Cricket: Lara's contribution essential to captain's cause: Walsh takes up another mission impossible with the West Indies in India. Tony Cozier reports from Chandigarh

COURTNEY WALSH is no stranger to lost causes. Indeed, he has become something of their champion of late.

It was his spell that turned certain defeat into remarkable victory over South Africa in Bridgetown in 1992; his fateful ball that snatched one of Test cricket's narrowest wins, by one run, over Australia in Adelaide last year; and, as anyone in the West Country will certify, his leadership that has inspired Gloucestershire's unmistakeable revival.

Now Walsh has flown away again on another mission impossible to India as captain by default of a West Indies team whose composition was determined more in the doctors' office than the selectors' room.

Richie Richardson, the appointed captain, Curtly Ambrose, the match-winning fast bowler, and his accomplice Ian Bishop are all missing because of one ailment or another brought on by the incessant grind of modern cricket. In addition, Desmond Haynes has opted for a season in South Africa and Winston Benjamin is on a disciplinary suspension until 31 December.

It leaves Walsh with the most inexperienced West Indies touring team since Kerry Packer decimated the party for India in 1978-79. Six of the 16 who travelled with Walsh to Delhi on Tuesday are on their first major tours and five have yet to play a Test.

All of this is compounded by an impossibly crippling itinerary that encompasses 15 different towns and cities in two months, by the psychological uncertainty caused by the recent outbreak of plague that delayed the tour by a week and, not least, by opponents strong and confident at home who have won seven and lost none of their previous 11 Tests.

'I appreciate they're at home and will have an advantage, but once conditions are reasonable we have the balance to meet any eventuality,' Walsh said in his response to understandable pessimism back home.

His other perspective is more realistic. 'We've got to make these youngsters aware from the start that India is different in almost every way to home and to anywhere they may have been before. It's a new challenge and once they accept that they can do well and come back tougher and better cricketers.'

This is the first of four consecutive series for the West Indies - New Zealand away, Australia at home and England away next summer follow one after the other.

The new batsmen are Stuart Williams, 25, and Roland Holder, 26, both of whom took centuries off Mike Atherton's England tourists last season, and Sherwin Campbell, 23, who hit three centuries in the five Red Stripe Cup matches.

Those who must now support Walsh in attack are Andy Cummins and Kenny Benjamin, who have only 10 Tests between them, and Cameron Cuffy and Barrington Browne, who have none. In height and method, if not in effectiveness, Cuffy is an Ambrose clone who would have benefited from his season with Surrey, while Browne is eighth in the pecking order of fast bowlers in the absence of Ambrose, Bishop and Winston Benjamin.

There is even the rarity of a specialist leg-spinner, the 25- year-old Trinidian Rajindra Dhanraj, although his presence is as much a deterrent against the Indians doctoring pitches to suit their own spinners as anything else.

Realistically the burden is bound to fall on Walsh and his chief lieutenants, Brian Lara, now elevated to the vice-captaincy, and Carl Hooper and Phil Simmons, the only others with Test experience in India.

It necessitates a shift in emphasis, identified by Michael Holding. 'We've heard a lot about our intimidating fast bowling but now we've got to develop intimidating batting that builds big totals so that this limited attack has something to bowl at,' the former Test bowler said.

And that, of course, means Lara. The prospect of proving himself against high-class spin bowling in alien conditions, the presence of two younger challengers for his batting crown in the opposition, Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, should concentrate his mind wonderfully.

Lara's tour, however, got off to a bad start yesterday. He did not play in the five-wicket defeat in the opening match against Chandigarh and was fined an undisclosed sum, along with Hooper, for missing a pre-tour meeting of the West Indies squad in London.

ITINERARY: 17 Oct: First one-day international (Faridabad); 20: Second one-day international (Bombay); 7 Nov: Third one- day international (Vishakhapatnam); 9: Fourth one-day international (Cuttack); 11: Fifth one-day international (Jaipur); 13-15: Board President's XI (Bangalore); 18-22: First Test (Bombay); 25-27: Bombay (Ranji Trophy champions) (Calicut); 1-5 Dec: Second Test (Nagpur); 10-14: Third Test (Chandigarh). Triangular one-day series: 23 Oct: India v West Indies (Madras); 26: West Indies v New Zealand (Goa); 28: India v New Zealand (Baroda); 30: India v West Indies (Kanpur); 1 Nov: West Indies v New Zealand (Guwahati); 3: India v New Zealand (Delhi); 5: Day / night final (Calcutta).

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