, expected it to respond to spin before very long.

It will be up to a leg spinner in his very first Test, Dinanath Ramnarine to exploit it for the West Indies and the unpredictable Phil Tufnell and Robert Croft, who has had little work on tour, to do so for England.

The West Indies also have the underrated but experienced off-spin of Carl Hooper and the more speculative orthodox left- arm support of Jimmy Adams to call on.

In the circumstances the toss seemed critical and Brian Lara had no hesitation in choosing to bat after winning it. Yet, over the first session, he might have wondered what Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh would have made of it. Angus Fraser and Dean Headley found encouraging bounce and some pace, which they exploited.

The susceptible West Indies openers, Sherwin Campbell and Stuart Williams, seldom give the impression of permanency but to have removed them so early was a bonus for England. They know that if they can confine the West Indies to anything below 250 the toss will become meaningless, however the pitch behaves for the remainder of the match.