Richardson's days of reckoning

Tony Cozier outlines the consequences of defeat for the West Indies captain
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The Independent Online
Wes Hall describes the decisive Test at The Oval as "the most important the West Indies have played in 10 years". But for once the most loquacious of team managers is guilty of understatement.

When asked the inevitable question yesterday, their captain Richie Richardson said he dared not consider the possibility of defeat but then conceded "only heaven knows what would happen" if it eventuated.

For starters, his own future as captain, already under enormous pressure from his demanding public, would be in definite jeopardy.

Victory, preferably with he himself to the fore with a big score, is needed to silence the strident voices of those who have been clamouring for his neck since the recent home defeat by Australia.

While the West Indies Cricket Board of Control would probably back him to again lead the team in its forthcoming limited overs assignments in Sharjah, Australia and India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for the World Cup whatever the outcome at The Oval, there have already been repercussions from the Australian debacle that hint at a less understanding reaction should things go wrong again.

The members of the Barbados Cricket Association, a normally conservative body, recently replaced both their president, Cammie Smith, and vice-president Charlie Griffith as their representatives on the WICBC and, while this was an obvious reaction to Desmond Haynes' omission from the team, it captured the prevailing mood of disenchantment.

Inevitably, should England regain the Wisden Trophy for the first time since 1969, the fall guy would be the captain. Everything else would follow from that.

Richardson is no stranger to such crises. No West Indies captain, not even Garry Sobers following his infamous declaration against England in Port of Spain in 1968 and during the subsequent barren years, has had it as rough.

There was simmering resentment to his appointment in the first place as Viv Richards' successor in preference to Haynes, the incumbent vice- captain. The initial failure of his developing team in the World Cup in 1992, his naive dismissal of the historic first meeting against South Africa as "just another cricket match", and selections unpopular in Jamaica and Barbados prompted a hostile vocal reception for him on his first match on West Indian soil in Kingston and a public boycott of his first Test as captain, against South Africa, in Bridgetown.

Such antagonism, he has asserted, strengthened his resolve. He took a fledgling team, reconstituted after the simultaneous and contentious exits of Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Gordon Greenidge and Jeffrey Dujon and, in his calm, level-headed way, moulded it into an effective, close-knit unit that won four successive series.

But the obligations of captaincy and the constant carping of the critics took their toll on his health and his batting. He became so fatigued, he found the physical and mental strain of making 50 the same as making 150 and was obliged, by doctors, to take six months off the game last year.

He returned in March, resuming as captain for the series against Australia, but his batting since has only occasionally carried the spark of his heyday, he has often seemed detached in the field, he has had to contend with internal indiscipline and, above all, the West Indies have lost four of their last nine Tests under him while they had conceded only two in his first 14.

His declining average (29.35 in the nine Tests since his return against 44.05 from 85 Tests overall) and his inconsistency have raised questions as to whether he can now command a place on merit. He has looked the genuine article, but only occasionally, and there are those who feel he should not have been saddled so quickly after his illness with the pressures that come with his job.

This is his moment of truth and he has demonstrated, more than once in the past, that this is the time when he can find the reserves for a major performance. For his sake and his team's, he needs to do so now.