Mascarenhas ready to turn one-day side into a big hit
Tourists lifted by absence of Gayle as all-rounder looks to make impact at the death
Saturday 14 March 2009
At the 13th time of asking tomorrow, England may win their first international match of the winter. They may not, of course, since it is a Twenty20 encounter against the West Indies and anything can happen. There is a distinct spring in the tourists' step partly because their squad has been rejuvenated by new arrivals but partly too because of the absence of Chris Gayle, the West Indies captain. Gayle sustained a hamstring injury as he completed the single that brought him his crucial century in the fifth Test earlier this week and has no intention of rushing his return.
He remains the only man to have scored a century in a Twenty20 international and plundered England's wretched attack in the infamous Stanford $20m match last November when he made 65 not out from 45 balls. Nobody else in the West Indies' side can inflict that kind of damage, though they are not exactly short of confidence.
Although West Indies ended up crawling over the line, the Test series win in Trinidad has given them back their self-esteem. As for the limited overs version of the game about to start, seven of the squad for tomorrow were in the team which humiliated England in the Twenty20 for $20m match and took home a cool million each and the West Indies also won the last one-day series between the sides in England in 2007.
But England intend to go out slugging. The extent of their ambition should first be witnessed today when they play a 50-over warm-up match at Guaracara Park in Pointe-a-Pierre. In the shadow of an oil refinery, this ground has something of a reputation for its fumes and potential pollution and many swear they have never been the same since visiting it. It was also where England first came across a 20-year-old called Brian Lara in 1990 when he scored 134 and many of them have never been the same since either.
Some of England's intentions may become clearer. They have made a habit of rewriting their one-day script in recent years and there is the sense that some furious scribbling is again going on following the Stanford shambles and the 5-0 one-day defeat in India.
Among other closely guarded matters this could mean a recall for Dimitri Mascarenhas who was dropped last summer for no fathomable reason. Just as there are so-called death bowlers in one-day cricket who come on at the end to try to prevent batting mayhem, Mascarenhas is a death batsman whose job is to cause it.
He made his reputation at The Oval in 2007 when he hit five sixes in an over from Yuvraj Singh. With that kind of precious late-hitting ability England may need him back particularly as he did it again when playing for Otago in Auckland in January, Daryl Tuffey being the unfortunate bowler on this occasion.
"At the death it's a little bit different because that's all you're looking to do, hit the ball out of the park," he said. "Personally that's all I want do, hit sixes. If I get caught so be it, I'm not trying to hit a four, I'm trying to hit the ball over the boundary. But different people do different things, there's cases for hitting the ball along the ground for fours."
If they had a more settled side in which everyone was sure of their roles there may be a case for keeping Mascarenhas for the final overs whatever position that meant him going in. So desperate now are England for some big hitting that he seems certain to be given a bash.
"I can't really comment on batting early in the innings," he said. "I'm pretty much a death batsman in a no-lose situation. I suppose there's a little bit of technique involved in hitting sixes but it's one of those things that some people can do and some can't."
Mascarenhas is so far the only player from England to have played in the much sought after Indian Premier League (one game last year for the eventual champions Rajasthan Royals). This time, he has permission to play in the whole tournament.
"They played 14 'round' games as opposed to eight in England and you're bound to get so many different situations. Yes, Twenty20 has enhanced batting and six hitting." England need him to do it now.
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