WIndies looking to put positive spin on cricket test team

Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2008, 7:46 [IST]
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Stories of the ill-treatment of spin bowlers at the hands of the West Indies selectors over the years are notorious.

Since Lance Gibbs ended his distinguished career on February 5, 1976, West Indies cricket history is littered with several bowlers plying the slow stuff that have been tossed aside in preference for bowlers living in the "fast lane".

Truth be told, though, West Indies - who face Sri Lanka here in the second Test on Thursday - have only produced three World-class spin bowlers in the eight decades since their entry into Test cricket - and this number may be stretched to four when Garfield Sobers is included on the list.

Gibbs has been the most successful with a former world record 309 wickets at 29.09 apiece in 79 Tests, fellow off-spinner Sonny Ramadhin snared 158 at an average of 28.98 in 43 Tests, and left-arm spinner Alf Valentine snared 139 at 30.32 each in 36 Tests.

Sobers took 235 wickets at an average of 34.03 in 93 Tests - bowling principally either left-arm orthodox or chinaman - but some of his scalps were taken when he transformed himself into a left-arm fast-medium bowler.

But West Indies have languished behind the other Test-playing nations of the World in the deployment of spin bowlers in their attack, even after the rules of the game were changed to render their feared battery of fast bowlers toothless in the 1990s.

The crescendo of noise for spin bowlers to gain recognition at the highest level of the game has escalated, particularly in the face of the friendly fire produced by the modern-day armoury of West Indies fast bowlers, and the continued success of the slower bowlers in domestic competitions at all levels.

The selection of the beanpole left-arm spin bowler Sulieman Benn for the opening Test of two against Sri Lanka last week at the Guyana National Stadium has given hope that the selectors may finally be getting the message.

Benn conceded 120 runs from 40 overs in the first innings without success, and he collected three scalps in the second innings when the Sri Lankans were chasing quick runs, but leaked almost five runs-an-over - hardly evidence that suggests greatness.

But West Indies coach John Dyson believes it was satisfactory, and seems prepared to give him a chance in the second Test.

"In assessing his performance, you have got to say that the pitch was a batsman's paradise," Dyson said.

"It didn't help the fast bowlers, and it didn't help the spinners, and I thought he bowled very, very well for his first Test match. He came in, maintained a good line, a good length.

"I felt sorry for him that he didn't take a wicket (in the first innings) albeit there was one opportunity missed from his bowling, and I was pleased that he came out there again and bowled pretty well (in the second innings)."

Batting legend Gordon Greenidge heads the West Indies selection panel which also comprises former off-spin bowler Clyde Butts and fast bowling legend Andy Roberts took the unprecedented step of including the uncapped pair of Benn and off-spin bowler Amit Jaggernauth in the 15-member squad for the Guyana Test.

It's hard to recall when a West Indies selection panel made such a bold move, and it was a throwback to when a similar combination of spin bowlers Ramadhin and Valentine were given their break on the 1950 tour of England.

"I said before the match that it is good that we have frontline spinners in the squad because it gives us that option that when you get a pitch that might actually be kind to spinners to actually play one," said Dyson.

"We found in South Africa that we didn't have that spin option. We were asking the fast bowlers to do all the 'donkey' work, and all of our fast bowlers are aggressive fast bowlers."

Though fast bowlers have often thrived on the Queen's Park Oval pitch because of its inconsistent bounce, the venue has been the traditional home for spin bowlers in the Caribbean, and there is a delicious prospect in the second Test of watching Sri Lanka's off-spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan working over the West Indies' batsmen.

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