Sarwan unlikely to join squad in South Africa

Whoever pulls the cricket strings from above has set severe challenges for West Indies on their always tough tour of South Africa.

West Indies have met them with a welcome tenacity, if not all successfully, and, after the humiliations on their two previous visits, they have salvaged much of the respect their great players and teams earned from afar in the days when apartheid kept them apart.

In spite of their defeat in the second Test in Newlands on Saturday, South Africa's captain Graeme Smith called it "a hard-fought Test match", adding that Chris Gayle and his team had "shown a lot of character and played some really good cricket".

Two days earlier, South Africa coach Mickey Arthur was praising the discipline and patience of the bowling and stating that his men could learn from it.

It was hardly all bluff, but with the series level 1-1 - a situation completely unexpected before it started - they can expect even more daunting difficulties for the final Test in Durban, starting Thursday.

South Africa's confident, calculated pursuit of 185 runs at over five runs an over for the loss of only three wickets has shifted the psychological advantage to the home team and confirmed their resolve to restore the natural order that has them as No. 2 in the ICC rankings to the West Indies' No. 8.

That has now been seriously compounded by injuries that will almost certainly eliminate captain Chris Gayle and fast bowler Fidel Edwards, two key players, from the match.

With Devon Smith and Brenton Parchment, both openers, as the only available batting options, Gayle revealed the seriousness of the situation on Saturday when he called for Ramnaresh Sarwan to "put on his boots and come over here as soon possible".

Smith has eked out 41 runs in his eight innings in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Parchment, the only newcomer in the squad, has batted four times in the tour, scoring 55 runs.

A typical itinerary of the present age, with three back-to-back Tests, has offered them no meaningful match preparation. Smith last played on December 22, Parchment on December 16. The prospect of replacing Gayle substantially weakens an already shaky batting side, so heavily dependent on Shivnarine Chanderpaul, whom the South Africans have dismissed only twice in four innings that have yielded 247 runs, occupied 17 and a quarter hours and the equivalent of 109 overs.

The team media manager Philip Spooner could provide no further update on the Sarwan situation yesterday except to say that the management was "meeting on it".

The decision to withdraw Sarwan from Guyana's current Carib Beer Series match against Trinidad and Tobago and get him plane tickets to South Africa rests with the West Indies Cricket Board and the selectors.

In other words, he is unlikely to get to Durban in time. Edwards' 90 mph speed and improved control made him the bowler most likely to strike at any time, especially with the new ball as he did at the start of South Africa's innings in the first Test.

His absence for all but 4.5 overs was one of the contributory factors to the second Test defeat. His fitness has always been a problem. This is the fifth time he was unable to complete a Test through one injury or another, and although his brother Pedro Collins offers the experience of 104 Test wickets and the variety of left-arm swing, he doesn't present the menace of genuine pace.

Spooner said Edwards' hamstring strain was classified as Grade 2, not as serious as Gayle's Grade 1. As such, he would receive daily treatment and assessment before a decision was taken on his readiness on Thursday morning. But it can be assumed that he won't be. As much as Gayle had to, as captain and established opener, he gambled going into the first Test before his serious hamstring strain had fully healed. It lasted only as long as the first day of the second Test.

Obliged to go in at No. 6 in the second innings, with the assistance of a runner, Gayle then had his left thumb fractured in the first over on by Andre Nel's nasty leaping delivery. His return at the end of the innings to lash three mighty sixes and four fours confirmed his courage, but could not conceal his atrocious luck.

As much as he would like to play, opening batsmen don't subject fractured bones to opposing fast bowlers, especially in a decisive Test match.