Cricket: Scant joy for the querulous Bajan boys

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The Independent Online
THE West Indies find themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to bat to protect their proud record of not losing a Test at Kensington Oval for nearly six decades.

We have to go back almost six years and 36 Tests, to The Oval in Kennington in the 1988 series, to find them rising to a second-innings challenge with the bat. Then Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes started their quest for 226 with an opening partnership of 131 and they got home by eight wickets.

They have endured only six defeats in the interim and the last three have been inflicted when they have been bowled out either going after victory or holding out for a draw. Needing 359 at Melbourne last year they folded for 219 against the leg-spin that earned Shane Warne seven wickets. On a typically helpful Leeds pitch in 1991, England's bowlers sent them back for 162 after Graham Gooch's masterful unbeaten 154 had challenged them to get 277. When Australia were last in the Caribbean, and 2-0 down, they won the final Test comfortably as the West Indies could only get 297 of the 455 asked of them.

Time and again England have been in similarly promising positions only to have them snatched away by opponents who are never so dangerous than when they are down. Defeated in 11 of their last 13 Tests, the tourists seemed to have developed the timidity of all teams experiencing such periods of despair.

Spirits clearly boosted by hordes of holiday-making supporters, however, they have swiftly overcome the traumas of their dismissal for 46 in Trinidad and their subsequent humiliation in Grenada. Suddenly they appear convinced they have it in them to beat a team who, less than a fortnight ago, had thoroughly demoralised them.

Quite why there should be so many pink faces here has created quite a deal of local criticism. Diehards, accustomed to sitting in their favourite seats for donkeys' years, have found them occupied by buffs from Colchester and Sheffield and Bognor Regis. They are not amused.

The cricket authorities plead that tickets have been available since last November and were sold on a first-come, first-served basis. But that does not cut too much ice with those bitterly complaining on radio call-in programmes who are closer to the mark when they point out that the cash the visitors pay is in much-needed foreign currency and covers all five days of the match. Prior to this particular Test, no Bajan in his right mind would have pre-bought accommodation for the last two days here.

Now they may not be too disappointed to miss a final day that is likely to be a tough grind for their team.