Discipline has never been a strong suit among the uninhibited cricketers from the Caribbean, a liability considering most one-day games are won by percentage and not power. With the emphasis now more on fielding and quick singles than slogging and sixes, the West Indian motto of "Beat de ball" no longer reaps the harvest it once did. Only in their own back yard can batsmen still turn a match with a hard-hit cameo, giving the ball "plenty big licks" to postage-stamp boundaries.
In 1988, having lost the one-day series 3-0, the West Indies prevailed by four Tests to nil, while in 1991, although the one-day outcome was the same, a hard-fought series was shared at two Tests apiece. But if England can take any heart, it is from the fact that the West Indies, having beaten the well-drilled Australians in a recent one-day series at home, now seem to apply these hit-and-hope tactics to Test matches as well.
Emasculated by the no-ball penalties attached to all one-day deliveries above shoulder height, the West Indies' quickies have lost a crucial weapon in their war of containment. Gone are the days when they could guarantee themselves at least one dot ball per over, whistling the ball over the batsman's head. Forcing them to pitch up has meant larger scores for their batsmen to chase, and this has done little to quell their excitable nature.
Plagued by inconsistency, their batting will be looking for strong contributions from Brian Lara and Carl Hooper, two sublime strokeplayers used to dominating the bowling in English conditions. Hooper will probably open the innings with either Richie Richardson or Sherwin Campbell, and will be far more dangerous now he isn't bent on the macho destruction of Shane Warne.
As ever, Lara will be particularly difficult to bowl to and his main strengths - square on both sides of the wicket - will be countered only if the England bowlers exercise discipline and bowl to a carefully set field.
It is this control, as well as batting ability, that the England selectors are seeking as this week's three one-day internationals beckon. Of the bowlers, only Darren Gough shuns the rigours of line and length, and even the slightly surprising selection of Peter Martin is close to the Angus Fraser school of steadiness.
Martin's presence will mean that Atherton still has power around the selectorial table. Since England returned from Australia, the chairman, Ray Illingworth, has played a cat and mouse game with his captain's will and apparently came very close to relieving the opening batsman of his position.
If the muttering was meant to chasten Atherton, it has backfired. Patrick Whittingdale, whose company has been one of England's main sponsors since 1990, has withdrawn, citing poor man-management by Illingworth. Unless a new sponsor is found, England's preparations involving specialist coaches may be jeopardised.
Two such coaches, John Edrich and Peter Lever, will start in earnest this week, and although neither of these two ex-England stalwarts have been involved in cricket recently, both will have noticed how England's reliance on older players has rebounded in recent years, where their exposure in the field has had many onlookers wincing in embarrassment.
The squad is a young and mobile one. Alan Wells, at 33 the oldest member but still a fine player, is a curious choice given that England ignored him in his prime. Unless he is cover for Hick or Fairbrother, both injured, or plays instead of Mark Ramprakash (a backward step), his presence, particularly after captaining the England A team so effectively in India, may be just another of Illingworth's petty ruses to keep Atherton on a leash.
That said, the squad has a solid, predictable ring to it. Alec Stewart resumes his dual role of opening the innings and keeping wicket, while the batting, apart from Wells, is as expected, the first six being potentially shored up by four all-rounders.
Four years ago, England boasted a one-day side in which every member had scored a first-class century. It turned out to be a crucial factor, particularly during the first match at Edgbaston, where Richard Illingworth, the No 11, and Michael Atherton, who had carried his bat, saw England narrowly home against Ambrose and Walsh, by one wicket.
Dominic Cork, of Derbyshire, gets the nod, despite mixed form, over Yorkshire's Craig White. In an amazing innings last season, Cork smashed 92 from only 45 balls, to lead his side to an "impossible" victory over Lancashire in the B & H. Such violent actions tend to linger especially when reinforced by further violence and Atherton, incensed by Lancashire's sloppiness, promptly trashed his favourite bat in the dressing-room afterwards.
Atherton, for so long saddled with the reputation of being a blocker unable to adapt to the bustle of one-day cricket, will smile ruefully at the memory of those 1991 tussles, when he won the Texaco man of the series for his excellent batting. He will be mindful also of how it failed to translate into that summer's Test arena, a problem he shared with the debutant Graeme Hick.
Now slimmer and over his back problem, Hick will again be looking to rubbish his detractors, who say he cannot play the big innings against the big attacks. Ramprakash too will be aware that he will have to build on his two excellent knocks in Perth where he and Graham Thorpe gave England supporters hope of an exciting future.
Alas, there is no room for either Robin Smith or John Crawley, though the latter can probably put his omission down to his cumbersome fielding. Crawley has worked hard on his fitness and should be in contention for the Test matches. Smith cannot be as optimistic. He too has put in some hard work after recovering from a shoulder operation in the winter, but if he featured at all in Illingworth's plans for the summer, now would have been the time to give him a chance of rekindling his confidence.
It would be a strange old summer without Smith, though England should win the one-day series 2-1.
ENGLAND SQUAD (Texaco Trophy v West Indies): M A Atherton (Lancashire, capt, age 27, 22 one-day internationals), A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt, 32, 61), G A Hick (Worcestershire, 28, 44), G P Thorpe (Surrey, 25, 10), M R Ramprakash (Middlesex, 25, 4), N H Fairbrother (Lancashire, 31, 44), A P Wells (Sussex, 33, 0), D G Cork (Derbyshire, 23, 5), P A J DeFreitas (Derbyshire, 29, 91), D Gough (Yorkshire, 24, 7), S D Udal (Hampshire, 26, 7), A R C Fraser (Middlesex, 29, 31), P J Martin (Lancashire, 26, 0).Reuse content