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March 1, 2009
It's a recipe for stalemate. Take two struggling bowling attacks, add in a sprinkle of in-form batsmen and finish off with a deadly flat pitch. Bake for a few days, but don't expect the excitement level to rise too much. It leaves a bland taste in the mouth and the thought of further helpings isn't very tempting. Yet there could still be a spicy finish.
Remarkably, despite scoring 600 in their first innings England are now the team under pressure to save this Test. They came here favourites to take the series but, after chasing leather for more than two days, that hope has been ground into the Barbados dust. And there is still work to do to keep the series alive. Their batting has imploded once already and West Indies haven't forgotten.
"Anything is possible. We all saw what happened in the first Test in Jamaica and the lead we have is very valuable to us," said Ramnaresh Sarwan. "I don't know if it will play on their minds, but certainly it will be in our minds. If we can put them under some pressure hopefully we can take the initiative in the first hour or so."
Looking back a little further into the past, a certain day in Adelaide springs to mind. In that game England declared on 551 for 6, Australia were almost level then Shane Warne worked his magic. There is no Warne in this match, but the series has thrown up plenty of the unexpected. But, still, it will take some extraordinary to conjure a result from this one.
Following hot on the heels of the Karachi run-feast where Younis Khan indulged himself with a triple century, along with doubles for Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera, the Kensington Oval has produced something to match. Sarwan was within nine away from joining Younis in the triple-century club while Denesh Ramdin made a career-best 166 and West Indies racked up their third highest total. Is this another surface that is too good for Test cricket?
Perhaps the answer lies in what Michael Holding told Cricinfo Talk. "I think it is too good when you look at the bowlers who are and will be bowling on it…everyone will say that the pitch is too flat but I think it depends on who you have got in your attack."
Both sides have toiled for very little reward, however West Indies have the one bowler who has risen above conditions. Fidel Edwards showed that with the ability to send it down at 90mph, bowlers can get something out of the surface, and with better help from his fielders he might have returned more flattering figures than 3 for 153. Edwards could yet be the man to add a twist to this game. The quicks almost need to take the surface out of the equation which is why his yorkers can be a threat.
None of the England bowlers came close to showing that sort of venom. There have been questions asked over the omission of Steve Harmison, but his standing has suddenly increased by not playing here. It would have been a selection of hope rather than expectation, although right now that isn't looking too bad a criteria.
With Andrew Flintoff absent through injury, England's attack has resembled a pop-gun line-up, none more so than Ryan Sidebottom who has been a shadow of the bowler who collected 70 wickets in 15 Tests after his recall in 2007. He has looked creaky while his pace has hovered from the high 70s to low 80mph mark. Coupled with the ball not swinging much he didn't pose a threat.
It was a surprise when he was selected in the first place given that, in the aftermath of the last Test, Andy Flower spoke about a "chronic" Achilles problem. England were always going to face a tough task taking 20 wickets with a four-man attack, but it was a corner they were backed into when Matt Prior flew home. He would have been an option to bat at No. 6, but putting Tim Ambrose in that position was thought to be a step to far. After seeing how comfortable conditions have been they may have got away with it, but there is no point sounding wise after the event.
Is there anybody else who could do a better job? A look at the Lions tour that is currently taking place in New Zealand throws up the names Liam Plunkett, Sajid Mahmood, Mark Davies and Robbie Joseph. All are solid county performers, while Plunkett and Mahmood have already been tried at the top level, but it's difficult to believe any would have enjoyed more success on this pitch.
Before the match the promises of pace and bounce from Lennie Yearwood, the groundsman, got people excited that there may be a flavour of the Caribbean of yesteryear. However, it didn't take long to show this was very much a modern West Indies surface and even now it is offering little pace or spin.
A total of 1355 runs and 15 wickets in four days suggests it should be a comfortable final day for England, but even on the dullest of pitches the charm of Test cricket means nothing is ever emphatically certain. This isn't a nailed-on draw just yet.
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