Cricket: Pakistan reach agreement to continue tour: First Test against West Indies is put back a day to give tourists time to prepare and recover from 'depression' over drugs affair in Grenada

THE Test series between Pakistan and the West Indies that, in the course of a few days, degenerated from an eagerly anticipated contest of exciting possibilities into one of doubt and controversy, will proceed after all. The first Test here has been put back 24 hours until tomorrow to allow the Pakistanis additional time to prepare and will now run for five successive days. The second Test in Barbados from 23 to 28 April and the third in Antigua from 1 to 6 May remain as scheduled.

A breakfast meeting yesterday between the Pakistan manager, Khalid Mahmood, and the captain, Wasim Akram, and officials of the West Indies Cricket Board of Control, headed by the executive secretary, Stephen Camacho, ended with an agreement that the tour would continue.

It had been in doubt since Friday following the arrest of Wasim, Waqar Younis, Aqib Javed and Mushtaq Ahmed in Grenada on charges of 'constructive possession' of marijuana that were later dropped. Mahmood has repeatedly asserted the incident jeopardised the remainder of the tour since his players were 'depressed and upset' and wanted to return home.

However intense the Pakistani feeling, the stark reality of the repercussions of cutting things short must have swayed their decision in the end.

Pakistan won the right to stage the 1996 World Cup, along with India and Sri Lanka, at the International Cricket Council meeting in January and would have been conscious of the effects a premature withdrawal here would have had on future relations with the West Indies and probably other ICC members.

In addition, the Pakistan board might well have found itself facing a hefty suit for breach of contract. An abandonment would have left the West Indies responsible for dollars 700,000 ( pounds 464,000) loss in gate receipts and television rights for coverage that will also be carried live in Pakistan.

Wasim put a brave face on the decision after the meeting which also agreed to a Pakistani request for increased security for their team and an acknowledgement of regret for the drugs incident from the West Indies Board.

'We are going to play, definitely' he said. 'We are tough cricketers. We can come back any time.'

But if Mahmood's assessment of their mood, constantly repeated over the last few days, is to be taken at face value, Pakistan enter the Test at a considerable disadvantage.

It would, he said on Tuesday, 'be asking too much of the players to give their 100 per cent under the circumstances.' He claimed that the majority felt there was no reason for them 'to be staying any longer in the Caribbean and to be playing cricket in a despondent mood'.

A less charitable, if not necessarily less realistic, interpretation of the manager's mouthings would be that they are part of a clever psychological ploy that prepares for any eventuality while encouraging West Indian complacency.

Should Pakistan play badly, there is a ready-made excuse. Should they do well in a series widely regarded as the unofficial championship of the world, they would be seen to have lifted themselves above adversity.

Mahmood was not discreet in his reaction to the players' plight in Grenada, accusing the police of framing the charges and publicity-seeking, and claiming his men had been shabbily treated. Judging by radio call-in programmes, such comments have angered the public, and the Pakistanis, usually immensely popular here, can anticipate a less welcoming reception than they received in the one-day series.

Results then emphasised how evenly matched the two teams are. After the West Indies won the first two matches comfortably, Pakistan recovered to level 2-2 before the final produced a last-ball tie.

A similarly gripping contest in this opening Test, not out of the question on a pitch lacking in bounce, which should suit Pakistan more than the West Indies, would quickly erase the disturbing memories of the past few days. The sooner the better.