By Tony Cozier
Given the record at the Queen’s Park Oval, Joey Carew’s pronouncement that there will “most definitely” be an outright result in the decisive fifth Digicel Test starting today was simply stating the obvious.
There hasn’t been a draw there for 10 Tests, since 1997 when Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Indian opener, dug in for eleven and a quarter hours over Test cricket’s second most tedious double-hundred. In his later incarnation as garrulous television commentator, he would have suitably maligned it with a few of the quirky phrases for which he was renowned.
Only one Test since the turn of the 21st century has yielded anything like the recent run gluts on the bowling torture chambers that were the Antigua Recreation Ground and Kensington Oval. Those batsmen who rejoiced in those conditions won’t be so cosseted here.
The exception to the recent rule was Australia’s 576 for four declared in 2003 but that was amassed against an attack as feeble as any ever to appear at Test level.
Picked by a panel of whom Carew was chairman, it contained three accredited bowlers, Merv Dillon, Pedro Collins and Vasbert Drakes, with laughable back up from batsmen Marlon Samuels, Dave Bernard (in his solitary Test), Ramnaresh Sarwan and Wavell Hinds.
The West Indies reply of 408 featured the second hundred in succession by, yes, Daren Ganga. Yet they still managed to lose.
While results here are not difficult to forecast, how they are achieved is anything but.
Gone are the days when Abed Ali, the little Indian medium-pacer, skidded the very first ball of the 1971 Test under Roy Fredericks bat to hit the base of the middle-stump, a true zandolee, as it’s known locally after an especially slithery lizard. Or even 27 years on when Carl Hooper’s off-spinner did the same to Nasser Hussein in England’s second innings.
The ground’s DNA is unlike any other in the Caribbean.
Its first six Tests, over 24 years, were played on coir matting since a small insect in the soil made it impossible to prepare proper natural pitches. After four successive, high-scoring draws (the last was West Indies 681 for eight declared, England 537 in 1954) the square was dug up and turf brought in from the south of the island.
The difference was not instant. In the first Test on the newly laid surface, a draw in 1955, Clyde Walcott made hundreds in each innings, Everton Weekes one and the first three in Australia’s order, Colin McDonald, Arthur Morris and Neil Harvey, responded with hundreds of their own in a total of 600.
As the square gradually settled, the cricket became better balanced until its inevitable deterioration from wear and tear. It became a spinners’ paradise yet slower and slower – and, in the case of Fredericks and others, lower and lower.
By the mid-1970s it was clear that new turf was needed to replace the tired original that had been there for quarter-century. It is a process necessarily repeated in recent times.
Add to the mix Trinidad’s higher humidity, compared to the smaller islands to the north, and often additional rainfall, such as this season, and conditions at Queen’s Park are as varied and exciting – and as different to the rest of the Caribbean – as the island itself.
With the notable exception of the 1991 Test, when an especially wet period preceding the match yielded a spiteful green-top and a three-day result (Australia 128 and 105, West Indies 136 and 98 for one), there has been a proper balance producing proper cricket – but never predictable.
As they consider their final selections this morning, neither camp can be sure whether pace or spin will hold sway or what to do on winning the toss (the ratio in the seven Tests since 1999 is four bowling, three batting).
But for the intervention of the weather, the only certainty is that there will be a winner.