Cricket: No quick fix for troubled West Indies

The decline of cricket in the Caribbean has reached rock bottom - and it shows no signs of improving.
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The Independent Online
THE SCENE in the stuffy interview room at the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad on Monday afternoon was as familiar and depressing as one of West Indies' regular batting collapses.

As the cameras rolled, the recorders whirred and the assembled media shot its questions, the captain Brian Lara, team manager Clive Lloyd, and coach Malcolm Marshall once more tried, with an understandable lack of conviction, to put a positive spin on their team's latest, most humbling debacle.

Australia had just dispatched their limp batting for 51, their lowest total in 71 years of Test cricket, for victory in the first Test by the massive margin of 312 runs. It was their sixth successive defeat, the second by over 300 runs, following their galling 5-0 drubbing to the still predominantly white South Africans in South Africa where, only a few weeks earlier, the team leadership was always having to explain away another setback.

While disgruntled fans outside demanded "fire the lot", seasoned correspondents from the Australian and British press arrived anticipating resignations.

A year ago, the England captain, Mike Atherton, had quit in Antigua after losing the series to the West Indies 3-1, Lara's first at the helm. Pakistan captains are changed as frequently as they change the bowling. England football managers would have been long since seeking alternative employment.

Here, there was not the slightest hint of sackings or abdications, simply recycled platitudes about disregarding the negatives and accentuating the positives, about the batting having to dig deeper, about coming back in the remaining Tests, about the tough job of rebuilding for the future.

"I've had the whole of the Caribbean behind me since I was a teenager and there is no reason to let up," Lara assured the press. "I've always been a big trier."

At a media conference beamed live across the Caribbean two weeks earlier, the West Indies Cricket Board roundly carpeted Lara, Lloyd and Marshall after South Africa. That immediately compromised their positions and they have been frustrated since by their lack of influence, within the team and within the Board.

The more relevant truth, as Marshall keeps noting, is that the talent is very thin on the ground, a reflection of the lack of foresight during the glory days when the West Indies were so dominant. All of the leading players of that era were engaged in county cricket, rounding out their skills while at the same time removing themselves from club cricket, the nursery of the game. Nothing was put in place to fill the gap.

"There is just not the skill that there should be at international level," Sir Everton Weekes, one of the great Three Ws batting formation of the 1950s, along with Sir Frank Worrell and Sir Clyde Walcott, said. "There also seems an attitude problem in that the players are simply not trying hard enough."

Sir Viv Richards, a batting giant of a later generation, shared the concern. "Anyone who has supported West Indies cricket over the years certainly would be feeling a little bit sad," he said. "If what we are seeing is the best we can do, we are in a lot of trouble.

"We are in deep turmoil, team-wise, and we're not seeing any inspiring performances to warrant taking Lara's stripes away from him," he added.

The West Indies batting collapse on Monday, while extreme, was not surprising. They have been dismissed for less than 200 a dozen times in their last 26 Test innings and have totalled more than 300 only three times. In the 17 domestic Busta Cup matches this season, there were more totals of less than 200 than more.

Only now is the Board putting in place specialised development programmes throughout the region.

Weekes is not despondent about the long-term future. He is in charge of a group of under-13s in Barbados where he has identified "lots of genuine talent and genuine interest".

"These little fellows are as keen as mustard and learn fast," he said. "What we're doing in trying to instil in them the basics and the discipline that it needed for when they move on up the age-groups to first-class and, eventually, Test level. Those are two areas that are lacking in the present team."

But there is no quick fix to the current crisis. The next three Tests against Australia are going to be tough to take if you happen to be West Indian.

The West Indies vice-captain, Carl Hooper, said yesterday he may make himself available for the third Test against Australia, pending the latest medical results on his sick baby. Hooper's son is being treated in Adelaide for an undisclosed medical condition. "If all goes well... I'll be back," he said.