Dhanraj will have to wait for his turn

Tony Cozier looks at why the West Indies fight shy of fielding a spinner
Click to follow
The Independent Online
To hear a West Indies team manager say - as Wes Hall did yesterday - that Rajindra Dhanraj was "under serious consideration" for the fourth Test at Old Trafford was like hearing John Major say that Bill Cash was "under serious consideration for a cabinet post".

Leg-spin bowling is to the established ideology of West Indies cricket what Euroscepticism to the Tory leadership. So even though England have several spinners in their squad and the pitch is expected to turn, Dhanraj expects a promotion from the back benches of the team only if the pitch this morning approximates a Trinidadian beach. There are many reasons why.

The policy of pure pace prevails. Entrenched since Clive Lloyd virtually had it set in stone, but first mooted by the pre-war exploits of Constantine, Francis, Martindale and Griffith, it has been the basis of the prolonged international domination of West Indies these past 20 years. As was evident at Edgbaston it still is, and the standard of spin that Ramadhin and Valentine and Gibbs once bore so triumphantly has been relegated to near obscurity.

Those like Dhanraj who have chosen to buck the trend have needed to be patient and understanding and, perhaps, have masochistic tendencies as well. They have been second-class citizens to the succession of fast bowlers who have routed opponents in every country in all types of conditions and who invariably command four places in the team.

Offered precious few opportunities, usually used to rest the pace men and invariably given inappropriate field placings, they have often flunked their best chances and increased the doubts about their value.

When Narendra Hirwani, a teenaged Indian leg-spinner, reaped a 16-wicket harvest on his Test debut on a Madras dustbowl in 1987, Clyde Butts, the premier West Indies spinner of the time, could not take a single wicket in 45 overs. When Allan Border claimed 11 wickets with his unpractised left-armers on a Sydney turner in 1988, Roger Harper failed to gain one in 37 overs.

So Dhanraj and the others in the Caribbean who will still not be dissuaded must start with a philosophical acceptance of the situation.

When the team was picked for India last winter, Jeffrey Dujon, who had kept wicket when West Indian pace was at its most lethal, proclaimed that any spinner would be "merely cannon fodder" for the Indians. Dhanraj was not quite but he managed only two wickets on a helpful Bombay pitch in the first Test and was promptly dropped. His second Test, against New Zealand in Wellington in February, was more productive, with four wickets. But he knows he has to depend on a substandard pitch or all the fast bowlers to come down with chicken pox on the morning of the Test for another chance, even though he is the leading wicket taker on tour with 36 wickets at 23 each.

Dhanraj is Trinidadian and of East Indian ancestry, a combination that has yielded a host of high-class spinners. He was born in the southern town of Barrackpore, within 20 miles of the birthplaces of Sonny Ramadhin and the unorthodox left-hander Inshan Ali, and was hauling in wickets in the annual Under-19 championships while his captain, Brian Lara, was also first announcing himself.

He toured Australia with the West Indies youth team in 1989 and has been a consistent wicket-taker for Trinidad and Tobago in the domestic Red Stripe Cup since he was 19. If he lacks the spin, variety and self-confidence of a Shane Warne, he does give his leg breaks a fair rip from a bustling, seven-pace approach although he rarely uses the googly, with which he does not seem comfortable.

With his background and record, he would have been long since in the Test team had he been a fast bowler rather than having to wait for his first call at 25. Perhaps he came at the wrong time, as he acknowledges.

"Everything goes round in cycles," he said. "The pace men have dominated for a long time but the spinners are coming back into the spotlight."

Developments in the Caribbean suggest that the West Indies may have a change in strategy reluctantly forced on them in the near future.

Courtney Walsh is 33 in October, Curtly Ambrose 32 in September and there are no replacements immediately evid- ent. The top eight bowlers in last year's Under-19 championships were all spinners and the West Indies youth team based its attack around two of them, Didnath Ramnarine and Rawl Lewis, both leg spinners, against Young England earlier this year.

Ramnarine bowls in tandem with Dhanraj in the Red Stripe Cup. Lewis is a tall Grenadian whose nine wickets helped the President's XI to victory over England last year. Another equally promising leg-spinner is Mahendra Nagamootoo, 19, from Guyana, a nephew of Rohan Kanhai and Alvin Kallicharran. All are already established first-class cricketers and there are no teenaged fast bowlers in the West Indies at present who can claim that.