Campbell leads the party line

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The Independent Online

Sherwin Campbell plays football when the day's cricket is over. When he has dressed, he eats a Chinese take-away. There is not much time for talk, so it takes place on the edge of the football game. He is charming, but conversation is breathless. You soon learn, however, that this West Indian team try hard to speak with one voice. They are intent on raising West Indies cricket from the slough of despond into which it sank, and unity is a top priority.

Sherwin Campbell plays football when the day's cricket is over. When he has dressed, he eats a Chinese take-away. There is not much time for talk, so it takes place on the edge of the football game. He is charming, but conversation is breathless. You soon learn, however, that this West Indian team try hard to speak with one voice. They are intent on raising West Indies cricket from the slough of despond into which it sank, and unity is a top priority.

It does not matter whether you talk to Campbell, the tour party's vice-captain, or to Roger Harper, the coach, there is no discrepancy about the plan at Old Trafford last Monday, before the rain came. West Indies seemed to reduce their chances of winning by batting for more than an hour to leave England 291 to win. "We felt we could defend a lead of 250, but you want to be in a position where there's only one winner, and that's the team that's bowling," says Campbell.

Harper confirms the tactics: "We wanted to get in aposition where England had to bat out the day. It would have been very interesting if the weather had held off." The approach is deliberately conservative. After being whitewashed by South Africa and New Zealand, a new management - led by Jimmy Adams, coach Harper, and manager Ricky Skerrett - are determined to staunch the flow of defeats before taking risks on victory. So far, this has produced the required results; having played Zimbabwe, Pakistan and England this year, West Indies have won more games than they have lost.

Campbell has become an indispensable component. He is the highest scorer on either side in this summer's Tests with 202 runs at 40.40 - the best average for batsmen who have appeared in all three Tests. His summer's work so far is more productive than his career average of 35.63 (2,601 runs in 77 innings, four not out). He notes that he always seems to get more runs on tours than at home in the West Indies; indeed, he was dropped for the tour of South Africa after a poor series against England when he failed to pass 30 in any of six innings before fighting his way back into the team last winter. He prefers the wickets overseas, even in a wet English summer.

He is a small man, no more than 5ft 6in, with a piratical nose and a broad smile, who became vice-captain when Adams was promoted last February. He already had some experience of the role in Barbados, where he was born on 1 November 1970, and he looked at ease in the field when he took over the captaincy against Derbyshire last week.

This is not a partnership of opposites, in which the vice-captain interprets for the captain and tells the captain what the team is thinking. Harper does not like the concept of the vice-captain as a link, because it suggests there is a gap. He suggests Campbell's presence lends stability and continuity: "He understands what the captain is trying to do, and will continue to work in that vein should anything happen to him," he says. Campbell himself is conscious of the possibility that his role may lead to the captaincy, and does not appear intimidated.

Campbell says everyone has their own personality but, when pressed, thinks that he and Adams are not far apart: "We both have patience in our play, and stubbornness, determination, yeah." Harper notes: "One of Sherwin's great strengths is his ability to occupy the crease." The other quality they share, of course, is experience. Campbell, who made his Test debut in 1995, played a season for Durham, and toured England in 1995; he knows how to deal with balls that are seaming and jagging about.

The team's principal problem now is consistency. This is partly explained by the unusual number of young men playing regular Test cricket. Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose dominate the squad - even when Brian Lara is present - in terms of example as well as height. Harper speaks with awe about their guidance, leadership, discipline and cricketing intelligence, but Ambrose retires this summer and Walsh is unlikely to be active next summer. The gaping hole has not yet been filled by Reon King or Franklyn Rose. "They haven't bowled as well as we know they are capable of bowling," says Harper.

Campbell appreciates their problem: "It takes a couple of years before you get into Test cricket, but there are so many Tests these days that you have to learn quickly; it's very competitive." Promising batsmen like Wavell Hinds have had no favours from umpires this summer, but Harper gets frustrated by young batsmen like Ramnaresh Sarwan who have been getting out when they're set: "Because you explain something, it doesn't mean that it's understood," he says wearily.

Campbell is not at all afraid of the pitches at Headingley or The Oval; he is accustomed to the weather and does not get upset by umpiring decisions ("you just hope your luck changes"). When he says the series will be 2-1, then 3-1 to West Indies, he laughs because he knows that is what we expect him to say.

After the shock at Lord's when West Indies were astonished by England's hostility, spirit and passion, Campbell knows that we know that this series has already taught us to take nothing for granted.

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