Fast bowlers flourish at ground where fans can make the difference

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The Independent Online

The thousands of holiday-makers who flock to Barbados each time England take on the West Indies here attempt to turn this fixture into a home game for their side. Happily they fail. Two thirds of the seats at the Kensington Oval may be filled by English backsides but this ground, or the atmosphere in it, bears little resemblance to that of its namesake in South London.

The thousands of holiday-makers who flock to Barbados each time England take on the West Indies here attempt to turn this fixture into a home game for their side. Happily they fail. Two thirds of the seats at the Kensington Oval may be filled by English backsides but this ground, or the atmosphere in it, bears little resemblance to that of its namesake in South London.

Tomorrow morning will follow the same routine as in 1994 and 1998. Eight to ten thousand visiting fans will arrive and hang their Union flags and cross of St George flags on whatever object they can. The rum will flow, the sun will be soaked up and they will only realise the error of their ways on the following morning. But, pink and hungover, they will go through it all again.

The phenomenal support England receive appears to have had a positive effect on their cricket. Before Michael Atherton's side won here in 1994 this ground was seen as the stronghold of cricket in the region. The West Indies had not lost a Test match at the ground for 59 years. Since then the home side have lost three more games but the venue remains a daunting place to play.

Between 1935 and 1994 the pitches allowed the West Indies to play the type of cricket they became famous for. The quick, bouncy but true tracks allowed their fast bowlers to traumatise batsmen before the likes of Desmond Haynes, Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge flogged beleaguered attacks to all corners of this tight little ground. It was simple, ruthless and raw.

The Kensington Oval is situated in the northern suburbs of Bridgetown and is hemmed in by houses and industry. This has prevented redevelopment and has allowed it to keep its character. That will all change before the 2007 World Cup. This ground, like many others in the Caribbean, will be unrecognisable the next time England visit here.

The stadium is a rare mishmash of little stands. The biggest would hold no more than 2,000 to 3,000 spectators, and the smallest several hundred. But each facility bears the name or names of great cricketers produced by this island.

The players change on the bottom tier of the Sir Garfield Sobers Pavilion, a small double-decker stand at the northern end of the ground. The dressing-rooms are basic and stark. There are green wooden lockers on either side and these help cover bare concrete and breeze-block walls. The front of the changing area is filled by a huge open window from which the players can watch. Below this is a balcony, a place where batsmen sit waiting nervously.

The pitches here have encouraged young men to bowl fast. It started in the 1960s with Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith - who have a stand named after them - and continues to this day. Indeed the West Indies bowling attack for the third Test on Thursday will be entirely made up of Bajans.

Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner do not have a stand named after them but their achievements have been recognised. The northern end of the ground is named after Garner and the southern after Marshall.

This ground witnessed what many people believe to be the finest over ever bowled in Test cricket. Those playing swear that Michael Holding was pushing off the sightscreen when he bowled at Geoffrey Boycott, but the bowler states that it was just the usual 35-yard run-up.

Boycott played and missed at the first five deliveries in a lightning fast over. The ball whizzed past his chest and flew through to David Murray. The sixth ball uprooted Boycott's off stump.

It is the legacy left by these men and the desire of the local population to see that style of bowling which makes this such an intimidating place to play. Nobody enjoys facing fast bowling but some play it better than others. Every cricketer will get hit at some stage of his career but after a while you realise they are not going to kill you, just chip bits off you.

This failed to prevent Philip Tufnell coming out with a classic line during the Test match here in 1994. I was batting at the time and was being given a good going-over by Courtney Walsh. The crowd were loving it as I ducked and dived out of the way of another bouncer.

The sight of me getting peppered by Walsh would not have filled Tufnell, the next man in, with confidence. The former left-arm spinner was not known for his bravery with the bat and he was covered in padding. Eventually I gloved a short ball in front of my face to leg-gully and the ground erupted.

It was Tufnell's turn to bat. Reluctantly he squeezed himself out of his chair, put his helmet on and turned to his team-mates. "Tell Jane I love her," were his parting words. Tufnell survived but Jane left him at the end of the tour.

The history here fired Devon Malcolm up in 1990. England were 1-0 up in the series following a win in Jamaica, a game in which Malcolm had dismissed Viv Richards twice.

As usual the great man came swaggering out to bat with just his maroon West Indies cap on. Although he was wild, Malcolm was quick and he decided to let Viv have a couple of bouncers. Pride prevented Richards from ducking and he decided to take the young paceman on. It produced a fantastic 30 minutes of cricket. On a couple of occasions Viv hooked for six but he did not have it all his own way. Malcolm hurried him with several deliveries and a couple of top edges just evaded fielders.

Allan Lamb, England's acting captain, took Malcolm off and Richards scored 70. The West Indies won the game on the final evening when Curtly Ambrose ripped through the tail and claimed 8 for 45. His last four victims were trapped lbw.

This was also the match in which Richards' appeal for caught behind down the leg side - when it clearly flicked Rob Bailey's thigh guard - pushed the laws to the limit. It would be wrong to say it cost England the game but it led to ugly exchanges between the two teams as the West Indies walked off at the close of play.

The 1994 Test became known as the Alec Stewart Test. He scored a hundred in each innings and guided England to victory. I took 8 for 75 and bowled better than when I took eight wickets in Trinidad four years later.

England were well on the way to winning in 1998 before rain washed out the final day's play. Our position was built around a magnificent 154 from Mark Ramprakash. This was Ramprakash's first Test hundred and it remains the highest score by an England player here.

Lawrence Rowe scored a brilliant triple hundred here against England in 1974, but Brian Lara's unbeaten 153 against Australia in 1999 will go down as one of the greatest innings ever seen on this or any ground. The West Indies needed 233 to win when Lara, batting at five, came to the crease. Wickets fell at regular intervals but somehow he took his side to a one-wicket victory. I and every cricket lover could quite happily watch him bat in the same manner during the next week.

KENSINGTON OVAL: THE FACTS

Location: Bridgetown, Barbados.

Capacity: 15,000.

Ends: Malcolm Marshall End and Joel Garner End.

Results: Played: 40 (12 v Eng). Won: 20 (2). Drawn: 15 (6). Lost: 5 (4).

Highest team score: 668, Australia, 1957-58.

Highest England score: 482, 1959-60.

Lowest score: 81, India, 1996-97.

Most runs: D L Haynes (WI) 1,210, avge 60.5.

Most runs for England: A J Stewart 403, avge 67.17.

Highest individual score: 337, Hanif Mohammad, Pakistan, 1957-58.

Highest score for England: 154, M R Ramprakash, 1997-98.

Highest partnership: 399, G S Sobers and F M M Worrell v England, 1959-60.

Most wickets: C A Walsh 53, avge 25.32.

Most wickets for England: J C Laker 13, avge 26.23.

Best bowling: L R Gibbs 8-38, WI v India, 1960-61.

Best bowling for England: A R C Fraser 8-75, 1993-94.

Hundreds: There have been 83 Test hundreds scored at the Kensington Oval. Of these, eight were double and two were triple hundreds. Desmond Haynes and Clive Lloyd scored four Test centuries each on the ground. English batsmen have passed three figures on 12 occasions. Alec Stewart scored two hundreds here, both in the same Test in 1993-94.

Five-wicket hauls: There have been 42 five-wicket hauls and three 10-wicket hauls here. Malcolm Marshall claimed five or more wickets in a innings on four occasions. Eight England bowlers have achieved this feat. Marshall, with 11-120 v New Zealand in 1984-85, has the best match figures by any bowler at the ground. Greville Stevens, with 10-195 in 1929-30, is the only Englishman to have taken 10 wickets in a match here.

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