Test plans up in the air

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The Independent Online
Northamptonshire v West Indies

No play yesterday

RAIN, and lots of it, may keep the farmers happy at this time of year, but it is playing havoc with the West Indies' preparation for the summer's Tests. Putting their feet up would normally come as a welcome relief for the cricketers from the Caribbean, but that was when the gruelling treadmill was turning their way, and not threatening to crush them as now. Unusual times often require basic measures and the West Indies are desperately in need of match practice.

"I'm not really satisfied just yet," the West Indies cricket coach, Andy Roberts, claimed as he watched yesterday's steady rainfall. "We still have a couple of batsmen short of a long innings, and we still need to restrict our no-balls."

Nothing too drastic, and yet they appear to be in disarray. Their spearhead, Curtly Ambrose, is struggling for rhythm; Brian Lara has just returned after having somewhat bizarrely flown home to check up on the house he is having built on land donated by the people of Trinidad; while Richie Richardson, weighed down by lingering fatigue and the burdens of captaincy, has neglected his batting to such an extent that reaching double figures now resembles a near-Sisyphean effort, and he has scored only one first- class fifty from five visits to the crease.

"Richie has been struggling," Andy Roberts said. "His timing at the moment is way off and his foot movement is a bit sluggish. But he's experienced enough to know he has to fight it out, and knowing the skipper as I do, there will be no surrender."

Surprising then, that Richardson is not playing here, fuelling rumours that he may be about to consider dropping himself for the first Test, rumours immediately quashed by Roberts, who claimed that at this stage, the only name definitely in the Headingley frame was the captain's.

Despite the caginess, and barring injury, only two places remain: No 6, and fourth seamer. Keith Arthurton and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, both left-handed and in form, will fight for the batting place, while either Winston Benjamin or Ottis Gibson should join Ambrose, Walsh and Bishop, to do the bowling.

What the West Indies willrefuse to do - something England have repeatedly done at Headingley - is pick players for the conditions. "I believe in picking your best bowlers whatever the pitch is like. If you are a good enough bowler you should be able to do the job anywhere," Roberts said, smarting at the suggestion that an English-style bowler like Gibson may get the nod over the two Benjamins.

West Indies still possess in Lara and Adams two batsmen of indisputable class, and three fast bowlers England would welcome tomorrow. But their resilience as a team has been tested of late, on and off the field. If England can play as they can, Thursday's opening skirmish could see West Indian wounds opened even further.