The old hands need a young support act

Lara, Walsh and Ambrose deserve more consistent back-up from the West Indies' talented junior tourists

It seems like eons ago since the Lord's 100th Test left all who watched it spellbound and eager for more. They have had to wait for more than a month, since when the euphoria that followed England's epic victory has dissolved and the sports pages have been filled, instead, with the magnitude of Tiger Woods' golfing superiority, Luis Figo's transfer fee and Andy Flintoff's waistline.

It seems like eons ago since the Lord's 100th Test left all who watched it spellbound and eager for more. They have had to wait for more than a month, since when the euphoria that followed England's epic victory has dissolved and the sports pages have been filled, instead, with the magnitude of Tiger Woods' golfing superiority, Luis Figo's transfer fee and Andy Flintoff's waistline.

In the interim, England have maintained their momentum with their efficient triumph in the one-day series while the West Indies, beaten three times by Zimbabwe and eliminated before their last-over consolation win over England, have failed to regroup after their Lord's setback.

While Nasser Hussain, back at the helm after his broken thumb, now talks excitedly about his team being "a pleasure to lead", Jimmy Adams reluctantly, but realistically, bemoans the inconsistency that has been the bane of West Indies cricket for some time.

It was in stark evidence in the first two Tests and throughout the one-day internationals - 397 in the first Test and victory by an innings; all out for 54 in the second and a lead of 133 transformed into defeat. Unable to defend 288 against Zimbabwe one match, beating England with 195 the next.

Such erratic performances have become commonplace. It reflects a lack of concentration, "focus" in the modern sporting jargon, and no captain can properly plan unless it's corrected. "You can do something fairly consistently and yet, for some reason, you don't get the results," Adams observed. "You're maybe prepared to accept that but we just didn't perform consistently in any part of our game and that was most disappointing."

Before the Tests resume at Old Trafford on Thursday morning, locked 1-1 with three Tests remaining, Adams will again stress that point. He will also emphasise to his younger players that they cannot continue shielding behind the older hands any longer.

The statistics are revealing. In the first two Tests, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, with their combined ages of 73, bowled 151.5 overs between them and claimed 18 wickets at 14 runs each, at under two runs an over. In contrast, Reon King and Franklyn Rose shared 10 wickets at more than 30 each and around three and a half an over.

Of the batsmen, Adrian Griffith, 27, Wavell Hinds, 23, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Chris Gayle, both 20, are on their first tours of England. They were already Test cricketers, Hinds scoring a brilliant 169 against the powerful Pakistan attack in May, Sarwan a much-praised unbeaten 86 on debut in the same match. This was the opportunity for them to make their mark. To date, Sarwan and Griffith average 26 and Gayle 22 in first-class matches. Only Wavell Hinds, the tall, 23-year-old Jamaican, has made any sort of show among the young brigade, averaging in the high 40s. Last week's match against a shamefully diminished Yorkshire typified the problem. The county had folded to 126 all out. Their one first-team bowler, Ian Hutchison, broke down in his seventh over. It was the chance to cash in.

Instead, Gayle, Hinds and Sarwan were all out cheaply essaying big shots on a pitch that demanded careful attention and Griffith missed a straight one and was lbw for five.

The forearm injury that will keep Shivnarine Chanderpaul out of the Old Trafford Test means that Sarwan is likely to take his place. He is a wristy right-hander, nimble and with a range of strokes. Right now, he needs to appreciate thatpatience is a virtue.

The West Indies will be buoyed by the return of Ambrose although, judging from his first outing back at Leicester, his month-long rest in Antigua seems to have left him rusty. The remarkable Courtney Walsh also missed the triangular tournament to rest a sore instep but picked up a five-wicket haul at Yorkshire.

In their absence, the backup fast bowlers fell down on the job, as they did on the tense final day at Lord's when Rose and King conceded half England's winning runs off 20 overs fewer and for six wickets less than Ambrose and Walsh.

In the one-day series, they were left on their own but were unable to exert the control necessary. Adams saw it as a salutary lesson. "It gave everybody, not only the bowlers but the whole team, a taste of the fact that, in the near future, we will have to do without Ambi and Courtney," he said. "That was very important in the context of where we're hoping to get to in the next few years."

It remains a fair assumption that West Indies hopes of recording their first win in an overseas series since 1995 still hinges on three men - Ambrose, Walsh and Brian Lara. But, as Adams will repeatedly stress, they cannot do itwithout support.

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