Cricket: West Indies lose killer touch

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The Independent Online
AS ENGLAND'S last four wickets, expertly marshalled by Mark Ramprakash, comfortably averted the unsettling prospect of the follow on, my mind drifted back to the heyday of the great West Indies teams of a decade ago and made unflattering comparisons with their present successors.

In the 1980s, under the guidance of the present manager Clive Lloyd, the overnight situation would have been the virtual guarantee of the kind of three-day victories by an innings that were a West Indian speciality during those glory days.

England, 87 for 6 with only one specialist batsman remaining with the bowlers to come, would have had any two of Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner or Courtney Walsh coming at them like a pair of angry Dobermans from the very start. There would have been menace, an urgency in the air and the crowd would have been baying for blood.These are different times. That strapping self confidence has been drained by the bitter taste of recent defeats and the realisation that they are no longer regarded with a deep inferiority complex. As a consequence they have lost that special knack of delivering the swift knock-out punch once they have got their opponent groggy and hanging on to the ropes.

It would all change, so it was widely felt, once the dashing and daring Brian Lara took over the captaincy. It was said he had an intuitive grasp of the game and an inspirational quality that his predecessor, the admirable but predictable Walsh, lacked. It was obvious in his explosive batting, even in his very presence.

So far the evidence has not matched the expectations. These are early days and Lara has yet to fully settle in to the position. In this series, he has often been tactically defensive and some of his bowling options have been baffling. More than once the urgency that the situation demands has been missing and he has tended to let things drift.

None of his decisions has been more inexplicable than that not to use Curtly Armbrose while Ramprakash and Robert Croft were mounting their important partnership in the first hour and a half. Ambrose, it was ascertained, was fit and, as he demonstrated when finally handed the new ball after lunch by vice captain Carl Hooper in Lara's temporary absence, raring to go.

Croft, the whole world should be aware, was exposed by the Australians last summer as a soft touch to the ribcage ball at which Ambrose is so adept. It was an opportunity squandered.