England must face West Indies backlash

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The Independent Online
The West Indies' crown has slipped badly, but they remain most people's favourites to demolish England this summer. After enjoying 15 years of near non-stop triumph, Caribbean cricket fans are in a state of shock following Australia's magnificent 2-1 Test series victory which was sealed by Wednesday's win by an innings and 53 runs in Kingston, Jamaica.

Richie Richardson's devastated team have just a few days to pull themselves together before starting a four-month tour of England that must suddenly seem more daunting than usual.

There is no doubt the 1995 West Indian model cannot compare with the great Caribbean sides. Their batting has looked brittle ever since that Rolls-Royce of opening partnerships, Greenidge and Haynes, was dismantled.

A once frightening four-pronged pace attack now relies heavily on the ageing and overworked double act of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh - and there is evidence of a lack of harmony and unity within Richardson's team.

Yet Raymond Illingworth, the chairman of selectors and England team manager, said yesterday: "If anything I think Australia's victory makes our task harder this summer, not easier. They will want to show everyone they can still play like world champions."

Illingworth was the last man to captain England to a series victory over West Indies - 26 years ago. Since then, it has been almost exclusively one-way traffic. The West Indies have won nine out of 11 series - and drawn the other two. There have been just five English victories in the last 51 Tests between the two countries.

However, if England can steer clear of injuries, field a settled side and consistently produce performances like those which saw them beat the West Indies in Barbados (1994), South Africa at The Oval (1994) and Australia in Adelaide (three months ago) then anything is possible.

The West Indies, on the other hand, have something to prove again - and that makes them potentially more dangerous than if they had just preserved an unbeaten Test series record against all countries which stretched back to 1980.

Curiously, a player who has not made a Test appearance for two years could hold the key. Ian Bishop was the latest in the long line of fearsome Caribbean fast bowlers until two serious back injuries almost ended his career. Now Bishop, 27, is on the comeback trail and if he proves fit enough to join forces with Ambrose and Walsh then England's batsmen could be in for a torrid time.

The West Indies may be down at the moment, but they will want to re-establish their credentials from the moment they arrive at Gatwick on Monday morning.

FOURTH TEST (Kingston, Jamaica): West Indies 265 (R B Richardson 100, B C Lara 65) and 213 (W K M Benjamin 51; P R Reiffel 4-74, S K Warne 4- 70). Australia 531 (S R Waugh 200, M E Waugh 126, G S Blewett 69). Australia won by an innings and 53 runs and win series 2-1.

WEST INDIES TOUR SQUAD FOR ENGLAND: R B Richardson (capt), S L Campbell, D Williams, B C Lara, C L Hooper, J C Adams, K L T Arthurton, S Chanderpaul, J R Murray (wkt), C O Browne (reserve wkt), O D Gibson, W K M Benjamin, C E L Ambrose, C A Walsh, K C G Benjamin, I R Bishop, R Dhanraj.

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