Richardson faces up to champions' mortality

The West Indies enter a new era as they go into this summer's Test series. Tony Cozier reports
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The Independent Online
It is just over a month since Australia ended one of international sport's most remarkable sequences by defeating the West Indies in four days by an innings at Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica, to clinch the Test series 2-1.

Since 1980, when they were beaten 1-0 by New Zealand in a contentious series soured by questionable umpiring, the West Indies had repelled all challengers to their status - unofficial, yet justifiable and widely recognised - as world champions. Counting the one-off Tests against South Africa in 1992 and Sri Lanka in 1993, they played 29 series without yielding until the seriously determined Australians exploited their complacency and thrashed them in their own backyard.

The effect, on players and a fanatical public, was traumatic and the team, which starts yet another series against England at Headingley tomorrow, has had little time to shake it off.

The recent gloomy assessments of Sir Gary Sobers and Viv Richards simply mirror the fears of the average West Indian, whether in Bridgetown or Birmingham; Kingston, Jamaica or Kingston, Surrey.

Before Mark Taylor's Australians intervened, the West Indies were unbeaten at home since 1973. That meant that an entire generation, including the present players, had grown up with no concept of defeat. Even to the "thirtysomethings" the Test team was all conquering and invincible, living proof that their condescending classification as a Third World country did not extend to everything.

But it was unrealistic to expect such a record to last forever, and there is now plenty of optimistic talk of England being able to follow Australia's example.

How things have changed. No team suffered more than England during the 15 years of West Indies' domination. In the five series they played against each other in the 1980s, the West Indies won 17 of the 24 Tests - five by an innings, three by 10 wickets, two in three days.

England did not win one and, in 1984 in England and in 1986 in the Caribbean, they lost all five in the ignominious blackwashes.

They were not the only whipping boys. In the six series with Australia preceding the most recent, the West Indies held a 14-5 win advantage. In 1984 in the Caribbean the West Indies did not lose a single second-innings wicket and the series started the unprecedented streak of 11 consecutive Test victories, continuing through England in the summer and Australia in the winter.

India were made to pay for the indignity suffered in the World Cup final at Lord's in 1983 with heavy defeats in subsequent Test series, 3-0 in India a few months later and in the West Indies in 1988. New Zealand have not managed to repeat their 1980 triumph in three tries since.

Only Pakistan seriously threatened in those years, sharing three Tests at home in 1980, with one victory each and again away in 1988 when, Imran Khan swears, only questionable umpiring saved the West Indies. Nothing seemed impossible, no cause ever lost.

David Gower declared in the Lord's Test of 1984, leaving the West Indies 321 to win on the last day, but really expecting his bowlers to get among the wickets. Instead, the West Indies passed their target with 11 overs to spare for the loss of a single wicket, and Gordon Greenidge hit an unbeaten 214.

Australia amassed 428 in their first innings in Bridgetown in 1984 and still lost by 10 wickets and, in 1991 on the same ground, bowled the West Indies out for 149 and yet were trounced by 343 runs.

The basis of such an unprecedented run of success was the quality of the players, who were also fired by a strong sense of unity and commitment. Those of us fortunate enough to follow their exploits would be foolish to anticipate another West Indies team - or any team for that matter - of the strength of those led by Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards in the 1980s.

An example was the side against Australia at Perth in November 1984. It was, in batting order: Greenidge, Haynes, Richardson, Gomes, Richards, Lloyd (capt), Dujon, Marshall, Holding, Garner and Walsh. Apart from Richardson and Walsh, then at the start of their careers, all the others were at the peak of their powers.

Five now have over 5,000 Test runs against their names in Wisden (the solid left-hander Larry Gomes is the exception with 3,171), the fast bowlers all have over 240 wickets (Marshall the best with 376) and Dujon was unarguably the finest wicket-keeper/batsman of his time.

As one by one these stalwarts left the scene the West Indies found it increasingly difficult to keep their record intact, doing so principally on the strength of the spirit and the habit of winning they had inherited.

Richardson and Walsh remain from the golden era and Curtly Ambrose, Brian Lara and Jimmy Adams would all fit easily into the elite company of the '80s. But the question as they take the field tomorrow morning will be: "Can they win?" Not, as it was for so long, simply: "By how much?"

Only rarely does a sporting team come along deserving of that confidence.

THE WEST INDIES 1980-1995

Opponents P W L D Win by Win by Win in

inns 10wks 3 days

England 38 24 4 10 7 3 2

Australia 28 14 5 9 3 3 1

India 22 10 2 10 2 0 0

Pakistan 16 6 3 7 1 2 3

New Zealand 9 4 1 4 1 3 0

Sri Lanka 1 0 0 1 0 0 0

South Africa 1 1 0 0 0 0 0

Home 48 28 4 16 5 8 3

Away 67 31 11 25 9 3 3

OVERALL 115 59 15 41 14 11 6

Totals over 500 - For: 11 Against: 5

Totals under 150 - For: 6 Against: 24

Double centuries - For: 7 Against: 2

Centuries - For: 93 Against: 64

Ten wickets in match - For: 10 Against: 11

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