Discipline holds key to West Indies' revival

Tony Cozier reports from Barbados where dissent in the ranks has led to calls for the board to `lay down the law'
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Even for one never at a loss for words, Wes Hall, the West Indies manager, has found himself with an awful lot of talking to do in the three weeks since he and his team returned from their summer in England.

Rumours of dissension in the ranks, rampant throughout the cricket-besotted islands during a tour from which all-rounder Winston Benjamin was expelled, have been substantiated by recent instances of player defiance. The debate over the captaincy rages on, even though the beleaguered Richie Richardson has been reappointed for next month's limited-overs tournament in Sharjah and Hall, on radio and television and before the West Indies Cricket Board (WICBC) executive committee, has been in the thick of things.

The spate of hurricanes that has swept through the area of late have provided temporary distraction but the people seem just as concerned over the buffeting their revered game has been taking, both on and off the field. Indignant editorials have demanded the WICBC carry out a full investigation into discipline and, according to the Barbados Nation, that it "lay down the law".

"West Indies cricket is too precious a commodity to be compromised by irresponsibility" the Trinidad Express asserted.

The first inkling of board action has been in the team for Sharjah. Six of the 17 from the tour of England have been dropped, among them Carl Hooper, a century maker in the final Test and a key all-rounder in the abbreviated version of the game, and Kenny Benjamin, who headed both Test and first-class bowling averages.

More action can be anticipated once Hall's official written report is laid before the WICBC meeting in a month's time.

One of his mandates on his return as manager after a dozen years in Barbados politics was to re-establish discipline that had patently deteriorated during the preceding home series against Australia when the West Indies lost their unbeaten record that had lasted 15 years. The early banishment of Benjamin showed he meant business.

A strict blazer-and-tie dress code was one of the cornerstones of the new regime under the former fast bowler but it rankled with some of the players.

When Jimmy Adams, his tour over after his cheekbone was fractured in the match against Somerset but still a member of the team, turned up during the Oval Test in jeans, Hall sent him back to the hotel to change into the approved uniform. Adams - in Hall's words "always such a nice guy, always doing the right things" - went but didn't come back. Complaining to Richardson about the manager's strictures, he made his exit for home.

Curtly Ambrose, very much a senior and influential member of the team, and his fellow Antiguan sidekick, Kenny Benjamin, chose the flight back home for their gesture of rebellion, travelling in jeans and sports shirts while their team-mates were bedecked in their West Indies blazers and ties. "Despicable" was Hall's reaction, adding a warning, presumably to the younger Benjamin: "Obviously his future is in his hands. If he wants to throw it away it's up to him."

Neither Ambrose nor Benjamin appears in the team for Sharjah although Ambrose, like Courtney Walsh, has taken up the WICBC's offer to rest after his exertions over the past six months. If his pronouncement on David Gower's programme on television on Tuesday night is taken at face value, Ambrose's rest may be full time.

"This is my last Test, full stop" thundered one of the game's most feared and successful bowlers when asked whether the Oval Test would be his last in England. Unscrewing the studs from his boots, he offered them to anyone who could make use of them.

Hooper, resident in Kent for whom he has played for two seasons and will rejoin next year, was unaware of his omission from the Sharjah series until reporters called him. He denied reports in the West Indies that he had left the tour immediately after the final match in Scarborough without properly demobbing. He stressed he would return for the domestic limited-overs competition in November but the WICBC president, Peter Short, hinted his attitude would have to change for him to regain the place he has held, often tenuously, since 1987.

"One of the general guidelines for the selectors is that they should pick not only the best team but also young men who are committed to the West Indies, who treasure wearing those burgundy colours" he said.

The various controversies have been compounded by the untimely opening shots in Desmond Haynes' High Court case against the board, seeking a reported $200,000 (pounds 130,000) compensation for his contentious disqualification from the series against Australia under board regulations.

Hall's assignment was a one-off. He now goes back to his corporate job with the resort group Sandals, sponsors of the West Indies tour in England. But he set out new disciplinary guidelines for his successors the board hopes will bring the players back into line.