Windies search for maiden win
The ignominy of the clean sweep has become common place for West Indies away from home in recent times and the hastily patched-up team assembled for the series in Sri Lanka is two days away from becoming the latest to lose all their international matches on tour.
They round off the qualifying round of the triangular IndianOil Cup tournament against Sri Lanka today and India tomorrow, both under lights at the 30,000-seat Premadasa Stadium. They still have a mathematical chance of advancing to Tuesday's final, against Sri Lanka who have already assured their place. Even given the unpredictability of the limited-overs game, it is a far-fetched hope.
Their inexperienced composition, created by the absence of almost all the major players over their dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) on endorsement rights, and their record in their previous matches validate the view that Shivnarine Chanderpaul will join Courtney Walsh and Brian Lara as captains who returned home with a 100% record of defeat.
Walsh was at the helm in Pakistan late in 1997 when his team was beaten in all four one-day internationals in a quadrangular tournament and all three Tests. Two years later, Lara was captain as West Indies lost both Tests and all five ODIs in New Zealand. In the first instance, it led to Walsh's dismissal in favour of Lara for the series against England in the Caribbean in 1998. After the New Zealand experience, Lara quit the post, citing two years of "modest success and devastating failure".
Whether Chanderpaul will face the same fate should West Indies go down twice this weekend is simply one of the complex questions the WICB has to answer in the coming month or so.
Unlike Walsh and Lara, who both led full strength teams, Chanderpaul's personnel bear no comparison with their seasoned opponents. In the circumstances, they have done as well as could be expected and somewhat better in the Tests. They have played with cohesion and passion, in spite of the heated controversy that surrounded the tour even before it started and still does.
Chanderpaul has to take credit for that but, even with the constraints, his on-field leadership has generally lacked tactical awareness and imagination. He admitted yesterday that he was "a little bit frustrated" that the results weren't better.
"I know that we have some really good young players in Sri Lanka, and I feel we can do much better," he told CMC radio. "We never expected to win every match, but we have enough talent. We are not getting it right."
He made the obvious point that West Indies were "looking to lift our game, not by a little but by a lot to win the two matches and reach the final but we have to play much better cricket."
He hinted at "some adjustments" to the top-order batting that has been the principal weakness. Only once, in the first innings of the first Test, have West Indies passed 100 with fewer than five wickets down. They were 85 for 5 against India and 39 for 5 and 75 for 6 against Sri Lanka in their previous matches in the IndianOil Cup.
He himself, with 177 ODIs, surely has to go higher than No. 5 in this order and to show more positive intent with bat and tactics. His other options are confined to the replacement of Ricardo Powell with Runako Morton and one of the other failing batsmen with Omari Banks.
Powell, who was brought in for the triangular to add the experience of his 105 ODIs, lasted 13 balls from which he eked out three runs in his two innings before he missed straight balls and was bowled. Even his usually electric fielding has lacked spark.
"It was good to see us recover from 39 for 5, and get back into the match against Sri Lanka, when Dwayne Smith was batting [for 68 off 90 balls]," Chanderpaul said. "This shows that we have some character there and some strength. It shows we can win matches if we can set them up early with our batting and have a solid foundation."
While the captain and coach Bennett King weigh up their choices, Sri Lanka have at their disposal both the West Indies' tormentors in the Tests as well as their most experienced batsman. Muttiah Muralitharan was simply rested in their victory over India on Wednesday night while Chaminda Vaas, the left-arm swing bowler, is fit again after the hamstring injury that eliminated him from the first two matches.
Sanath Jayasuriya, the 36-year-old left-handed opener and spinner who is in his 14th year of international cricket, has recovered from the right-shoulder strain sustained in the field in the opening match against Sri Lanka. Tom Moody, the coach, hinted yesterday that Vaas and Jayasuirya would both be included but it seems an unnecessary risk with the final in prospect. West Indies will hope that Moody eventually sees it that way as well.