Cricket: West Indies on the back foot and needing a win at all costs

THERE IS an ominous feeling of deja vu for the West Indies as they enter the second Test against South Africa at St George's Park here today.

In each of their previous overseas series, in Australia two years ago and in Pakistan last year, they lost the first Test, as they did this time in Johannesburg, and went into the second with their engine spluttering and needing a kick-start.

Each time they lost again, a prelude to the 3-2 defeat in Australia and the 3-0 thrashing in Pakistan. It is much the same at present. It took a mighty push to get the tour moving in the first place and what few sparks there have been along the way have quickly been extinguished.

Efficiency has been stymied by a string of telling injuries, intolerable and inconsistent cricket and a listless attitude that has led to three defeats and not a single victory so far. Prior to the most critical match of the series, the effort seems again to have virtually stalled.

It is a situation that Brian Lara, captain on his first overseas mission, well appreciates. There is no hiding place for the West Indies, he acknowledges.

"It looks a result wicket, both teams play for results so it's going to be either 2-0 or 1-1 at the end of the Test," he said. "It's important for West Indies cricket that we don't go away from here 2-0 down.

"We haven't come to South Africa to learn about the place or to learn about South African culture, but to win the series," he added. "We know what this match means."

Lara also recognised the importance of his role as the premier batsman in the team at No 3. Emphasising that it was a position at which he will remain, he said: "It's important if you bat at No 3 to steer the innings, to send a message back into the dressing-room about how the pitch is playing and how the bowlers are bowling."

He has gone through a low-scoring patch since his hundred in the opening match of the tour and solicited the critical help of Sir Garry Sobers, in South Africa on Barbados government business, at practice yesterday. Lara's form and that of his team has been compounded by the latest injury concern, tennis elbow for Curtly Ambrose, who is being urgently treated. Ambrose is too experienced and valuable not to be chosen but he is unlikely to bowl at full throttle.

In contrast, the South Africans have no worries except the distraction of the heated debate over the racial make-up of their team, whose all- white complexion have raised the hackles of prominent African National Congress politicians.

The inclusion of Herschelle Gibbs, a mixed-race player from Cape Town, is the only change from the victorious eleven of the first Test.

South Africa (from): H Cronje (capt), G H Gibbs, J Kallis, D Cullinan, J Rhodes, S Pollock, M Boucher, P Symcox, A Donald, D Terbrugge, P Adams.

West Indies (probable): B Lara (capt), C Lambert, P Wallace, S Chanderpaul, C Hooper, St Williams, R Jacobs, NMcLean, M Dillon, C Ambrose, C Walsh.

Umpires: D Shepherd (England), R Koertzen (South Africa).

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