Windies, India look to pitch to break deadlock

Published: Wednesday, June 21, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Bassetere:International Cricket Council pitch consultant Andy Atkinson has a reputation for producing result-oriented surfaces, and West Indies and India would love nothing better when they face each other in the third Test at Warner Park.

Ricky Skerritt, the St. Kitts and Nevis Sports Minister and former West Indies manager, flew Atkinson into the island last week to ensure that the surface for the crucial match would be up to standard.

Atkinson has supervised the preparation of pitches at 18 venues worldwide, and his arrival came against the backdrop of a strong request from West Indies captain Brian Lara for livelier pitches for the last two Tests at Warner Park and Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica, to suit the home team's fast bowlers.

The four-Test series is level at 0-0, after two tension-filled draws at St. John's Antigua Recreation Ground and Gros Islet's Beausejour Cricket Ground in which the Indian batsmen have had their fill on easy-paced pitches, much to Lara's annoyance.

"Our strength is in our fast bowling, and our batsmen are well equipped to handle the Indian fast bowlers, so make the pitch fair," he said.

"Make it so the fast bowlers can enjoy the first two or three days, and if it deteriorates and the spinners come into their own, so be it. We are buoyant that we are still level in this series, and so we are looking forward to the next 10 days of cricket."

Lara had appealed to the West Indies selection panel for a fast bowler of genuine pace to keep the Indian batsmen on the back foot. His plea however, fell on deaf ears, and he has been left to find a way of shutting the opposition with a brood of medium-fast bowlers.

The selectors took the joke even further when they excluded unorthodox left-arm spin bowler Dave Mohammed from the squad of 13 chosen for the match.

He would have at least added some variety to the attack. Instead, they have brought back Marlon Samuels to fortify the batting, and force Lara to rely on him, Chris Gayle, and possibly Ramnaresh Sarwan to add the slow bowling element to the attack, if West Indies find themselves in a tight spot.

India, similarly, have some hard, tough decisions to make, but skipper Rahul Dravid was confident that the good time would continue to roll for his side.

The Indians spent the last few days oddly enough mixing light training with relaxation, rather than being engaged in a tour match.

Reflecting on the first two Tests, Dravid was satisfied with the way his side has performed, although they have not been able to seal a victory.

"We have played really well, and this is something about which we can be very happy," he said. "What we have done well, we will try to carry on with it in this Test match.

"The way we played on the last three days in Antigua and the four days in St. Lucia, so we have to come to St. Kitts and we will prepare well and hope to play good cricket.

"West Indies are still a very good team and still play very good cricket. Though we have played well in the first two Tests, we cannot turn up in St. Kitts and it's going to be the same. We still have to bat well, we still have to bowl well, and we still have to field well.

"If we can continue to do the small things right, somewhere along the line we will get the result we want."

Though they have little reason to be concerned about their batting, the Indians would be concerned that Venkatsai Laxman and Yuvraj Singh have failed to post a significant score so far in the series.

Openers Virender Sehwag and Wasim Jaffer, along with Dravid, Mohammed Kaif, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni have all had a satisfactory hand in the two previous Tests, but Laxman and Yuvraj have looked way below their best.

India's big worry however is their bowling. The weight of the runs that they scored in the first two Tests has not resulted in victories, and finding the right combination to their bowling attack will be the key to drawing first blood.

Leg-spin bowler Anil Kumble and fast bowler Munaf Patel pick themselves, but the other two places in the attack are open to question, with many believing that off-spin bowler Harbhajan Singh should occupy one of them.

Fast bowler Shantha Sreesanth should came back into the reckoning once he has recovered from his heel injury. Irfan Pathan's experience, if not his current form would count in his favour, and Vikram Singh has been steady, if not spectacular.

West Indies (from): Brian Lara (captain), Ian Bradshaw, Dwayne Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Pedro Collins, Corey Collymore, Daren Ganga, Chris Gayle, Runako Morton, Denesh Ramdin, Marlon Samuels, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Jerome Taylor

India (from): Rahul Dravid (captain), Mahendra Dhoni, Wasim Jaffer, Mohammed Kaif, Dinesh Karthik, Anil Kumble, Venkatasai Laxman, Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan, Ramesh Powar, Suresh Raina, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Vikram Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth

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