CRICKET: Richardson moves into firing line

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CRICKET

TONY COZIER

reports from St John's, Antigua

Australia and the West Indies enter the second Test here today, their fortunes having done a spectacular 360 degree somersault since the series began in Barbados eight days ago.

It was Australia who were then in some disarray.They had been thoroughly thrashed 4-1 in the preceding one-day internationals, their premier strike bowler, Craig McDermott, and a worthy member of his support staff, Damien Fleming, had returned home with injuries and their much vaunted leg-spinner, Shane Warne, had been belted all around the Caribbean, not only by the main West Indies batsmen but by some of their reserves as well.

In the brief interim, it is Australia who are ahead in the contest and bubbling with confidence, the West Indies who suddenly find themselves overburdened by adversity.

A massive dose of complacency in the first Test in Barbados led to a humiliating defeat by 10 wickets, for the first time in 30 years within three days. They have been roundly castigated, in every forum, by their furious public, made even more indignant by the sighting of several of their players cavorting in a popular Barbados nightclub in the small hours of Sunday morning, the day of their demise.

Richie Richardson, returning to the captaincy after a medically advised year-long absence, has borne the brunt of the censure, so much so that Courtney Walsh, caretaker skipper in his absence, has been moved to call for an end to it.

Their turmoil has been compounded on the eve of the match by news that Desmond Haynes has filed a writ against the West Indies Cricket Board of Control in the Barbados High Court claiming damages for its ruling making him ineligible for the series.

Haynes, one of Test cricket's most durable and successful openers with 116 Tests, more than 7,000 runs and 18 centuries to his name, arrived back from a contract with Western Province in South Africa in early January, one match too late to meet the WICBC's selection criterion of participation in all five Red Stripe Cup matches.

Although it pointed out it was a long established principle, mainly to prevent an exodus of top players to simultaneous seasons in Australia and South Africa, it seemed, at the time, a case of cutting off its nose to spite its face. To a public unaccustomed to losing, it seems even more so after the failure of the young openers, Stuart Williams and Sherwin Campbell, in the first Test and the subsequent dropping of Campbell.

There is no hope that Haynes will return for this series, although he might well do for the summer's tour of England, whatever the court ruling, and the West Indies must depend more on their proven resilience to protect a record of not losing a Test series since 1980.

Eight times since, they have rallied after an early loss to either win or level. Richardson, characteristically positive, is confident they can do it again and has stepped forward to lead from the front, opening the innings for only the 10th time in his 77th Test. But his main task is to lift his players and stimulate the enthusiasm blatantly missing in Barbados.

It was an enthusiasm that prevaded everything about Australia's cricket and, having siezed the early initiative, actual as well as psychological, they will not easily surrender it.

It was the West Indies' batting, dismissed for under 200 in each innings for the first time in a home Test, that was principally responsible for the Barbados defeat so they should be comforted by a return to the Antigua Recreation Ground, scene of Brian Lara's record 375 against England a year ago. A similarly benign pitch is expected and, all things being equal, a draw is the likeliest result. But all things are not equal at present - just as they were not a week ago.

AUSTRALIA: *M A Taylor, M J Slater, D C Boon, M E Waugh, S R Waugh, G S Blewett, I A Healy, B P Julian, P R Reiffel, S K Warne, G D McGrath

WEST INDIES: *R B Richardson, S C Williams, B C Lara, J C Adams, C L Hooper, K L T Arthurton, J R Murray, W K M Benjamin, C E L Ambrose, C A Walsh, K C G Benjamin

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