Cricket: West Indies seek an open and shut case

Tony Cozier watches Wallace and Lambert animate a one-dimensional line-up
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The Independent Online
THE West Indies selectors have turned this way and that until they finally became so fed up they chose an utterly unconventional route to solve a problem that has baffled them for nearly seven years.

In that time they have changed their pair of opening batsmen 10 times. Only twice have they got a century partnership in return and repeatedly the No 3, usually Brian Lara, has had to confront fresh fast bowlers with a hard new ball.

It has been an uncomfortable and unfamiliar dilemma. For 89 Tests between 1978 and 1991 they simply pencilled in the names of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, the most durable openers in the history of the game. Once Greenidge left the scene they found themselves thrown into a state of confusion. They have given extended runs to Phil Simmons and Stuart Williams, have tried the left-handers Robert Samuels and Adrian Griffith and even had a go with Richie Richardson and Carl Hooper.

Every move has failed and even the most reliable of the recent bunch, Sherwin Campbell, has now been discarded after a sequence of struggling scores.

So their search has now carried them back into previously abandoned territory. They summoned Clayton Lambert, a 36-year-old former Guyana army sergeant who had been forgotten after his solitary Test against England at The Oval in 1991 and Philo Wallace, 27, who was first picked for one-day internationals in 1992 but had been given just one Test since, in Pakistan last December.

For selectors to drop both openers from one Test to the next is so rare we have to trawl back to 1935 to find the previous occasion for the West Indies. It was an accurate reflection of the desperation of Wes Hall and his current panel.

Lambert and Wallace are both strong, muscular men and have a reputation in the Caribbean as gung-ho ball-beaters, entertaining when going but too unreliable for the disciplined demands of Test cricket.

They are fun to watch, of that there is no doubt, unless you happen to be a trundling fast bowler on a flat pitch. Their immediate assault on England's new ball on Friday afternoon was typically and joyously West Indian and indicative of their current form and confidence. Both have just come off big innings in the domestic season and, with their experience, were not overawed by the situation. Theirs was the brightest spell in another gloomy day for a weak West Indies batting line-up.

Over the years they have both tightened their game and they are now more than simply injudicious hitters. Their selection has nothing to do with the long-term future but, as they say here, is now for now. The immediate task is to wrap up this series.