West Indies v India, 2nd Test, St Lucia June 9, 2006

Green pitch the centre of attention

The pitch at the Beausejour Stadium has kept everyone interested in recent days © AFP
Standing in the centre of the picturesque Beausejour Stadium at St Lucia, one's confronted with numerous shades of green. High up in the surrounding mountain range are okra-tinged tree growth; further down is some dense foliage that's predominantly bottle-green; and the field is more like a giant circular velveteen emerald green carpet. Yet, what the players will concentrate on is the generous sprinkling of green on the 22-yard strip in the middle, one which Brian Lara and Rahul Dravid have examined closely several times in the last two days.

Kent Crafton, the chief curator, has had his share of criticism. The slow nature of pitch resulted in largely attritional contests, reducing the two previous Tests here into high-scoring draws. The fact that three Bangladesh batsmen manage hundreds in the same match must tell you something. "We didn't leave live grass on the pitch on previous occasions," said Crafton, "it used to be completely rolled. With better equipment and more training, the grass now stays firm for the entire game. So we leave it on the pitch."

Lara understood Crafton's predicament: "It's a situation where maybe the groundsman is looking for a result - he's never produced one." In a survey conducted by a newspaper a few months back, where players ranked Test pitches in the Caribbean, the surface at St Lucia was apparently right at the bottom. Local observers are quite baffled by the luxuriant greenery and Lara echoed the sentiment: "It's certainly different to wickets of the past in St Lucia."

The curious part of the pitch is the bare patches alternating the tufts of grass. Greg Chappell, the Indian coach, said it looks like the SCG pitch of old. "If it's anything like that it will help both the seamers and the spinners" Sreesanth's injury has pretty much paved the way for Irfan Pathan's return to the side. Unless the pitch changes composition overnight, it's tough to imagine him sitting out.

A stiff groin kept Harbhajan Singh out of practice but Chappell hoped that he would be ready for selection tomorrow morning. If not, India might hand Ramesh Powar a Test debut. Powar's offspin will come in handy in the second innings, with Anil Kumble applying pressure at one end. Also, Powar can chip in with the bat, a factor that could be vital if the top order crumbles.

Going purely by the second innings at Antigua, India's batting looks in fine health. But it's a poorly kept secret that it takes just the minimum amount of movement to unsettle them. Chappell said that picking five bowlers was an option. Pathan's imminent return would bolster the batting but whether they will take the risk remains to be seen.

Lara has a problem in the bowling department. Edwards is gone, Collymore is a doubt and Dave Mohammed got pasted in the first Test; Pedro Collins and Ian Bradshaw are both left-arm seamers of similar style; Jerome Taylor has speed but is just four Tests old. With the squad reduced to 13, there is nobody else. Lara may want his bowlers wrapped in cotton wool, just in case one of them wakes up with a stiff neck. In the worst-case scenario, there's 38-year old Ian Bishop, in the commentary box, and 53-year old Colin Croft, in the press box. India beware.

At a micro level, the toss will be vital. At the macro level, it may not even matter. Lara, who was wearing a Soca Warriors T-shirt when he addressed the press on the eve of the game, said that he wouldn't mind losing the toss if he could trade it for a Trinidad & Tobago victory in their first match of the football World Cup. The kick off, in the game against Sweden, is around noon here. The showpiece event of the day will begin when umpires call lunch on the first day. Sadly, only the flies on the dressing-room walls can watch it unfold.


West Indies (probable) 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Daren Ganga, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Brian Lara (capt), 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Dwayne Bravo, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Ian Bradshaw, 9 Dave Mohammed, 10 Pedro Collins, 11 Corey Collymore.

India (probable) 1 Wasim Jaffer, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 VVS Laxman, 4 Rahul Dravid (capt), 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 Ramesh Powar, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Anil Kumble, 10 Munaf Patel, 11 VRV Singh

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo