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Batsman’s paradise?

Ezra Stuart in St Kitts

Batsman’s paradise?

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BASSETERRE – After the bowler-friendly Providence pitch in Guyana, batsmen on both sides were bubbly when they inspected the Warner Park surface here yesterday for the deciding second Digicel cricket Test between West Indies and Pakistan.
Both previous Tests at this venue, the inaugural one in 2006 against India and last year’s second versus South Africa, ended in high-scoring draws on flat pitches.
An almost similar surface is being churned out for this Test with dry grass rolled into the match pitch, which looks fairly dry and quite hard.
And even before making his inspection, West Indies coach Ottis Gibson revealed that a message was sent to the groundsmen requesting the type of surface that the regional team would like to play on.
“We sent a message here asking for a wicket that is going to help us. We obviously got a very strong seam attack with Fidel Edwards, (Kemar) Roach, Ravi Rampaul and (Darren) Sammy and they obviously got a very strong spin attack with (Saeed) Ajmal, (Abdur) Rehman and (Mohammed) Hafeez,” Gibson said.
“So we are hoping that we can have a surface that is more helpful to our seam attack, one that gives us an advantage,” he added.
In the previous two Tests at this venue, the smallest in the Caribbean where international cricket is played, eight batsmen recorded centuries and there were three totals in excess of 500 runs.
In 2006, Daren Ganga (135) and Ramnaresh Sarwan (116) fashioned centuries in the West Indies’ first innings total of 581 as India’s most successful Test bowler Anil Kumble sent down 47 wicketless overs.
The West Indies played seven specialist batsmen and Marlon Samuels, who batted at No.7, made 87 while Shivnarine Chanderpaul was left high and dry on 97 not out as off-spinner Harbhajan Singh took the last four wickets in the space of 11 runs for the only five-wicket haul (44-6-147-5) by a bowler.
India replied with 362, behind an even century from V.V.S. Laxman while the West Indies made 172 for six declared in their second innings with Ganga on 66 not out. Set 392 for victory, India held on for a draw on 294 for eight.
Last year, South Africa batted first and amassed 543 for six declared. Captain Graeme Smith (132), Jacques Kallis (110) and A.B. de Villiers (135 not out) all got hundreds.
Off-spinner Shane Shillingford, who joined Sulieman Benn in a double spin West Indian attack, had a marathon bowl of 52 overs and took three for 193. Benn had a solitary wicket in 30 overs which cost 124 runs.
In reply, the West Indies, led by a 357-ball knock of 166 by Chanderpaul and 114 by Brendan Nash, whose run-out ended a 220-run fifth-wicket partnership, had the satisfaction of surpassing South Africa’s total, scoring 546.
Dale Steyn, the world’s No.1 ranked fast bowler, toiled 29 overs and conceded 105 runs for his lone wicket. When South Africa batted a second time, Benn (28) and Shillingford (30) combined for 58 of the 94 overs bowled before the Proteas declared at 235 for three to complete another stalemate.
There is now every possibility that Samuels, who was 12th man in Guyana, may come into the team for Darren Bravo with Sarwan reverting to his favoured No.3 position. But it is almost certain that there will be a straight swap at the top with uncapped 18-year-old Barbadian schoolboy Kraigg Brathwaite replacing the out of sorts Devon Smith.
It could be another lean test for fast bowler Kemar Roach, who has not been at his best in this Digicel home series versus Pakistan. Last year, Roach picked up just one scalp in 35 overs, spread over the two South African innings.
His pace partner Ravi Rampaul was wicketless in 20 overs, two of which were bowled in the second innings before he limped off the field.
At that stage of his career, Rampaul had taken just four wickets in five Tests at an unsatisfactory average of 109.75 for each wicket.
But he has reduced that high average by half with the excellent figures of 17-5-27-3 and 21-6-48-4 in the West Indies’  victory in Georgetown.
This pitch should surely test his resurgence.