After another tour, another inquest

West Indies will return to familiar search for a way forward

It will be a sad and familiar homecoming for the West Indies next week. It will be the fourth successive time they return to critical post-mortems after a disastrous overseas campaign and there is little time before their next daunting challenge in Australia.

It will be a sad and familiar homecoming for the West Indies next week. It will be the fourth successive time they return to critical post-mortems after a disastrous overseas campaign and there is little time before their next daunting challenge in Australia.

They were beaten in every Test in Pakistan in 1997, in South Africa in 1998-99 and in New Zealand last December and, each time, the repercussions were inevitably harsh. They have brought no answers.

Courtney Walsh lost the captaincy to Brian Lara in the first instance. Lara was publicly castigated by the West Indies Cricket Board for his "weaknesses in leadership" and placed on probation after the South African setback. After two years of what he described as the "moderate success and devastating failure that has engulfed West Indies cricket" under his leadership, Lara had enough and not only resigned as captain after New Zealand but took a complete break.

Yet, the West Indies began their England tour in June with high expectations after encouraging home victories over Zimbabwe and Pakistan, under a new captain, Jimmy Adams, and a new coach, Roger Harper. That they did it without Lara was a bonus.

New, young players like Wavell Hinds, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Reon King had quickly asserted themselves at the highest level and prospects, so bleak after 10 successive away Test defeats suddenly brightened.. The optimism seemed justified after the resounding win in the First Test but unravelled after the first batting collapse in the second innings at Lord's. Since then, it has been mostly downhill.

None of the young brigade have made any significant advance and several have actually gone backwards. Sarwan, at 20 the baby of the team, has shown the class and temperament he revealed in his debut 84 against the powerful Pakistan bowling in Barbados in May, yet his highest score on tour was his unbeaten 59 at Headingley.

Hinds tapered off after an encouraging start, victim of a few dodgy decisions when he was in his best form. King's control and confidence deserted him, Chris Gayle and Corey Collymore were confined to the county matches and Mahendra Nagamootoo would have expected to have had more of an impact with his leg-spin.

The continuing failures have long since alerted the Board, the governments and everyone involved to the need for remedial action and were the subject of a formal conference organised by the relevant governments and the University of the West Indies in Barbados in May.

There are already more qualified coaches, and more coaching, than ever before. The "A" team has had series, home and abroad, over the past five years. An annual Under-15 tournament has been added to that at Under-19 level and the products of it won their version of the World Cup by beating Pakistan in the final at Lord's last month.

But the Barbados conference discussed more basic requirements and Desmond Haynes, the opener whose career coincided with the glorious era under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards, called from Barbados to West Indies radio's broadcast at The Oval to list some of them.

Haynes - and his former teammate, Deryck Murray - on BBC Radio yesterday recommended a 10-year development programme that would identify and carefully develop talent from its early teens.

The most urgent need is for facilities. There is only one indoor school throughout the West Indies, recently opened at the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad, so that there is nowhere for players to practice and hone their skills in the lengthy rainy season.

There are few bowling machines and few of the technological aids used in every other country. The West Indies and Zimbabwe are now the only countries without lights at any Test ground.

In other words, the West Indies have fallen behind the rest of the world in preparing its players for the demands of the modern game.

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