Windies no field for finding form

2010-05-26 00:00

THE state of the Caribbean pitches appears to be mirroring the fortunes of the West Indian national team. They’re inconsistent, have the tendency to disintegrate and are mostly unpredictable.

The Caribbean should probably not be on your itinerary if you’re a travelling supporter wanting to see classic cricket shots, where the ball comes on to the bat and the pitches have consistent pace and bounce.

According to the past legends of West Indies cricket, the pitches — and all other aspects of West Indies cricket — have deteriorated markedly since their playing heyday.

In their opinion, wickets are lower and slower and have become more inconsistent over the years.

I remember hearing Malcolm Marshall reminisce about the hard-baked wickets where fast bowlers could run in and bowl bouncer after bouncer. Being a fast bowler on the low and slow wickets of the West Indies at the moment, however, is a much tougher prospect.

The preparation of the pitches on the islands of the Caribbean is unique. The soil that constitutes the West Indian pitches is a far cry from our “bully”. Their type of soil breaks up very quickly in contrast to our pitches, which are compact and hold together for at least a few days.

It’s not uncommon for the West Indian groundsmen to flood their pit­ches the day before a game and then to roll them while they are still wet in an effort to hold them together. They then wait for the hot sun to draw out the moisture and then roll the pitch again, incorporating a sprinkling of grass cuttings.

At first glance the pitch looks great. You could be forgiven for thinking that the ball will come on to the bat and that it will favour the batsmen. Once the game has started, however, it doesn’t take long to realise that the pitches don’t hold advantage for anyone but the spinners.

In my opinion, a variety of pitches around the world is good for the game.

For cricketers to perform at their best, they need to adapt to all types of wickets.

This is probably truer in the Caribbean than anywhere else. In the past month we have seen the ball misbehave both laterally and vertically on the West Indian pitches and, at times, the wickets have looked virtually unplayable.

Yet there are still batsmen who have scored hundreds and teams who’ve elected to chase down totals. If the pitches were really that bad, captains would not be opting to bat second as they have done.

There has been much variation in the bounce, which has created some excitement for the bowlers and a fair amount of doubt in the minds of the batsmen.

Just ask J.P. Duminy.

Mentally tough Hashim Amla has been chalking up the runs, whereas Duminy continues to battle with himself and his technique. It’s common talk in the change room that if you’re in poor form, you seem to be a magnet for nasty deliveries.

J.P. has had balls roll on him and hit him in the head off the same spot. Duminy will know better than anyone else that the West Indies is not the tour to go on if you are trying to find form.

As the teams move on to the equally unpredictable pitches of Dominica, Jamaica (violence permitting), and St Kitts, the more consistent Proteas should continue to have the upper hand.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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