West Indies v England, 3rd Test, Antigua

England desperate for fightback at old Rec

The Preview by Will Luke

February 14, 2009

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A groundsman readies the ARG pitch on Saturday© Getty Images
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Match facts

Sunday February 15 - Thursday February 19
Start time 10.00am (14.00GMT)

Big Picture

After England's Sabina Park debacle last week, an altogether different farce afflicted the series when the second Test was abandoned due to sand. Friday the 13th had struck, and how. Never before had Antigua's most plentiful resource caused such embarrassment to a proud nation, and with the Sir Viv Richards Stadium now hosting an army of diggers to ascertain its future viability as a Test ground, all eyes turn to the Antigua Recreation Ground. The old Rec, as it is known, is dripping in history - it hosted not one, but two of Brian Lara's world records - before it was consigned to the scrapheap following its last Test in 2006. Since then, the ARG has been mainly used for training and preparation. Prior to the second Test, England netted there and the faster bowlers generated extreme pace on very slippery surfaces, a trend which continued this morning as Steve Harmison worked up a head of steam. Dropped for the second Test, Harmison could well return here if conditions suit him.

The shock abandonment of Friday's Test was an unfortunate stumbling block for England, in particular, as they are desperate to bounce back from their calamitous 51 all out a week ago in Jamaica. Ian Bell was dropped on Friday in place of Owais Shah, who will finally get his chance on Sunday - and, one would expect, he will be given a long stretch to prove his worth. For their bowling attack, however, England might well opt for Harmison's pace and bounce over Anderson's seam and swing in a horses-for-courses selection.

For West Indies, it seems unlikely they will change their starting XI from the second Test, in which Xavier Marshall was dropped for Ryan Hinds. Yet there is a sense that, although they are 1-0 up in the series, the farcical scenes in North Sound on Friday could affect the momentum of the side; the bright new era of hope that Jerome Taylor and West Indies generated in the first Test has again been replaced by calls for administrative repercussions and heads to roll. All West Indies can hope for is a repeat of their Jamaica brilliance, leaving the penpushers to continue their bungling.

Form guide (most recent first)

West Indies DWDDL
England DLDLW

Watch out for …

Jerome Taylor: His spell of a lifetime in Jamaica not only won the Test for West Indies, but woke their slumbering fans from a decade of mild indifference. Bowling fast, full and straight, not even Kevin Pietersen could cope with the late swing, his off stump cartwheeling back to spark England's dramatic collapse. Taylor has always had the ability to lead the attack. Crucially, does he now believe he's earned that role?

Andrew Strauss: Of all of England's current underperforming lot, Strauss is the man who most needs a score. England need his runs, but he needs them more; a hundred at the ARG will cement his authority among a team containing two former captains, and set in place his vision for the side's future. With England collapsing meekly in Jamaica, followed by the sandy farce in Antigua, Strauss desperately needs to issue a statement that all will be well - something he does beautifully in press conferences, if not yet with the bat as captain.


Firemen are called in to water the pitch at the Rec © Getty Images
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Team news

Will Owais Shah actually play this time? Picked for the second Test, the match only lasted 10 balls. Now is his chance to prove that his seemingly interminable wait (he made his debut in March 2006) has been worth it. This tour has lurched from disaster to farce for England, but barring any overnight injuries it seems unlikely they will make any changes to their XI from the second Test, apart from drafting in Harmison for Anderson.

England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Owais Shah, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Andrew Flintoff, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Ryan Sidebottom, 10 Steve Harmison, 11 Monty Panesar.

Ryan Hinds, the spinning allrounder, should retain his place in West Indies XI. Lendl Simmons was considered unlucky not to make the team for the second Test, but it seems unlikely West Indies will alter their line-up.

West Indies (probable) 1 Chris Gayle (capt), 2 Devon Smith, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 5 Brendan Nash, 6 Ryan Hinds, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Jerome Taylor, 9 Daren Powell, 10 Sulieman Benn, 11 Fidel Edwards.

Pitch & conditions

Nothing will ever compare (one hopes) to the ridiculous state of the outfield in North Sound, and although the old Rec hasn't hosted a Test since 2006, the early signs are that the grass does not have several feet of sand eagerly seeping through its blades. The stands might be in a state of disrepair (and even disuse), but the pitch is expected to be spicy and lively - even accounting for the painted centre circle where football games have been staged. That particular area has been rolled flat. The groundsmen are working flat out to ready the ground in time, and it seems they're winning the battle. The ICC at least are convinced. The match referee, Alan Hurst, gave his seal of approval at 5pm on the eve of the Test.

Stats & Trivia

  • The last Test staged at the ARG was against India in 2006, in which Chris Gayle cracked 69 in West Indies' chase of 392. Fidel Edwards and Cory Collymore held on for a tense draw.

  • England's record here is poor. They haven't won in the six previous encounters, and in two of those - in 1994 and 2004 - Brian Lara smashed his two world records, 375 and 400 not out.
  • The old Rec has hosted more draws (11) than wins (10), but one of West Indies' most famous victories came in 2003 when they chased down 418 to beat Australia.
  • Quotes

    "The ultimate responsibility lies with the board and we are not shirking it."
    Julian Hunte, chairman of the West Indies Cricket Board, fronts up to the criticism

    "The Recreation Ground is not in brilliant condition as we speak but from a netting point of view the wickets were satisfactory, the bowlers' run-ups were fine, the outfield is not great but I don't think it's dangerous".
    Andrew Strauss is diplomatic yet straightforward about the decision to host the third Test at the ARG.

    "The pitch is never a problem here. I think it will last. The slight problem is the outfield."
    Andy Roberts, the former head groundsman at the ARG, offers his view on the rebirth of the Rec

    Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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    Will LukeClose
    Will Luke Assistant editor Will opted against a lifetime of head-bangingly dull administration in the NHS, where he had served for two years. In 2005 came a break at Cricinfo where he slotted right in as a ferociously enthusiastic tea drinker and maker, with a penchant for using "frankly" and "marvellous". He also runs The Corridor, a cricket blog where he can be found ranting and raving about all things - some even involving the sport. He is a great-great nephew of Sir Jack Newman, the former Wellingtonian bowler who took two wickets at 127 apiece for New Zealand.
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