West Indies v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Trinidad, 1st day April 4, 2008

Utter disregard for spin bowling

What does a specialist spinner have to do these days to get a fair chance in the West Indies side?


It makes sense to have a frontline spinner like Sulieman Benn is the XI on a pitch that is hosting a Test match for the first time © AFP
 

Hopefully the water cart attendants at the Queen's Park Oval were sensible enough not to place any napkins near the drinking glasses when they were first called into action yesterday. Things are bad enough for West Indies without the further setback of players being hospitalised for cuts from wet paper.

It felt like the vengeance of Moko had descended upon us, obliterating almost any semblance of good fortune, producing fundamental errors from fairly decent cricketers, questionable decisions by selectors and even poorer judgment from one of the umpires. It's probably just as well that hardly anyone had turned up to watch the first hour of this second Test, in itself a telling reflection of the inescapable reality that the traditional form of the game is barely surviving around here, to the extent that even some of the diehards' appetite for the standard fare has waned considerably.

We've seen some action-packed opening exchanges of Test matches at the Oval over the years (the late Roy Fredericks would not have had happy memories here, being bowled first ball by India's Abid Ali in 1971 and second ball by another Indian, Madan Lal, in 1976) but the drama had actually started unfolding long before the start of play when the selectors chose to omit both specialist spinners from the home side's final XI.

No doubt they would have been influenced by a pitch with a healthy tinge of green, in stark contrast to the lifeless brown track in Guyana last week. Still, in omitting both specialists, Sulieman Benn and Amit Jaggernauth, and preferring to rely on Chris Gayle to turn his arm over slowly every now and then (or maybe longer, you never know), the utter disregard by key personnel in the Caribbean game for the art of spin bowling is now confirmed.

Even if you argue that Jaggernauth's ten wickets last weekend at Guaracara Park were against some of the jokiest Barbadian batting ever seen, even if the general consensus that Benn's three wickets in the second innings at Providence were only because the Sri Lankans were taking more than a few chances in the quest for quick runs, surely it makes sense to have the option of a frontline spinner on a pitch hosting a Test match for the first time ever, the square having been re-laid a few months after the last Test on this famous venue three years ago (Brian Lara 196, Makhaya Ntini 13 wickets... remember?).

Given this considerable element of the unknown in such a vital aspect of the game, you would have thought that the benefit of local knowledge was essential. Yet there was former Test opener and long-time Queen's Park coach and official Bryan Davis informing schizophrenic radio interviewer Justin Dookhi at the water-break that no-one in the West Indies team set-up felt it necessary to seek his opinion on the playing surface. Maybe others were consulted. At least you hope so.

Still, you have to ask, what does a specialist spinner have to do these days to get a fair chance in the West Indies side - migrate to a country with a higher quality of domestic cricket, take wickets and then hope that the selectors back home are noticing? Maybe then the contention will be that they need to succeed in home conditions to really judge them. So we should shift the Australian domestic competition to our part of the world, play the spinners, and then pick them if they perform.

Parochial sentiment surrounding Jaggernauth (40 wickets so far this season) notwithstanding, it should be noted that this sentiment also covers Benn, a player set to join the lengthening list of practitioners of flight and guile who have come to associate a career as a West Indies Test cricketer as a succession of one-match spurts spread over several years. Well, at least he, like Rangy Nanan, got a game.

Hardly anyone seemed to be on their game in that weird first hour yesterday.

Only a loss of concentration could be explained for Billy Bowden not giving Michael Vandort lbw to the second ball of the match from Daren Powell. Despite the comments coming from the Constantine Stand, the New Zealander is not a thief, nor is he completely incompetent, although the preoccupation with showmanship, amusing at the best of the times, are infuriating when seen in the context of the occasional critical error.

 
 
It's probably just as well that hardly anyone had turned up to watch the first hour of this second Test, in itself a telling reflection of the inescapable reality that the traditional form of the game is barely surviving around here, to the extent that even some of the diehards' appetite for the standard fare has waned considerably
 

Then we had Dwayne Bravo putting down a sitter at third slip off Jerome Taylor to let Malinda Warnapura off the hook and Powell failing to snare a sharp caught-and-bowled chance presented by Vandort. That's three catches floored already by the usually flawless (certainly in the field) allrounder, while there weren't too many around feeling sorry for Powell, especially after he suffered yet another delusion of batting grandeur at the end of the first Test.

In that context, it was probably expected that Sri Lanka would have raced away to 60 without loss by the water-break, thanks to a succession of loose deliveries that facilitated the crashing of 12 boundaries by the two left-handers.

At least Fidel Edwards justified his recall immediately with two wickets in the hour before lunch. A third scalp for the Barbadian pacer before the heavens opened up in the early afternoon may have made further amends.

Still, it's only the start of a Test match, and therefore way too early before the Oval doubles vendors alter their policy of serving West Indies cricketers the delicacy on plastic instead of moistened brown paper.

Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad