West Indies v Bangladesh June 7, 2004

Too many snakes, too few ladders

Ramnaresh Sarwan celebrates the wicket which brought West Indies victory © AFP

The celebrations when West Indies finally won their first home Test in six attempts this season were muted - it was relief rather than joy. Even a year ago Bangladesh would have been considered cannon-fodder, but so low have West Indies sunk that they were instead treated as another potential banana-skin on the path of an inexorable decline.

Brian Lara, who threatened to resign if the Test ended any other way, was handed a stay of execution. The respite might be brief. The voices calling for him to stand down have grown from a quiet murmur to something altogether more forthright in recent weeks, and few would back West Indies to spring any surprises in England in the coming months. But a win is a win, and for the moment that's all that matters.

It's been a wretched year for the Windies. Since they beat Sri Lanka at Sabina Park in June 2003, they have played 12 Tests and won only two - this one, and a victory over a disintegrating Zimbabwe side at Bulawayo in November. They lost 0-3 in the four-match series in South Africa, and then by the same score at home to England in the spring.

And the four draws haven't been convincing. In Harare they only just avoided following on against Zimbabwe and scraped a draw with nine second-innings wickets down. Against South Africa and England their task was made easier by batsmen-friendly pitches - and in Antigua one so pluperfect that it would have been nigh-on impossible for anyone to be bowled out twice on it. The other draw came against Bangladesh when, again, West Indies were outplayed for long periods.

The results tell much of the story, but the problems run far deeper. Off the field, the rumours of ill-discipline, poor fitness and a lack of pride have gained momentum. While there has undoubtedly been some exaggeration, there is no smoke without fire, and there is enough first-hand evidence to suggest than there are some serious issues which need tackling.

Lara has looked an increasingly isolated and battle-weary figure, at odds with the world and often his own selectors. The rift with Viv Richards, the chief selector, in South Africa was denied, and yet last week Lara criticised the side picked for the St Lucia Test.

On the field, the batting line-up, which is still one of the best in international cricket on paper, repeatedly failed to perform in anything other than fits and starts. The endless supply of world-class fast bowlers has almost dried up, and there are no matchwinning spinners of any note. And as for the fielding and catching ... well, it would often have embarrassed a club Sunday XI.

West Indies have no time to regroup, and they travel to England later this week with the kind of dread which used to haunt sides in the 1980s making the opposite journey to the Caribbean. They do possess the talent to cause England more than a few headaches, but whether there is any self-belief is another matter.