Test of endurance for worn-out West Indies

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The Independent Online

A year ago doctors diagnosed Richie Richardson's worrying inertia as "acute fatigue syndome" and ordered the West Indies captain to take a six-month break from cricket.

The signs have become increasingly unmistakeable that the same condition, caused by an overdose of constant travelling and playing, is now consuming his team as a whole.

Monday's humiliating happenings at Hove, where they were crushed by Sussex by an innings and 121 runs, was the latest manifestation of it. It came two months to the day after Australia ended their remarkable record of 15 years unbeaten in any Test series in Jamaica and a week to the day after they were the first West Indies team to lose at Lord's in 38 years.

The day before the Sussex match the management had taken the rare disciplinary action of sending a player, Winston Benjamin, home.

"It was sad," said the Sussex all-rounder Franklyn Stephenson, their fellow West Indian who helped inflict the defeat on them. "I just looked into their faces and could see there was no spirit there. This wasn't like any West Indies team in my experience."

The team manager, Wes Hall, called an immediate post-mortem at the team's hotel that he later termed "very fruitful".

"I felt we just needed to get away from the ground and meet in a quiet room to discuss what had happened," said Hall, the fearsome fast bowler of the Sixties back in cricket after 10 years in Barbadian politics. "We all knew it was an inexcusable performance and we needed to talk about it. Everyone spoke out and constructively so. The players were self-critical and identified where things had fallen down.

"It's not a question of ability. It's a question of attitude - being in the right frame of mind," he added. "It's a matter of starting from scratch, being more focused on the job at hand, not just in the Tests but in all matches because you don't turn it on and off like a tap."

Hall is convinced that this has been a salutary lesson and will be beneficial in the end. He may be a little too optimistic. Such setbacks would have undermined the morale of a team previously unaccustomed to the depression of defeat. It has also compounded the effect of the packed international schedule that the cricket manager, Andy Roberts, recognises as a drain on players' mental well-being.

Roberts, another of the great fast bowlers but a generation after Hall, took over his post prior to the ill-fated series against Australia. He complained then of the attitude of some players and Benjamin's banishment has confirmed his criticism. But he now accepts that the players have been on the road since October and are mentally rather than physically tired. "Constantly living out of a suitcase wears you out," he said.

In that time the West Indies have played 11 Tests and 18 internationals in 36 different cities, towns and islands in India, New Zealand, the Caribbean and now in England.

They had the day free of cricket yesterday, attending a leisurely sponsor's function on the way from Hove to Birmingham for tomorrow's third Test.

The series is 1-1, there are four Tests to go and this match is on Brian Lara's home ground at Edgbaston where he accumulated his world record 501 last season. That should provide some motivation. But the West Indies face more a test of their endurance and character than their cricketing ability.