West Indies cricket may be in crisis, but hope remains in its outposts

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The Independent Online

A welcome cruise through the Caribbean last week, from the stunning Third Test defeat in Barbados to Antigua where history beckoned for England, provided a chance to hear how West Indies' woes have gone down in two of the lesser known outposts of Caribbean cricket.

A welcome cruise through the Caribbean last week, from the stunning Third Test defeat in Barbados to Antigua where history beckoned for England, provided a chance to hear how West Indies' woes have gone down in two of the lesser known outposts of Caribbean cricket.

Dominica has only produced five Test cricketers, two of whom made their names elsewhere - Phillip DeFreitas in England, Adam Sanford in Antigua. And St Kitts is (along with St Lucia) the only cricketing island yet to land a player on the West Indies team. Its one sporting hero is Kim Collins, the current World and Commonwealth 100 metres champion. Neither island has yet staged a Test or one-day international.

Yet, as my fellow passenger Michael Holding and I discovered on the ship's day-long stop-overs, the passion for cricket is no less intense than elsewhere in the region. The anguish, and the answers, were much the same at Connie's beach bar in Dominica and on the dockside in Basseterre, the Kittian capital, as they were in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados. Sack Brian Lara, make Ramnaresh Sarwan captain, get rid of Gus Logie, look for a foreign coach, shake up the board, get Sir Garry Sobers involved. And so on.

Yet, amid all the predictable knee-jerk hysteria, plenty of common sense and not a little optimism were evident. Everywhere it was accepted that England were the better team but that, if there were any difference in the potential of the two sides, it was in West Indies' favour.

At Connie's bar, our taxi driver, Warrington Antoine, made the valid - if overlooked - point that West Indies are as young a team, in terms of age and experience, as any that plays in the international game. Of the 15 players who have appeared in the current series, only Lara and Ridley Jacobs are over 30 and only they, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Adam Sanford and Corey Collymore are over 25. The trick, according to Warrington, is to put it all together in the same Test. Easier said than done, but possible with the right leadership and preparation, two attributes in short supply of late.

In the Caribbean last year and in South Africa more recently, the batting more than held its own. It was the bowling that was all over the place. The opposite has been the case against England. In four Tests against Australia two totals surpassed 400, including the winning 418 for 7 in the final Test, and another reached 398. In South Africa they passed 400 twice and were 354 for 5 at the end of the drawn Test. In eight Tests six batsmen made a total of 15 hundreds.

Yet in this series a collapse has never been far away. Totals of 47 and 94 have belied a team capable of such heavy scoring. Against Australia and South Africa, runs flowed against notable attacks.

Suddenly, in the past few weeks, Fidel Edwards and Tino Best have emerged as two 22-year-olds of genuine pace and potency. Others of similar age - Jermaine Lawson, 21, Ravi Rampaul, 19, Dwight Washington, 20 - are in the wings.

West Indies cricket has endured ever rougher times over the past decade. There are more reasons for the decline than Brian Lara has hundreds. But, as we kept hearing along the way from Barbados to Antigua last week, there is no lack of talent - and, even in this bleakest of periods as England threaten to administer the first clean sweep of a series on West Indian soil, there is no shortage of optimism.

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