Cricket / Third Test: The answer lies in imported soil in Trinidad

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The Independent Online
THE pitch at the Queen's Park Oval is like no other in the Carribean. It is, first of all, not a Queen's Park Oval pitch at all. It is made up of soil imported from the south of Trinidad not afflicted with the mole-worm that ravages the grass roots of northern grounds and makes them unusable for any serious cricket.

Up until 1954, all matches here had to be played on matting, first coconut fibre from which fast bowlers would make the ball whizz around the batsmen's ears, then more placid jute laid over rolled clay. It was an obviously unsatisfactory arrangement and the square was finally dug up after the high- scoring England Test of 1954 in which all three Ws made centuries for the West Indies and Peter May and Denis Compton for England. Pure earth was then transported the 50 miles north and put down.

At first it proved equally accommodating to batsmen and the Australian Test the following year yielded 1,255 runs for only 23 wickets. But inevitably, if gradually, it deteriorated with wear and tear and, by the 1970s, was turning square and keeping such uneven heights that Roy Fredericks, the West Indies opener, was bowled by a shooter with the very first ball of the 1971 Test against India.

When it became too bad, the excavators came in again and it was relaid. That was 14 years ago and it has remained as fractious and mischievous as a spoiled brat. In the Pakistan Test last year, for instance, 17 wickets fell for 240 runs on the first day and 17 more for 214 on the third. Yet, in between, the West Indies blasted 333 for 3 off 76 overs.

That is an extreme example, so let us go back to the last Test England played here in 1990. Sent in, the West Indies were 29 for 5 within the hour and would surely have lost the match but for rain that materialised from a clear blue sky on the final day.

More recently, in the domestic Red Stripe Cup, Trinidad and Jamaica lost 16 wickets between them on the first day of their match yet, on the first day of the next, Trinidad amassed 366 for 3.

Captains winning the toss, therefore, do not have a clue what they are getting themselves into whatever decision they take. Richardson chose to bat yesterday, as he did last season when the West Indies were rolled over for 130 by Pakistan. He clearly felt it really did not matter one way or the other.