Lloyd in need of change of pace

Tony Cozier in Melbourne argues it is time the West Indies slowed down
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The Independent Online
Australians are reacting with a mixture of disbelief and unabashed gloating to the disintegration of a West Indies team they once held in awe.

Headlines such as "Walsh's Woeful Windies" and "Worst Ever Windies" have been freely used by editors who for 20 years have had to devise phrases to soften the impact of Australia's repeated humbling at the hands of all-conquering teams led by Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards and Richie Richardson.

In the past month, their successors, captained by Courtney Walsh with Lloyd back as manager, have been soundly thrashed by an assortment of Australian opponents in matches of varying forms in five different cities - by Australia in the first two Tests and the first two World Series day- night matches and by the impressively ambitious next-in-liners, parading under the banners of an Australian XI, the Prime Minister's XI and Australia A.

The latest setback, by six wickets with 5.2 overs to spare to the A team in Melbourne on Friday night, made it seven successive defeats. No West Indies team has ever had to endure such an abysmal sequence. Their morale progressively eroded by every reversal, they show no signs of recovering for the reminder of a long season which still has three Tests and six internationals, four against Pakistan, remaining.

Mark Taylor, who took over as Australia's skipper in 1994 and regained the Frank Worrell Trophy, the series' equivalent of the Ashes, in the Caribbean a year later, puts the transformation down to a shift in the psychological balance. "Prior to 1995, they always felt we were going to crack at some stage but we know now that if we play well and put them under pressure we can make them crack," he said. "In previous series in which I played, when things got tight, when one needed a wicket or a partnership, it was always the West Indies who got it but now that's what we're doing and not letting them do."

That is undoubtedly the truth but not the whole truth. The fact is this team is a shadow of Lloyd's powerful combinations of the 1980s that demolished not only Australia but everyone else. The cracks have been evident for some time but declining performances were attributed principally to internal dissension. Richardson was made the scapegoat and forced into early retirement, the coach Andy Roberts was sacked and the Board president Peter Short called it a day.

Walsh took over the captaincy, Lloyd was influenced into returning as manager, the great fast bowler Malcolm Marshall became coach and a Jamaican businessman, Pat Rousseau, stepped up as Board president.

It became known as the "New Dispensation" and the disenchanted West Indian public was optimistic that there would be an immediate turnaround in fortunes. It has yet to happen.

Statistics say that this is a strong team. Four batsmen - Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jimmy Adams and Sherwin Campbell - average over 50 in Tests and, of the bowlers, Walsh is one of only 11 of all time with over 300 wickets, Curtly Ambrose has over 250 and Ian Bishop over 100.

Yet the batting is prone to collapse and relies too heavily on the brilliant but temperamentally fragile Lara. In their last three Tests, the West Indies have lost their last nine wickets for 95, against New Zealand in Antigua in May, last seven for 28 in the first Test and last seven for 63 in the second here.

Above all, their fast bowlers, who have been their traditional match- winners, are showing their age (Walsh is 34, Ambrose 33). They have lost the killer instinct that made them so potent, a deficiency compounded by shoddy wicketkeeping and fielding. Ambrose has taken only three wickets in the first two Tests and looks a spent force.

Walsh, now in his 12th year of Test cricket, is not helped by the burden of captaincy, Bishop's effectiveness has been diminished by injuries and Kenny Benjamin is no more than an honest trundler. It is more than coincidence that in their last seven Tests they have conceded five first- innings totals of over 400 - or that the last five opposition wickets have contributed at least 150 in eight of their last 15 Tests.

In keeping with the New Dispensation, there is a new selection panel, headed by Wes Hall. If it takes notice of such data and of the proliferation of wrist spinners in the Caribbean, three of whom were in the A team who recently completed a successful tour of Sri Lanka, there will be an overdue review of the ideology of fast bowling that has been so entrenched in the West Indian psyche for so long.

For the present, the need is for change in fortunes but that seems as distant as the Caribbean itself.

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