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December 28, 1999
As the 2nd Test match between the West Indies and New Zealand draws to its almost inevitable foregone conclusion, with the West Indies probably losing the game, and the series 2-0 some time on Thursday next, except for some tremendous batting miracle, perhaps now is as good a time as any to see what the future could hold for this faltering team, as the present is already gone into the past. It is time to engage "The Flight of the Phoenix".
The soon-to-be replaced West Indies team manager, Clive Lloyd, may be correct in his last assessment of the present West Indies cricket team. There are definitely points of light somewhere on the horizons of the future for the senior West Indies cricket team. If we survive the Y2K hoax, the new Millenium, only a few days away now, must bring new rules, new attitudes and definitely a new effort from West Indian cricket.
Completing those points of light and converting them into a useful and true horizon, and, hopefully, better, brighter days for the West Indies cricket team, winning days even, will take some doing, but it must be attempted, come what may. Perhaps Jimmy Cliff, the Jamaican reggae singer whose popular ditty "Better days are Coming" aptly describes the team's present situation, could suggest a way to mould the deserving players into a winning combination.
Opening batsmen Adrian Griffith and Sherwin Campbell have perhaps sealed their presence into the West Indies team for some time to come, with their efforts in Hamilton during the 1st Test. While both are still much too inconsistent to instill real confidence, normally with a spectacular innings being followed by several failures, they deserve and may have played themselves into a position of getting an extended run in Test cricket as partners. Being the classic right-hand (Campbell) and left-hand (Griffith) combination, for opening batsmen, is a definite plus for these two Barbadian players.
If, or perhaps when, he is again sufficiently settled, psychologically, emotionally and professionally, the left-handed Guyanese Shivnarine Chanderpaul may return to be close to the batsman we knew and appreciated in 1994, when he made his debut. What will get him back to those heady days is anyone's guess. It could be the great psychological boost he is reputed to be missing, it could be the fact that he must play more cricket outside of international games, as has also been suggested. Whatever is necessary, Chanderpaul needs it to become more focussed, as he is much needed in the future West Indies cricket team as the patient, dedicated, determined, "hungry" batsman that he once was.
It has been suggested by many, recently even, that Trinidad & Tobago's Brian Lara should not, now, be the captain of the West Indies cricket team. As I have said before, many times, the time for Lara to be removed as captain is gone. At least, then, Carl Hooper was still involved in West Indian cricket. In a strange way, this suggestion is similar to the story of "Who will bell the cat?"
While Lara's tenure as captain has not been successful at all, (I remember warning the Caribbean supporters when Lara was elected as captain that he was not "The Messiah", and that too much should not be expected), no-one who wants him removed from the captaincy has an alternate suggestion for the position. I normally call that "making foolish noises without making any sense."
Brian Lara should be retained as captain, even if it is by default. However, he clearly must be made to understand the tremendous responsibility of the position by the West Indies Cricket Board. As has been suggested by others, Lara only seems to want to play well these days when his position is threatened. Lara is a very proud cricketer. Normally, to put some fire under the tails of very proud sportsmen, in any discipline, it is sometimes necessary to "threaten" them with great embarrassment. Somehow, Lara has to be challenged to perform well.
That challenge must be invented by the WICB and other relevant involved people to ensure that Lara performs well. This will probably be the only method of getting one who has achieved so much so quickly to perform well again, consistently. Look at what happened when Lara thought that he would be removed from the captaincy after the debacle of South Africa (losing 5-0), and then being among the batsmen bowled out by Australia in the 1st Test, earlier this year in Trinidad & Tobago, the West Indies next Test after South Africa, for 51. Lara promptly made two tremendous centuries, the second, 153 not out in Barbados, being perhaps the best innings ever played by a West Indian, if not all world batsmen. He ended with 546 runs overall, a one man show, almost. Talk about getting an incentive.
Guyanese fast bowler Reon King is improving very quickly indeed. His action is almost classic, perhaps not as smooth as Michael Holding's was, but surely King's action is the best of the present set of fast bowlers. He has pace too and good movement with the ball. King is probably the second fastest bowler in the Caribbean, being only slightly less quick than St. Vincent's Nixon Mc Lean. King, though, presently lacks that special aggression that all great fast bowlers have to have to be consistently successful. One gets the impression that he, somehow, has pity on batsmen. He seldom bowls that fast bowlers' weapon, the "bouncer". While it should not be over-used, "bouncers" should, at times, be used. If his fitness lasts, and if his knowledge of the game grows accordingly, King could be a very useful long term asset for the West Indies.
Jamaican Franklyn Rose is somewhat similar to Reon King, but less organized . Having not played cricket for the West Indies for nearly a year, he is definitely back with a better, more determined attitude to perhaps partner King, in the immediate future, as opening fast bowlers. Rose does need some bowling hints, though. As of now, he does not seem to realize that he is not as quick as King. Secondly, because of his lack of all out pace, it is almost always necessary for Rose to pitch the ball up to a fuller length, to enable the deliveries as much opportunity as possible to deviate through the batsmen's defenses. Rose must also try to be more erect when bowling. His head swivels out of line of his body when he delivers, thus his bowling height is shortened. He should try to stand as tall as possible when delivering.
Merve Dillon, Trinidad & Tobago's fast bowler, on tour in New Zealand but, for some invisible, unexplained and unexplainable reason, not selected for either of the Tests, when he is easily the best of the bowlers overall, must also be retained in the "new" nucleus. His compatriot, Dininath Ramnarine, the leg-spinner, also deserves another outing or two.
To be brutally frank, those few named, and only these few; Griffith, Campbell, Lara, Chanderpaul, Rose, Dillon, Ramnarine and King; are the eight "nuclear worms" in the ashes of this bird. The Phoenix would only rise if the useless excess is removed. These eight, with some variations, must form the nucleus, and catalyst, of the new West Indies cricket team squad of sixteen. The West Indies cricket team are as poor in 1999 as they could ever be. Whatever combinations were used in the past, the team usually lost anyway.
Therefore, it must be better to lose with aspiring players than with some of these players, dinosaurs really, now playing for the senior West Indies cricket team. None of them will get any better, but their contributions, or lack thereof, will continue to ensure that the West Indies cricket team will fall even further, if that were possible, that they already are now, if they continue to be included.
Jimmy Adams is no longer the batsman he once was; not even nearly so, and will probably, more likely than not, not ever be again.. Ridley Jacobs might be allowed another outing or two, a caretaker wicket-keeper, perhaps, but in effect, two new wicket-keepers are now required for the senior West Indies cricket team. If the West Indian selectors do not realize that now, perhaps they are even more blind than they are reputed to be in the past. Courtney Walsh, in my mind, is simply only playing so that he could get to that coveted record. If he continued as he is going now, he will be playing until the West Indies tours England next year, as he still needs nine wickets to get to the record of 434, and Walsh is now getting about one wicket per Test, hence he will not get those wickets for the record, at this rate, in the five Tests early next year featuring Pakistan and Zimbabwe. Emotionally, he should be allowed to get the record; practically, probably not.
Hard decision have to be made now. There is no time like the present time. This must not be deferred further. With the new Millenium so close, a new attitude, a new dispensation on performance, a new option, must be exercised by the people running West Indies cricket. For much too long now, more in the recent year than ever, this embarrassment of West Indian cricket has been made to continue. Let the West Indies lose with aspirants, young up-and-comers, not dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are extinct, and so too should be some, those named above, of the current West Indies players.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?