Spin kings may give World Cup twist and turn

Published: Tuesday, March 13, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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Gros Islet, St Lucia:Just about the one thing captains at the World Cup seem to agree on is that pitches will generally be slow and assist spin bowlers.

Last week both England skipper Michael Vaughan and Australia captain Ricky Ponting talked up the tournament prospects of their frontline left-arm spinners, Monty Panesar and Brad Hogg respectively.

England are now in St Lucia, where they begin their World Cup programme proper against fellow Group C giants New Zealand at the island's Beausejour ground on Friday.

And according to groundsman Kent Crafton, who has been at Beausejour since the venue opened five years ago, the teams here can look forward to good one-day cricket wickets rather than slow turners.

"One thing we've tried to do is put more compaction into the clay (the base layer of the pitch) to increase the pace and bounce," Crafton told AFP.

"That will aid in the ball probably coming in with some more pace, not expressly, but just a little bit more than normal, which will aid in more runs being scored.

"It will be good wicket, I would not say it will be an exceptionally fast pitch but the ball will come off nicely. We've had very good opening partnerships here."

Another concern is that, with many World Cup matches set to be played on recently re-laid pitches, batting will get harder as the match progresses.

However, research carried out by Britain's Sunday Times newpaper has said that most games in the Caribbean are won by the team batting second.

Crafton does not believe that the toss will be significant in St Lucia.

"The wicket will not change much from during the morning until the afternoon. I don't believe the toss will matter so much. If it's cloudy, maybe you'd want to bowl first."

The average one-day international score in 16 innings at Beausejour is 244 with Pakistan's 303 for six against West Indies on May 22, 2005 the highest.

Such totals are now considered respectable in this form of cricket where advances in bat technology, shortening of boundaries and changes to field restrictions allied with batsmen more prepared than ever to play shots from the off, has led Australia opener Matthew Hayden to talk of the 500-run barrier being broken.

Caribbean pitches used to be renowned for both pace and bounce, something exploited to the full by the West Indies' fearsome fast bowlers of the 1970s and 1980s.

One of those quicks was Andy Roberts, now a pitch consultant for the World Cup and he said talk of slow pitches being the norm during the tournament was wide of the mark.

"A lot of people will be surprised by the 22 yards on offer," Roberts told The Times of India. "We won't get the slow pitches that people are anticipating."

He cited the West Indies being bowled out for 85 in a warm-up match last week against India at the Trelawny Stadium in Jamaica as an example of a West Indian pitch which gave the seamers plenty of help.

"What you will find is a lot of brand new pitches," he said. "For the first game or so they may be slow. That will not be the case right through. At some venues it will have even bounce, some will also have a lot of carry."

Pitch concerns are not restricted to the West Indies.

There is a general feeling that, worldwide, surfaces are becoming ever slower with Australia quick Glenn McGrath commenting during the recent Ashes series: "My biggest fear in Australian cricket is we are losing the home-ground advantage because of the docile pitches being served up."


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