West Indies youth brigade needs leadership, not patience

Brian Lara has persistently pleaded for patience for the several inexperienced players under his charge. "I think we have an opportunity to get back to the top," he said on the eve of the final Test. "At some point in time, we will."

Brian Lara has persistently pleaded for patience for the several inexperienced players under his charge. "I think we have an opportunity to get back to the top," he said on the eve of the final Test. "At some point in time, we will."

It has already been a prolonged wait and the success of England's newcomers this season heightens the frustration of West Indians who cannot understand why Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell could fit so comfortably into their roles at the highest level and their West Indians counterparts find it so difficult.

The difference is plain. Strauss, Bell and the returning Robert Key have joined a properly prepared and well led team which has won six successive Tests against two opponents this summer.

Lara's sizeable youth brigade has only known, to use Lara's often-quoted phrase when he originally quit the captaincy, "modest success and devastating failure". Most have been fast-tracked into Test cricket before they are ready. Fidel Edwards had played a solitary first-class match prior to his debut Test last year, Dwayne Smith, Carlton Baugh and Omari Banks had less than 10.

They have had to learn on the job how to cope with the pressures. They have not had the finishing school of county cricket that helped the stars of the invincible teams under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. And they have failed to put in the work - or, more precisely, have not been made to put in the work by those in charge.

England, and even Australia, know all about such difficulties. Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and the other modern marauders would not have been so overpowering in the years following the Packer Revolution when Australia floundered near the bottom of the pile.

England hopefuls such as Mark Lathwell, Rob Bailey, Neil Fairbrother and Matthew Maynard may be cursing their luck that they were born into the wrong era. Australians such as Greg Ritchie, Steve Smith, Craig Sargeant and Peter Toohey went through the same experience during their period of drought.

The introduction of Dwayne Smith yesterday meant the West Indies have used every one of the 17 in their touring party in the four Tests, including the replacements Corey Collymore and Dave Mohammed. Graham Thorpe's fractured finger bringing Bell into the XI, stretched England to 13. In 1984, when the West Indies completed their so-called "blackwash", England summoned two dozen players for the five Tests. The West Indies used only 12.

Australia got out of their rut through the strong leadership of their captain, Allan Border, and coach, Bob Simpson. England's revival has come under Nasser Hussain and now Michael Vaughan and the coaching of Duncan Fletcher. There is a lesson for the West Indies to follow in the coming months.

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