West Indies stuck on the scenic route

West Indies XI 351-6 v Sri Lanka A

Shenley, nestling just inside the M25 boundary in leafy Hertfordshire, is a charming and picturesque venue but, with the real business of a Test series looming, hardly what West Indies required.

Convivial and seductive it may be, ideal for a festival match or a Twenty20 thrash undoubtedly, but not the thing to prepare for a tough Test series. Nor, it must be said, was the opposition. Sri Lanka A toiled and did impress, but never challenged in the manner that West Indies would have wished.

Not that Gus Logie, the West Indies coach, accepted that the opposition here, nor MCC in last week's game, had been weak. "I have no problems with the standard of the opposition, and the venues have been great," he said. "It is up to us to work hard whoever we play against."

Considering they are trying to reverse two consecutive series defeats to England, the latter one famously in the Caribbean a few months ago, they needed a thorough and exhaustive work-out ahead of the back-to-back Tests at Lord's and Edgbaston. Instead they batted on an easy-paced shirtfront in front of a genial, small crowd against diligent, if hardly inspirational, bowling.

Logie may have been diplomatically astute in refusing to comment negatively on these warm-up games, but yesterday was little better than a glorified net session rather than a competitive match, and the benefit was minimal. But he was consistent with his comments after the victory against MCC at Arundel last week.

Then, after Brian Lara suggested he was "disappointed" with the standard of MCC, Logie said: "Players must get in and bat for their lives, must tough it out and put a higher price on their wicket."

Yesterday would not have pleased him, then, as those who most need runs and time in the middle failed. Shivnarine Chanderpaul was run out when seemingly set for a long innings, Dwayne Smith was also run out, and the two men who excelled with centuries, Sylvester Joseph and Dwayne Bravo, are yet to make their Test debuts. Bravo is likely to this summer, quite possibly on Thursday.

Of concern will also be the scratchy innings by Ramnaresh Sarwan. He was dropped at third slip on 19 off a flamboyant drive and crawled to 28 in 22 overs before he was caught on the drive off the leg-spin of Kaushal Lokuarachchi.

And that is the problem with grounds where the atmosphere is a little too cosy and the crowd can access, or pester, the players so easily. The concentration levels can dip and standards slip. Cricket must not allow players to be exclusive or fans excluded, but during a match they need areas to prepare in peace. That is being professional, and if West Indies are to regain the Wisden Trophy they must be utterly ruthless and professional for four whole Tests.

They will also need to thwart Stephen Harmison, a point that Sarwan accepted. "He's a handful," acknowledged the 24-year-old vice-captain. "He was in the Caribbean and he's not going to be any different here in England. It is a challenge, but the conditions are different here and we have to enjoy it."

What they needed yesterday was a little more challenge and a little less enjoyment.

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