Different faces, same story

Despite regularly replacing captain and coach, West Indies cricket still suffers fundamental problems

The most alarming aspect of West Indies' two-day capitulat-ion at Headingley was not the result itself but that it was no aberration. It was simply the latest in a sequence of similarly spectacular collapses, another example of the inconsistency that no international sporting team can abide.

The most alarming aspect of West Indies' two-day capitulat-ion at Headingley was not the result itself but that it was no aberration. It was simply the latest in a sequence of similarly spectacular collapses, another example of the inconsistency that no international sporting team can abide.

It is inexplicable and seemingly incurable.

The team steamrollered by Darren Gough, Andy Caddick and Dominic Cork for 54 at Lord's and 61 at Headingley were the same that amassed 397 at Edgbaston and 438 for 7 declared at Old Trafford.

The Brian Lara who so hopelessly misjudged line, angle and swing that he was lbw with bat raised high above his head in both innings was the same exceptional batsman who has Test cricket's highest score and a reputation to match, and who had stroked a hundred off the same bowlers only two weeks earlier.

The Jimmy Adams who twice identically dragged the ball back into his stumps was the same dogged competitor who defied England for six-and- a-half hours at Edgbaston and four-and-three-quarter hours at Old Trafford.

The rag-tag band that frequently fumbled in the field, threw wildly and dropped one of Test cricket's easiest catches on Friday morning were the same slick outfit that pressured England into their three-day, innings defeat at Edg- baston. It has happened time and again of late, yet no remedy has been found.

Since the 1996 World Cup, there have been three captains, three coaches and three managers.

No combination has been able to make a difference. Courtney Walsh took over from Richie Richardson after the World Cup but gave way to Brian Lara after the 3-0 drubbing in Pakistan in 1997. Lara quit last February after what he termed "the moderate success and devastating failure" in his two years at the helm. Now Jimmy Adams is finding life at the top just as tough.

The late Malcolm Marshall, Sir Viv Richards, for too brief a period, and now Roger Harper are the coaches who have tried to instil the consistency all have stressed is so essential.

With every change a false dawn has briefly lightened the gloom, each time in the welcoming environment of the Caribbean. Walsh's first three series at home brought victories over New Zealand, India and Sri Lanka, but reversals in Australia and Pakistan brought his downfall. Captain Lara triumphed 3-1 over England in the Caribbean first up, but drubbings in South Africa and New Zealand prompted his resignation.

Adams arrived in England in May with the promising kickstart of home success over Zimbabwe and Pakistan, in which Lara was absent and several of the newer players were prominent. The resounding result at Edgbaston, breaking a succession of 10 overseas Test defeats, suggested the revival would be permanent. It has proved a deception.

England have been through a similar, even longer, trough and appreciate how difficult it is to escape from it. It calls for patience, hard work and meaningful planning, not traits that figured prominently as West Indies ignored the truth that the long, heady days under the captaincy of Lloyd and Rich-ards would inevitably end.

Desperate measures are now being put in place and, under pressure from a passionate public, governments have suddenly begun to take more than a passing interest. This has led to the emergence of young batsmen like Wavell Hinds and Ramnaresh Sarwan and the success of the under-15 team in winning a recent international tournament. But more trying times lieimmediately ahead.

Adams and his men have 12 days to pull themselves together after the shock of Headingley for the final, decisive Test at The Oval.

They have not been beaten in a series by England since 1969, when Garry Sobers and Ray Illingworth were tossing with coins known as shillings and pence, and certainly have the cricketing potential to ensure that they do not lose this time. It is whether they can muster the mental strength required that will determine whether they can keep the Wisden Trophy that has been in their secure grasp since 1973.

And mental strength will be the prime requirement for their next assignment. It is in Australia in the winter, when they will face the world's best without Curtly Ambrose and, possibly, Courtney Walsh.

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