West Indies attitude contributes to decline

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It is a simple, age-old dictum, as applicable to boy scouts as it is to professional sporstmen.

It is a simple, age-old dictum, as applicable to boy scouts as it is to professional sportsmen.

The West Indies' disregard of the assertion "Fail to prepare, prepare to fail", in glaring contrast to England's carefully planned and executed readiness, has been the main reason for the disparity between two teams that, on paper at least, should be evenly balanced.

The results of the first two Tests have not come as a shock to those who followed West Indies on their preceding tours of Zimbabwe and South Africa. The results there were clues as to what would follow in the Caribbean.

The West Indies players enjoyed a four-month break between their home Test series against Sri Lanka last June, which they won, and the start of the series in Zimbabwe.

"Enjoy" was obviously the operative word for, through the captain Brian Lara's subsequent confirmation, it seems several turned up for the preparatory training camp as much as two stones overweight.

It was not long before such a lack of fitness had its effects. Three players broke down even before the team arrived in South Africa and had to return home. At no time in the six Tests could West Indies field their strongest team, with key players eliminated by injury.

Former South African players repeatedly referred on radio and television to the lack of intensity in the West Indies' pre-match warm-ups. They should have seen the lacklustre, intermittent practice sessions in the nets. This slackness extended to such seemingly small details as dress code, but it added up to a tendency to buckle under pressure and general carelessness on the field.

A collapse was never far away. Bowlers sent down 124 no-balls and 28 wides in the six Tests. Over a dozen catches were dropped. And, of course, South Africa won three of the four Tests - with the other drawn - and three of the four completed one-day internationals.

There was a break of a month between the end of the prolonged Southern African tour and this series. The size of their task should not have been lost on Brian Lara and his players. England had not taken a series in the Caribbean since 1968, and had only once won more than one Test in 13 series here and that was 50 years ago.

They were coming to wipe the slate clean. They had watched the contest in South Africa and others before it, and observed the technical and temperamental weaknesses that gave them confidence. They prepared assiduously. West Indies did not.

The West Indies squad assembled in Jamaica five days prior to the first Test. In that time, they had only one practice session. Much of the time was spent in psychological sessions, ironically some watching motivational videos of the American basketball legend Michael Jordan stressing the importance of practice, which is precisely what they were not doing.

After they were routed for their all-time low of 47 in the second innings at Sabina Park by their disciplined, purposeful opponents, four players found their way into the party stand at the ground. That night the coach, Gus Logie, ordered a net session the following morning but compromised by making it optional.

The Queen's Park Oval, the venue of the second Test, provides the best facilities in the Caribbean. It has the only indoor practice building at any of the Test grounds and a well equipped modern gym. England's players utilised them to the full. West Indies were not seen once in the indoor nets and were seldom in the gym.

Yet Ramnaresh Sarwan, an accomplished young batsman, has fallen into the habit of moving inside his stumps to play across the ball. It is a technical flaw that has led to his lbw dismissals in three of his last four innings - and one that can be corrected, but only by practice. Lara himself is jumping around the crease to the fast bowlers and is a pale imitation of the game's premier batsman.

Jordan, Tiger Woods and champions in other sports are not too proud to acknowledge their problems and spend time correcting them. There is a host of requirements needed to lift West Indies out of their present abyss. Practice is one of them but the example has to come from the top.