Cricket: Chance for West Indies youngsters

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LIFE after the Viv Richards's era begins in earnest for the West Indies over the next six months.

They arrived in Australia on Wednesday for their first full tour since 'The Man' stepped down from the captaincy last year to be rapidly followed by the retirements of Gordon Greenidge, Jeffrey Dujon and Malcolm Marshall. It is the first time Richards and Greenidge have been missing since they first toured Australia during the disastrous series of 1975-76 that resulted in a staggering 5-1 defeat.

The West Indies win-loss ratio since stands 17-5 in the 32 Tests between the countries, first under Clive Lloyd, then under Richards. In that time they have yielded only one Test series, narrowly to New Zealand in a contentious contest in 1980.

It means an entire generation of West Indians have grown up unaccustomed to losing. If they were unaware of what the exit of such commanding individuals, with 381 Tests between them would mean, the chastening results of the World Cup in February and March helped educate them.

They had little patience with the reconstituted team as it was knocked out at the preliminary stage and took to roundly booing the new captain, Richie Richardson, in Jamaica and boycotting the solitary inaugural Test against South Africa in Barbados in April.

An astonishing victory on the final day of that match, when humiliating defeat seemed certain, and the intervening months have changed the mood somewhat.

Richards's considerable shadow, that hovered over the team through the World Cup, has now all but disappeared and, on the very day the Test series starts in Brisbane on 27 November, he is down to appear on stage with his friend Ian Botham at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford.

The public is now likely to be more understanding, even if the evidence suggests Australia are also having problems at present. West Indians know their cricket well enough to accept that a difficult period lies ahead, similar to the one which dogged Australia for so long after Greg Chapell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh all chose to quit at the same time.

In the circumstances, the selectors, wary about carrying too many beginners, summoned what experience there was left and accepted widespread advice that a cricket manager was necessary. They chose Rohan Kanhai, the former Test captain who, in a similar position, has helped Jamaica to three of the last five domestic championships.

If the bowling, based around pace and strengthened by the return to fitness of Ian Bishop, remains solid and strong, the batting is suspect and shaky.

Richardson and Desmond Haynes are the only firmly established and proven batsmen, the only ones averaging better than 40. But neither has been at his best of late.

It presents an ideal opportunity for the three young left-handers - Brian Lara, 23, Jimmy Adams, 24, and Keith Arthurton 27 - to make their names and the enigmatic Carl Hooper, still only 25 but averaging a disappointing 28.18 in 32 Tests.

Haynes, 36, is the only survivor from the Kerry Packer experience that was so central in fashioning their successes in the 1990s and the continuity that allowed them to use the same 13 players throughout their last two series against Australia in 1988-89 and 1991 has been shattered. In the past year, the selectors, desperately seeking to mould a new team, have called on 25.

A lengthy tour such as this, with five Tests and the obligatory number of one-day internationals, is fundamental to the building of another settled side to protect a proud record - especially as a three-Tests home series against the Pakistanis follows immediately.