Lara stymied by absence of spin

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The Independent Online

As Brian Lara watched on from the team room, his legs still cramping from the effects of his 13-hour batting marathon, he would have rued the absence of a worthy spinner on his bowling staff.

The West Indies captain has repeatedly referred to his preference for a balanced attack. It has been stymied for two valid, if frustrating, reasons.

One is the selectors' continuing mindset for pace and pure pace, a hangover from the days when as many as half a dozen genuinely fast and quality bowlers were available at any one time. The other is the absence of spin bowlers of Test potential.

The last given a reasonable run was Dinanath Ramnarine who had 25 wickets in 12 Tests between 1998 and 2001. Frustrated by his lack of opportunity, he retired last year, aged 28, to concentrate on his role as head of the Players' Association.

The latest is Dave Mohammed, a left-arm chinaman and googly specialist, but he has been overlooked since his solitary Test against South Africa in Cape Town last January.

He would have been helpful yesterday, but there are presently no other realistic option in domestic cricket.

As Michael Vaughan and his mates began to follow Lara's lead and appreciate the bounty offered by the placid pitch, the West Indies attack cried out for someone practised in the art of flight, turn, bounce and control.

Their fast bowlers had done as well as was to be expected in keeping England down to a modest first innings total. The effort was proving far more difficult second time round as Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick settled in to their opening partnership of 182.

Pedro Collins, Fidel Edwards, Corey Collymore and Tino Best maintained the full length and direct line such conditions demanded, but they found the surface as unsympathetic as England had done.

Ramnaresh Sarwan, leading the West Indies in Lara's absence, identified the need for variety and turned to Ryan Hinds and Chris Gayle. But their value is in defensive control, not wicket-taking on such featherbeds.

He delayed summoning the new ball for eight overs and had success himself when he tried his leg-spin.

Sarwan's leg-spin was more than useful as a teenager but, as so many other batsmen have done, he has ignored it in adulthood.

Like Gayle and Hinds, he gives his captain an alterative when the total is mounting and something different is required.

As yesterday, he has had a few useful Test wickets - Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten twice in South Africa, Andrew Flintoff here. But he is not the specialist Lara seeks.

Like England, the West Indies will find it difficult dismissing opponents on flat, bare surfaces that offer no pace, no bounce, no movement.