Colin E. H. Croft
Present West Indies pitches are killing our fast bowlers and spinners too!
I often wonder if (Sir) Wes Hall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, (Sir) Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Ian Bishop, Patrick Patterson, me – Colin Croft – (Sir) Curtly Ambrose, Charlie Griffith, Roy Gilchrist and Courtney Walsh, the most aggressive and productive fast bowlers WI ever had, would have enjoyed bowling on these bare flats presently disguised as WI Test pitches.
Sir Vivian Richards’ stadium in Antigua & Barbuda and Grenada’s national stadium at Queen’s Park had one thing in common. Neither pitch helped WI’s bowlers.
Both pitches remained docile, not even deteriorating. With luck, Kensington Oval in Barbados would be more bouncy and bowler-friendly!
In 1970’s, 1980’s, even 1990’s, Caribbean pitches favored neither home nor touring teams, but produced positive results. Indeed, had it been India, Australia, England or Pakistan, WI was regularly up against a wall, but there were wins and losses!
In 1981, playing England in the Caribbean, after beating them 1-0 in England in 1980, all expected our pitches to have different characteristics, challenging bowlers and batsmen to adjust.
Port of Spain’s Queen’s Park Oval was notorious as the most spin-friendly pitch here, that fact often back-firing on WI. Yet faster bowlers got wickets there too.
Bridgetown’s Kensington Oval was the fairest, fast but true. Batsmen who were adventurous and skillful, and bowlers who had diligence and know-how, got runs and wickets.
Guyana’s Bourda Oval was a difficult pitch for bowlers, fast or slow, to operate on, that strip being as flat as a runway, still the best batting track ever produced in the Caribbean. However, that same pitch indirectly produced noted off-spinner Lance Gibbs and fast bowler “Bomber” Croft!
At Bourda, in 2003, Shiv Chanderpaul scored the fifth fastest Test century, against Australia. Australia won.
Sabina Park, in Jamaica, was easily the best pitch for fast bowling. One could see one’s reflection any first morning, so slick were those tracts there; like mirrors; but batsmen with ability also got many runs there too!
Antigua’s Recreation Ground was as great cricket arena, small, quaint but so much fun. With a reputation of allowing batsmen to get many runs, ala Brian Lara’s 375 and 400 no in Tests there, bowlers got wickets too, if they were good triers.
QPO, by 1981, was as unpredictable as rains over the Northern Range, pitches with spectacular, dark histories. Plans were flexible as early as the first morning, even before the toss was spun.
In 1971, Roy Fredericks was bowled by the first ball of Test No. 2 of that 5-Test series, delivered by Syed Abid Ali, a delivery that did not bounce at all after pitching – a real, true “ground-eater!”
India won by seven wickets, winning that series by that Test; 1-0.
Off-spinner Jack Noreaga had WI’s best Test one innings return too; 9-95; but India, with world class spinners Bishen Singh Bedi, Erapali Prasanna and Srnivas Venkataraghavan, still beat WI.
In 1974, England beat WI in Test No. 5, by just 26 runs, that series drawn 1-1, due to late Tony Greig’s unbelievable match figures; 69.1-17-156-13; bowling simple off-cutters and off-breaks.
Contrast those to 1976, when India, set 403 runs to win, achieved that incredible total; 406-4; beating WI by six wickets, crowning Sunil Gavaskar, whose exploits started in 1971.
Yours truly even had a good input at QPO, getting 8-29 v Pakistan in 1977, the tourists still making 180. WI won, but not before Pakistan’s Salim Altaf had removed (Sir) Vivian Richards and Gordon Greenidge with similar “shooters”, as Abid Ali had done to Fredericks in 1971!
Many who witnessed it still consider Holding’s first over to England’s Geoff Boycott in Barbados in 1981 to be the greatest and fastest initial over for any Test, that Kensington Oval pitch bouncy, fast but steady, the perfect pitch for cricket. Reportedly, people even died from that over!
Yet, sometimes forgotten is that Clive Lloyd, (Sir) Viv and Graeme Gooch each got centuries, the latter’s 116 probably the best innings ever played against Holding, Roberts, Garner and Croft.
In 1999, at K-O, Australia’s Steve Waugh made 199, Ricky Ponting 104 and WI’s Sherwin Campbell 105, yet Brian Lara’s 153 no, to bring WI a one-wicket win, is still considered the best innings ever played in the Caribbean, with Australia’s Shane Warne, Glen Mc Grath, Jason Gillespie and Stuart Mc Gill in attendance.
Sabina Park, 1977, (Sir) Andy tore the protective left pad from Pakistan’s Zaheer Abbas’ leg; out LBW. Yet, despite much speed from that gilded pitch, Asif Iqbal made a tremendous 135 in a losing cause.
Similarly, ARG, in its first Test, 1981, had Peter Willey getting a superb 102 no, Sir Viv 114 and Boycott 104, yours truly getting 6-74, a good mix of useful batsmanship and determined bowling.
WI pitches “back in the day” were different!
Hall, Holding, Garner, Gilchrist et al no longer play, but present WI’s fast bowlers are not quick enough nor good enough to get 20 wickets, even with help from spinners.
Hence, they need assistance from pitches, not these present-day graveyards! Enjoy!
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