Cricket: Rose-tinted future

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The Independent Online
If Wisden's new system of Test ratings is taken at face value, India and the West Indies set out on their present series six weeks ago virtually neck and neck in third and fourth places, behind Australia and South Africa. The Australians have pulled ahead with their triumph in South Africa but neither team here has made any significant advance.

They have been frustrated in the last two Tests in Antigua and Guyana by a combination of the weather and embarrassingly antiquated covering. As the umpires, George Sharp of England and Eddie Nicholls, a local police inspector, eyed the saturated outfield at Bourda yesterday it became apparent that there was no chance of play for the second successive day in the final Test. Since only two days were possible in the previous match in Antigua the series has in effect been reduced to just three Tests.

The West Indies may be marginally ahead, thanks to their narrow win on a helpful pitch in Barbados, but their overall performance has been unconvincing. There have, however, been some significant developments. Franklyn Rose, the tall, sinewy Jamaican, has taken to the demanding Test environment with relish and has looked the fastest and most effective bowler on either side. A year ago he had given up the game and had played not a single first-class match.

Mervyn Dillon, the equally tall, athletic Trinidadian who made such an impression on his coach Malcolm Marshall while playing for Hampshire seconds last season, was even more of a surprise. He had never appeared at regional level for his island team and yet was fast and impressive in his two Tests.

Indirectly the emergence of the pair has probably advanced the eventual elevation of Brian Lara to the captaincy. Quite properly Courtney Walsh was retained at the helm, since his calm and steady leadership was precisely what was required when he took over from Richie Richardson at a turbulent time a year ago. Lara was made vice-captain for the tour of Australia late last year and re-appointed against India, a clear indication that the Board was finally satisfied he had gained the maturity it required before promoting him to a position of such responsibility - and such constant pressure.

His handling of affairs in the victorious Barbados Test when Walsh was absent injured - Lara's first as captain - was widely praised but what is likely to influence the decision to promote him over Walsh, probably for the tour of Pakistan in October and November, is how the selectors now see Walsh's position. This is an issue which would have been unthinkable before the breakthroughs of Rose and Dillon.

Walsh is still a mighty competitor, one of only 11 bowlers with more than 300 Test wickets. But, at 34, his relevance to the long-term development of the team is suddenly open to question. Quicker than had seemed likely, the time is approaching for him to hand over the mantle to the younger generation.