Cricket: Day of drama sees Walsh come good despite baffling start

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The Independent Online
AS YET another of the many dramas that the Queen's Park Oval has provided for Test cricket over the years unfolded, West Indies tactics were baffling, intriguing and revealing.

Brian Lara's field settings on the third afternoon, and the lack of intensity of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh during that critical period, were utterly uncharacteristic of the West Indies.

With an hour and a half available and England requiring the highest total of the match to win, the understandable expectation was for Ambrose and partner to charge in with malice aforethought as they did so famously four years ago when England were blown away for their ignominious 46. Instead the field was spread from the first ball as if it had been the opening afternoon and the batting side was entrenched at 200 for 3.

Under no pressure Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart laid a match-winning foundation with their opening stand of 129.

The same situation persisted through yesterday morning's session. It reflected a strange self-doubt of a team that enjoyed a definite actual and psychological advantage. They had bowled England out for 145 only two days earlier and had completed their victory in the second Test only the previous Monday. England's spirit would have been lifted by this show of timidity.

It is an attitude that has frequently permeated West Indian ranks of late whenever pitches are as slow and unresponsive as this had become under the influence of the heavy roller between innings and once the early moisture had been drawn by three days of dry season heat.

It is a feature of Queen's Park that pitches get easier for batting as the match progresses. This surface has been very similar to that used in last year's drawn Test with India when the opener, Navjot Sidhu, ground out his 11-hours double hundred. The West Indies batted 131 overs in their second innings to comfortably save the match and only 16 wickets fell over the five days.

In such conditions the sameness of the West Indies attack is exposed. Kenny Benjamin and Nixon McLean were virtually redundant. A leg spinner, such as the Trinidadian Dinanath Ramnarine who bowled impressively against England in the territorial match, would have far more effective in association with the off-spinner Carl Hooper.

It was not until after lunch - with the match almost past the point of winning - that the West Indies showed a real sense of purpose and Lara indulged in the imaginative strategy on which his reputation as captain has been founded.

His alternate use of Ambrose and Walsh in one-over spells from the pavilion end meant he could use his two best bowlers at the same time while Hooper posed his particular problem at the opposite end.

The squeeze was back on England and the indefatigable Walsh, no stranger to such crises, suddenly started to make the ball jag away. Three times sharp leg cutters found the outside edge, accounting for Atherton and Stewart.

Stewart's was a particularly pleasing strike as, four balls earlier in the same over, Walsh had been mortified that Hooper should miss a straightforward catch at slip. When the edge was found again, the wicketkeeper, David Williams, made no mistake - and the West Indies were back in it. Just.