Captain shrugs off his troubles

Tony Cozier looks at the attitude to adversity shown by Richie Richardson
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Personal crisis is no stranger to Richie Richardson. For much of the three and a half years since he acceded to the West Indies captaincy, it has been an unwanted companion, testing his patience and resilience and threatening his heath.

He has repeatedly shaken off such adversity but, almost as soon as he has done so, it has returned to embrace him once more. As he prepares for the first encounter with England of a long summer, the first of three one-day internationals at Trent Bridge tomorrow, he again finds himself in its clutches.

He is as woefully short of runs as his main fast bowler, Curtly Ambrose, is of wickets, and his team clearly has not yet shaken off the after-effects of the devastating defeat to Australia in the home series three weeks ago.

The successful conversion of Carl Hooper into an opening batsman, originally suggested by Michael Holding, the batting of the 23-year-old Sherwin Campbell, who will be his partner, and the early showing of the evergreen Courtney Walsh and the recuperated Ian Bishop have been optimistic signs. Yet, if he were so inclined, Richardson would be a troubled man - and not simply about the texture of the hotel beds that is causing such discomfort to his players.

Yet he treats it all with a shrug, for he has been through it all before. After initial failure in the 1992 World Cup led to a hostile reception back home, he emerged from the shadow of Viv Richards to create a spirited and successful team of his own which beat, one after the other, South Africa, Australia, Pakistan and England.

The peculiar pressures of leading such a diverse group of disunited territories in the Caribbean took their toll, however, and doctors ordered a six-month break last year when they diagnosed his increasing lethargy and decreasing runs as acute fatigue syndrome.

Once more Richardson rebounded, confirming his renewed form and fitness with three centuries in five Red Stripe Cup matches in January that guaranteed his reinstatement as captain in place of Walsh, who stood in on tours of India and New Zealand.

But crisis was never far away and it clung to him during the series against Australia. An unforgiving public held him responsible for the unthinkable defeat that ended 15 years' invincibility, and he has been unable to rid himself of it in the early weeks of a tour that will probably determine his future.

His three first-class innings so far have amounted to a grand total of five runs from 33 balls. At Taunton on Sunday he went in first and batted as though in a trance. All four balls he received struck him on the pad, the last gaining a leg-before verdict.

"Perhaps I'm trying too hard" was his comment afterwards and he will recall that he started the last tour in 1991 almost as badly. But he must know that, for the good of the team and for his own authority, it is essential he plays like the punishing batsman who has reeled off 5,774 runs in his 80 Tests at the imposing average of 44. The knives are out for him back home, where another loss - especially to England - would prompt mass back- stabbing.

His role is no more crucial than that of Ambrose, who has also not been himself since he came back from a shoulder injury that brought a premature end to his season with Northamptonshire last year.

His attitude, even more than his form, was questioned in the series against Australia, when it needed the sight of a grassy pitch in Port of Spain to stoke his fire. His nine wickets were enough to win that Test but he managed only four in the other three.

No one - not even Brian Lara - was as influential in maintaining the West Indies' clean sheet as Ambrose, man of the match in five of the eight victories under Richardson. The coming four months will determine whether, at 31, his effectiveness is terminally diminished.

The new coach, Andy Roberts, has assessed Ambrose's mood as much as his bowling. At the start of the tour he publicly advised Ambrose to slow down and concentrate on movement rather than pace to survive in Test cricket.

The effect was predictable, and probably deliberate. On Saturday at Taunton Ambrose charged in with more meaning and menace than at any time against Australia, 11 no balls in nine overs showing his coach that he has no intention of slowing down just yet.