Wooden-spoon series lacks Lara's lustre

It was not so long ago that a Test match between the West Indies and Zimbabwe would have been cricket's equivalent to Brazil against Greenland in football.

It was not so long ago that a Test match between the West Indies and Zimbabwe would have been cricket's equivalent to Brazil against Greenland in football.

Times have changed so rapidly and dramatically that the inaugural series between the two, starting at the Queen's Park Oval here today, involves two weak, evenly matched teams fighting over the bottom place among the game's nine Test countries.

It is a lot to which Zimbabwe are accustomed. The most recent addition to international cricket's limited hierarchy, they have to choose from a small pool of first-class players, mainly among a diminishing white population, and have managed only three victories in 39 Tests in eight years.

To now be seriously challenged by such opponents is an affront to the West Indies, home to a galaxy of past stars and the invincible powerhouses who dominated world cricket throughout the 1980s with their brilliant batting and ruthless fast bowling. But it is an accurate reflection of their recent demise in which they have lost their last 10 Tests overseas, to Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand, and been racked by a lack of quality players, internal divisions and controversy.

Brian Lara, their only player of star quality, holder of the record scores for both Test and first-class cricket, has been at the core of much of their strife and is so again in the lead-up to this series. Three week ago, he quit the captaincy after two years of what he called "moderate success and disastrous failure" and then suddenly withdrew altogether to take "a short break". A Trinidad newspaper has reported that he will enter a clinic in the United States next week to undergo stress therapy in the hope of sorting himself out in time for the summer tour of England, if not for the earlier home series against Pakistan.

His absence seriously weakens the West Indies, whose main deficiency is batting. It also robs the series of what little gloss it had, leaving only run-of-the-mill players on both sides.

Individual attention will focus on Courtney Walsh, 37, the universally admired West Indies fast bowler, who needs only nine more wickets to surpass the Indian Kapil Dev's 434 as the most in Test cricket history. But, with Lara missing on his home ground and no Trinidadian in the team, it is hardly enough to stimulate interest here.

WEST INDIES (from): J C Adams (capt), S L Campbell, A F G Griffith, C H Gayle, S Chanderpaul, W W Hinds, R L Powell, R D Jacobs, N O Perry, F A Rose, C E L Ambrose, C A Walsh, R D King.

ZIMBABWE (probable): A Flower (capt), G W Flower, T R Gripper, M W Goodwin, N C Johnson, A D R Campbell, S V Carlisle, H H Streak, B C Strang, B A Murphy, H K Olonga.

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