In last year's equivalent involving Pakistan, 17 wickets disappeared on the first day, and the West Indies eventually won with a couple of days to spare. The Queen's Park Oval traditionally offers sideways movement, uneven bounce, and spin, which in theory gives England their best chance of a victory in the series, but as their bowlers are currently operating via the blunderbuss rather than the sniper's rifle, it now represents more of an opportunity for the opposition to steamroller their way to a couple of extra days off.
'It would be a good toss to win,' Keith Fletcher, the team manager, said yesterday, before recalling that the same was true of the fourth one-day international here when England put the West Indies in to bat in bowler-friendly conditions. 'We bowled crap,' he said, before adding, after a sigh, 'to put it mildly.'
Privately, Fletcher would probably settle for England bowling crap again when the third Test gets under way today, as on current form, that would almost qualify as a vast improvement. Devon Malcolm was not considered because he is short of match fitness although as Alan Igglesden discovered in the last Test, and Andrew Caddick has here, not having bowled is sometimes the best way to get into this side. Caddick for Igglesden is the one change to the Guyana 12.
England will almost certainly go in with the same balance as they had in Georgetown, three seamers plus Ian Salisbury, and as Fletcher and Mike Atherton went through the permutations last night, the most useful selectorial accessory might well have been a box of Kleenex. In terms of choice, Fletcher doubtless feels like a man on Death Row. 'Would you prefer the electric chair, or a lethal injection?'
There was no consideration given to omitting Jack Russell, despite his indifferent form behind the stumps, and there were probably two reasons for this. Firstly, it is no coincidence that Alec Stewart is batting so well knowing that he is in a fixed, specialised position, rather than a bits and pieces man yo-yoing up and down the order, and secondly, the selectors may have decided that it is better to have only four people bowling badly rather than five.
Fletcher gave the standard comment yesterday about going into each game 'trying to win', although there is now a case for simply attempting to avoid the humiliation of a 5-0 whitewash.
There was a belief before this series that England's attack might be at least the equal of the opposition's, although this has proved to be so far removed from actuality as to be embarrassing. Despite England's suspicion that Courtney Walsh occasionally bends his elbow as well as his back, Walsh is a long way from being over the hill, and Kenneth Benjamin has surprised many people by taking 15 wickets in the first two Tests.
However, not only have bowlers like Benjamin bowled straighter than England's, but also they have the natural strength to hit the pitch harder and accentuate any uneven bounce. Angus Fraser apart, an Englishman who had bowled non-stop for two hours in intense heat on the final morning in Georgetown - as did the 31- year-old Walsh - would probably have been a stretcher case.
Given their deflated and weary state, back-to-back Test matches are the last thing England would have wanted, and although they can take some sort of encouragement from the fact that they have twice manoeuvred themselves into good positions before squandering them in both Tests so far, they go into today's game with a morale deflating record of 11 defeats in their last 13 Tests.
Their best chance of a draw, in fact, might lie in the West Indian selection rather than their own - in that if the Trinidadian, Phil Simmons, is not recalled, the home supporters might just decide to set fire to the stadium.
ENGLAND 12: M A Atherton (capt), A J Stewart, M R Ramprakash, R A Smith, G A Hick, G P Thorpe, R C Russell (wkt), C C Lewis, I D K Salisbury, A R Caddick, A R C Fraser, P C R Tufnell.
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