Maybe the best thing that is happening to cricket worldwide is that the West Indies are beginning to lose their way

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The Independent Online
It is inevitable that the West Indians will think that constant criticism of their short-pitched fast bowling which has caused so many nasty injuries to opposing batsmen is part of a plot by the rest of the cricket-playing world to rob them of their main weapon.

The latest to suffer a broken bone is Robin Smith. There is no more courageous batsman in the world as his showing in this series has made abundantly clear. Sadly for England he will not be able to stand in the way of the West Indies in either of the last two Test matches.

There were a number of West Indians watching at Old Trafford who felt that it was tactically wrong of their fast bowlers to have pitched the ball so consistently short. If they had bowled to a fuller length, giving the ball a chance to swing and bringing the batsmen on to the front foot they would have stood a better chance of taking wickets, the sensible argument went.

An important figure in the England dressing-room has been John Edrich, the batting coach. No one has ever sold his wicket much more dearly than Edrich and no one has made greater use of a perhaps limited ability. There was strong evidence at Old Trafford that he is teaching the present generation a thing or two about which ball to leave alone.

All this is excellent for English cricket, as is the team spirit which is so clearly building up in the dressing-room. But maybe the best thing that is happening to cricket worldwide is that after all those years of supremacy, the West Indies are beginning to lose their way.

There is no bitterness or sour grapes in that; it is simply that the realisation that their powers are no longer invincible may force them to look long and hard at the way they play the game.

If they suddenly come to learn that four fast bowlers can no longer do the trick for them, they may also realise that these same fast bowlers can then become a handicap. There is no variety and how much, for example, Richie Richardson must have longed to be able to call upon his leg-spinner, Rajindra Dhanraj, the longer England's first innings went on.

A few more defeats now may persuade the West Indians that swing which requires a full length is likely to bring greater reward than shortness and bounce. It might even persuade them to take a less jaundiced view of spin which would in turn help their shameful over-rate.

As it is, they bowl often no more than 12 overs or 72 balls an hour - give or take a few no-balls. If 36 of these are seriously short and 22 of the rest are on a good length, the batsmen have 14 balls an hour from which they can score. What chance has a side of scoring runs fast enough to challenge the West Indies at the end of a match if they have themselves first made a decent first-innings score? A slow over-rate therefore becomes a formidable tactical weapon.

Meanwhile the sides come to the fifth Test match next week at Trent Bridge at 2-2. The last time that happened was against South Africa in 1955 after England had won the first two Tests and South Africa the third and fourth before England won the fifth at The Oval. This year there are of course six Test matches.

The third Test in 1955 was played at Old Trafford when South Africa won by three wickets. The story has it that Gubby Allen, the chairman of selectors, and Peter May, the captain, were on the point of leaving out Denis Compton on the morning of the match but relented when they found Compton was the first player to reach the dressing-room at Old Trafford that morning.

But the great man had left his bat behind and borrowed a fairly humble piece of wood from Fred Titmus who was playing in his first series. According to the South African fast bowler, Neil Adcock, Compton, who made 158 and 71 with the aforementioned blade, produced the best two innings which were played against him in Test cricket.

In England's second innings, according to Adcock, he bowled Compton three successive deliveries just outside the off stump on a perfect length and at a considerable pace. The first hit the boundary just behind square on the offside, the second thumped into the fence behind extra cover, the third went first or second bounce over the railings at deep midwicket. There is no answer to genius of that sort!