Campbell proves a worthy successor

The West Indies have solved half of their opening problem. Tony Cozier reports
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The Independent Online
If their defeat in the second Test at Lord's was difficult for the West Indies to take - it was, after all, their first on the ground since 1957 - there was distinct consolation in the performance of the smallest, youngest and greenest player on the team.

Sherwin Campbell's resolute batting in holding the innings together on the final day was further evidence that, after just five Tests, the 5ft 4in 23-year-old Barbadian opener had solved one half of a problem plaguing the West Indies since they split up the Gordon Greenidge-Desmond Haynes first-wicket combination four years ago.

While one after the other of his more celebrated colleagues came and went, Campbell stood firm for just over five hours, until with seven wickets down, the match all but lost and a deserved 100 in his sights, he was out to a rare slack stroke.

Ever since Greenidge played his last Test, the West Indies have searched in vain for a settled pair to start their innings. They have used six separate combinations and only once in the subsequent 26 Tests have they managed to put on more than 100. Campbell's consistency and adaptability have been an overdue bonus.

His Lord's 93 was his fourth half-century in eight Test innings. It was as solid and vital as his first, 51 spread over 165 minutes against New Zealand in Christchurch in February. His other two have shown his other side as a scintillating stroke player who blazed 11 fours and two sixes in 88 minutes in Wellington in the same series and nine fours in 69 at Leeds in this current one.

As a boy, he watched carefully as fellow Barbadians, Greenidge and Haynes, fashioned their partnerships at Kensington Oval. He was encouraged and coached by his cricket-mad father Lester and attended two schools with celebrated cricketing old boys. Malcolm Marshall had gone through Pine Primary and young Campbell followed his path as captain of the under-11 team. Carlisle Best made his mark at Ellerslie Secondary before going on to play 10 Tests.

Campbell was in the same Ellerslie team as two others who would eventually share West Indies honours, the opener Philo Wallace and the fast bowler Ottis Gibson, who made his debut at Lord's. For threequarters of an hour on the final day, West Indies' hopes rested with Ellerslie's old boys.

Throughout his Lord's vigil Campbell would have had the repeated advice of his coach of his formative years, the former Barbados fast bowler Othneil Downes ringing in his ears. "He would always tell me that batting was about staying in and making them work for your wicket and he still does whenever he sees me," he said.

"We had to go out there to win the game and I knew the pitch that last day would be a bit difficult. So I put it in my mind to bat as long as possible, to be more patient than usual, to play straight and to choose the right ball to hit."

Campbell's potential in Barbados school cricket was confirmed by his five centuries and more than 1,000 runs in 10 matches in the West Indies youth championship. He captained the West Indies youth team in 1991 against the touring Australians - who included Jason Gallian, an opponent in the England team at Edgbaston tomorrow - and came into the Barbados senior side that year, at No 3 between the Greenidge-Haynes pairing and Best at No 4.

But it took him three seasons to make the jump from junior level, losing his place in the Barbados team in the interim. "It was mainly a lack of confidence," he recalled. "I wasn't positive enough."

The transformation came through advice from friends who told him to go out and bat as he did for his club. Picked only for the final match of the 1993 season, he did just that and took his maiden first-class hundred off Trinidad and Tobago. The following year he accumulated three more in the five Red Stripe Cup matches, his 141 against a Leeward Islands team including Curtly Ambrose and the two Benjamins sufficient to gain his selection on the subsequent tours of India and New Zealand once Haynes opted out.

Yet his place was not settled even after his impressive start in New Zealand. He was dropped after failing in both innings of the first Test against Australia in front of his home crowd.

"There was a lot of pressure on me with everyone wanting me to do well and telling me to do this and to do that," he said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself as well, thinking I had to please this one and that one."

But he wasn't depressed by the selectors' decision. "I was disappointed in myself for not scoring enough runs but these things happen in life and I told myself they happen for the best. The thing is to look forward to the next opportunity you get and make the best use of it."

His next opportunity was the England tour and he has made the best use of it.

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