Anger flows as decline takes a hold

This has been a distressing era for West Indies cricket. The once all-conquering teams, under Frank Worrell and Gary Sobers in the Sixties and Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards a generation later, that brought a sense of pride to Caribbean people seeking to establish their own identity after a century and more of British colonialism, have been replaced by one ranked only above Zimbabwe and Bangladesh among the game's élite.

In a desperate effort to check the slide, captains have been changed five times in the past seven years. There have been five different coaches, three managers. The board have more staff than ever. Nothing has worked. The West Indies have been beaten in 27 of their past 37 Tests overseas.

A team that once made a habit of "blackwashing" opponents has been whitewashed by Pakistan, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Sri Lanka. More comfortable at home, they have still lost three series in the Caribbean in the past three years. Success has been limited to the occasional match and an irrelevant series.

Through it all, a public who, in spite of reports to the contrary, remains passionate about the game and the fortunes of their team, have remained stoic in their support, stirred by calypsonian David Rudder's "Rally Round the West Indies" that has been adopted as the official anthem of West Indies cricket.

But patience has gradually worn thinner with every passing defeat, with every humiliating 51, 54, 61, 83 and 97 all out. It finally and collectively snapped last Sunday. The capitulation for an all-time low 47 to England, was too much to take. In 35 years of covering West Indies cricket, I have never known the depth of frustration, hopelessness and anger that followed in its wake, compounded by the temerity of four of the players to join the Red Stripe Mound, Sabina Park's party stand, immediately afterwards.

The widespread outrage has been vented in editorials, columns and letters in the press, in radio call-ins, in the streets, in the stands, everywhere. Rawle Brancker, the Barbados all-rounder who toured England in 1966, is now a businessman who heads the corporation set up to run the West Indies' 2007 World Cup preparations. His comments reflected the widespread feeling that manager Ricky Skerritt, coach Gus Logie and even captain Brian Lara, whose second tenure at the helm is turning out to be just as unsuccessful as the first, should be sacked.

"The present management team has failed - and failed miserably," he said. "If, in any company, a set of managers were reporting losses year after year, they would have to go. There is no way we would give them as long as the WICB has given this management team. These guys have presided over the demise of West Indies cricket."

The fear is that the decline is terminal, that the West Indies are becoming an irrelevancy at the highest level, consigned, with Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, as also-rans to powerhouses Australia and the other more credible Test teams. Already, a scheduled series of four Tests in Australia later this year has been put off. The official reason is a logjam in the schedule yet, when the West Indies were the strongest and most attractive team in the game, Australia brought them back five times in the Eighties.

This summer's series in England features four Tests. Nine years ago, the West Indies had six. On the strength of their popularity, they toured England three times in the Sixties, a frequency previously reserved only for Australia.

Now, they have lost their gloss and their public is hurting.

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