Cricket: The invisible men make tourists' task tougher: West Indian Test players take it easy as England fast bowler prepares for the worst

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The Independent Online
ONE of the features of England's last match in Antigua was that whenever they lost a wicket, the 10,000-megawatt speakers in the stand would start belting out an eardrum- rupturing calypso number entitled 'Can't Take The Pressure'.

However, the greatest pressure Mike Atherton's laid-back tourists have so far come under is whether to go for the steak or the lobster at the beach barbecue. You can only beat what is put against you, and the Leeward Islands' pace attack was lively enough to provide England with a reasonable glimpse of what they will shortly be up against.

None the less, the only sighting of any West Indian Test players during the match at the Recreation Ground - or on the entire tour come to that - was of Curtly Ambrose dancing what appeared to be the rumba during the tea-time musical interlude on Saturday afternoon.

Now England are preparing for their match against Barbados here on Thursday, and if Desmond Haynes does not play - as is his stated intention - England will have completed their warm-up programme without facing anyone likely to appear for the opposition in the first Test match in Jamaica, starting on Saturday week.

They have run into one or two fringe players (wicketkeeper Ridley Jacobs and batsman Harwood Williams were both watched by selectors during the Leewards game) and they will meet a few more here in Barbados, who are likely to include Ottis Gibson, the new Glamorgan all-rounder, and a couple of brisk bowlers in Vasbert Drakes and Andy Cummins.

However, the front-line troops have been held back until the first one-day international in Barbados a week tomorrow, which has less to do with tactical planning than a combination of domestic commitments and the need for them to put their feet up for a couple of weeks after 12 months of near non-stop cricket, mostly on the road. Some of these lads must have passports thicker than the London A-Z.

Ominously for England, most of them now appear to be cranked up and ready to go again. Richie Richardson, the captain, who not long ago was prescribed a course of iron tablets and a long spell in a hammock, made 151 on his reappearance in the Red Stripe Cup; and the left-handed batting prodigy, Brian Lara, set a new competition run record when he made a double century for Trinidad against Barbados on Saturday.

The West Indies' attack is not quite what it was, but Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Winston Benjamin are a class above any of the bowlers that England have faced thus far, and their selectors' only real search at the moment is for a fourth seamer, likely to be Kenneth Benjamin.

As is usually the case in this part of the world, the West Indies will not have burned too much midnight oil debating their spin bowler options, not that they appear to have any options to discuss.

When they last needed one for a Test match (against Sri Lanka in December) they had to go back to the semi-retired Roger Harper.

Of the 12 Test matches lost by the West Indies since 1981, nine of them have produced significant contributions from an opposition spin bowler, but unless the Sabina Park pitch turns out to be a dust bowl, it is still odds-on both sides going into the first Test in Jamaica on Saturday week with four front-line pace bowlers.

Happily, Ian Salisbury and Philip Tufnell are both in decent enough form should a spinner be required, but England are more likely to use one (Tufnell, most probably) in the first of their five one-day internationals, also in Jamaica, a week tomorrow.

However, this is unlikely to mean that Jack Russell will play in the one-dayer, and that being the case, England will almost certainly divide the wicketkeeping duties in the four- day Barbados match between Russell (who helped cement his Test place with a half-century in the Leewards game) and Alec Stewart.

A new Curtly Ambrose, page 34