Stephen Fay: Lara tries to give youth an old head

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The Independent Online

This West Indies team might be different. Disciplined rather than carefree; early to bed rather than out on the town; sleeping long, training hard. They certainly look different. The average age of the 11 youngest members of the team is 22. Working out in the outfield before their game warm-up game against Sussex at Hove yesterday, they look like a squad of students getting encouragement from their professors like Brian Lara and Ridley Jacobs.

This West Indies team might be different. Disciplined rather than carefree; early to bed rather than out on the town; sleeping long, training hard. They certainly look different. The average age of the 11 youngest members of the team is 22. Working out in the outfield before their game warm-up game against Sussex at Hove yesterday, they look like a squad of students getting encouragement from their professors like Brian Lara and Ridley Jacobs.

Lara carried the caring strategy on to the field, calling his players together into a huddle after an appeal for a run out had been rejected. This may be part of the search for a chemistry that will take them as potential winners into the 2007 World Cup in their home islands.

And if they don't shape up? They can get out. Tony Howard, the team manager, intends to work to a principle which has been absent from previous West Indian touring teams: "I have a simple rule - work or get fired," he states.

Howard says they wanted to hit the ground running. Last Thursday in Belfast they stood their ground shivering instead. Only five of the team have experience of English conditions. "The cold was a shock to their systems," says Howard, who appears to have forgiven them for losing to Ireland by six wickets. Yesterday, the sun shone benevolently.

The fast bowlers, Tino Best and Ravi Rampaul, worked some of the stiffness out of their joints, and the fielders began to move more easily.

First impressions can mislead, but the attack does look inexperienced, perhaps fatally so. Shaven-headed Tino Best looked fierce and gave batsmen a sharp lecture after every ball, except those few that went for four. He got bounce out of a flat wicket, but Rampaul took the first two wickets to fall. First and second change were the famous six-hitter Dwayne Smith and Darren Sammy, a skinny 21-year-old who has not yet been capped by West Indies. Neither looked like a threat to a settled Test batsman.

Spin came from Chris Gayle and Ricardo Powell, who slowed the scoring rate, without looking particularly threatening. Left on the West Indies bench for this game were the reformed chucker Jermaine Lawson and Ian Bradshaw. Familiar names like Fidel Edwards and Pedro Collins join the team for the Tests. The first impression, therefore, is that the NatWest Series games with the West Indies will be high scoring - with a West Indian line-up of powerful batsmen compensating for inexperienced bowlers.

They were incapable of curbing Murray Goodwin who scored 90 out of 202, when Sussex were comfortably placed with only four wickets down. A large crowd was sufficiently encouraged to sing "Sussex By the Sea" as their team piled up runs during the daylight that would be difficult to equal under the lights.

One of the most interesting performances, though, came from Howard. The 57-year-old from Barbados became team manager after the second Test against England in the spring. He is a solid figure, both optimistic and severe, who had managed a tournament-winning Barbados team. He played in Sir Garry Sobers' Barbados team as the off spinner from 1965 to 1974, and was picked for one Test. New Zealand made a total that is engraved on his memory - 587 for 3. He regrets not having toured England as a player: the wickets would have suited him.

As a manager, Howard has a very firm idea of what is required from his young squad, which, he suggests, is the nucleus of a World Cup team.

For a start he is determined to instil pride. Players do not come from Trinidad or St Lucia; they are West Indians. And they are to be well-behaved West Indians, unlike some of their predecessors.

Howard proposes to sort out any mavericks: "I'm positive that you're going to see a more disciplined approach. My job is to make sure people adhere to the rules." He sounds like a patriarch, dignified and authoritative. If Lara is the professor, Howard is the vice-chancellor.

He will be a member of the four-man selection panel along with Gus Logie, the coach, Lara and Ramnaresh Sarwan. There will be no Viv Richards in England this summer even though he was chairman of the selection panel that chose the squad.

"The Board took a decision that people on the tour were competent to do what had to be done." The removal of Richards from the selectorial equation reduces the chances of argument between skipper and chairman. Even Lara might hesitate to confront Howard. Apparently they get on well together and Howard talks of Lara as captain in 2007, when he will be 38.

His optimism was to be detected in the observation that West Indian cricket has demonstrated the ability to recover from defeat. "In South Africa in the winter and against England, we seem to come on at the end of a series."

All very well, but the West Indies have come on when they are three down. It is a record that this team should be capable of bettering. They can hardly be worse.

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