West Indies Cricket: Light at the end of the Tunnel

Colin E. Croft

April 3, 2000

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Brian Lara must now be ruing his decision not to play cricket this Caribbean year against Zimbabwe and Pakistan. My own thought is that he badly miscalculated the situation at hand. Even though the immediate opponents were to be the somewhat weak Zimbabwe, and then, probably a disorganized Pakistan, (we have to wait to see), I believe that Lara, or at least his handlers and advisors, thought that before long, all, like (Sir) Vivian Richards has openly done, would have been calling for his immediate return to the team, since they would have reasoned that the West Indies cricket team would not have been any good without Lara's presence. I am not so sure now.

To be honest, I am more than convinced that this present team is playing that much more effectively, albeit against "poor" Zimbabwe, because of Lara's absence. All want to show that even without "The Prince", the kingdom still exists. This present cricket team, with all of its youth and uncertainty, seems to have tremendous recuperative powers. While I still believe that Lara probably did the correct thing to "take a complete rest from cricket", especially after that terrible New Zealand tour when everything positive for the West Indies team seemed to disintegrate into ignominy, Lara's calculations and those of his handlers have surely backfired, especially after the positive way the West Indies cricket team has responded to Lara's absence, winning the 1st Test match in Trinidad & Tobago from a losing position, easily winning that 2nd Test, and especially winning the one-day games in Jamaica.

You will also notice that while Courtney Walsh did achieve his momentous land-mark of 435 Test wickets in Jamaica, and Curtly Ambrose also bowled so well in both Tests, even getting his 377th wicket overall, it was left to the younger fast bowlers, Reon King, who got the most wickets in that Jamaican Test, and Franklyn Rose, who was the "Man of the (Zimbabwean) Series" for the Test matches, who really shone through, perhaps taking on the responsibility, or irrationality, of youth.

You will notice that it was Jimmy Adams himself, after a dismal Busta Cup series, so much so that even I suggested that he should not be considered for selection (I am very pleased that, for once, I was proved wrong), who not only redeemed himself, but his team's fortunes, with a century, 101 not out, with absolute patience, 8.5 hours of it, to be exact, in that 2nd Test, when it was necessary for someone to be responsible enough to take the weight of the resurrection of the batting. This is the same guy who, for some unearthly reason, was fielding so far away, on the deep-extra cover boundary for most of the time in New Zealand, while still holding the "post" of vice-captain, but seemingly incommunicado, and therefore contributing little, if any, while the crap in New Zealand continued under Lara's captaincy.

This is a renewed Jimmy Adams we see, as captain, one who somehow gives the impression that he realizes the problems and understands the responsibility put on his shoulders in the position as captain. With the tremendous help given to him by his team, in no mean measure because he is easily less volatile and less "visible" than Lara, and therefore more approachable and perhaps more understanding because of his less-than-star-likequalities and hence "more like normal" minions, Adams has taken to the job like a duck to water. While he certainly will not always have as easily as he had it in the Zimbabwean series so far, Adams at least brought some calm to the tumultuous, even gargantuan, waves of the captaincy and Lara's influence therein and thence.

Additionally, both debutantes, Wavell Hinds and Chris Gayle, who, between them, collectively, may have been selected to fill Lara's breach, have been the ones doing well in the one day games, and in the Test matches too. Had both not been run out at least once in that Test match in Trinidad & Tobago, one might have made a hundred. As it was, their contribution was crucial to the winning effort of the 1st Test. Had they not done sufficiently well in that Test, Zimbabwe would probably have had to make 11 to win instead of 99. (Check the stats.)

Probably not least, but last, for now at least, is the fact that Sherwin Campbell, as the vice captain, is tremendously more involved in the planning and implementation of whatever is at hand, simply because he is being "included" by his captain. He has now made a one-day hundred, and while all is not absolutely well with his, or for that matter, many of his team-mates' batting, at least the understanding of the responsibility involved and the acceptance of the effort needed, suggest that this team, Lara-less, is more of a cohesive unit that it has been in recent times, even when the world record holder was actually breaking records with his batting, which, incidentally, has not happened lately.

Now, I also agree with Sir Viv and Jimmy Adams in their assessment of Lara's absence. Strangely, but understandably, both have suggested that "any team, anywhere, should be grateful for the presence of a player of Brian Lara's caliber to be included in the batting line-up." No argument here on that score. If Lara could only be a batsman, captain or not, would suit me fine. The problems come when there is so much more innuendoes, additional jargon and outright asininity, by some of those around the best batsman in the Caribbean, if not the world; "West Indies can only win when Lara makes runs"; that it turns his head from the responsibility, to responding to the foolishness of the surrounding crap. Well, the West Indies have won, two Tests to booth, including digging themselves from a hole in T&T, without Lara. I doubt that many even remember his name, especially in Jamaica.

Oh, please do not think for a moment that I think that we are out of the woods. It would only take perhaps a few fiery deliveries, uprooting a few stumps, from perhaps Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar, to destroy the confidence of the last three weeks. However, at least there is confidence, cohesion and hope there now, where, not three months ago, there were only despair and a fractured firmament, after New Zealand, present.

Again, there are points of wonder and points to ponder. We all agree that Zimbabwe are not the best, or toughest, cricket team in the world. Indeed, they are probably the least considered team in Test cricket. While they are better equipped for the one-day version of the game, Zimbabwe may have other, perhaps more important things than cricket on their collective minds, which could well be affecting their performances and progress. Only someone as uniquely qualified as Sports Psychologist Dr. Rudi Webster, the "Performance Enhancer" of the West Indies cricket team, or, in layman's term, the "mind doctor," could perhaps explain the pressures and the stress such situations bring.

Even though it has not yet been openly mentioned, at least we all see that most of the Zimbabweans are Caucasians, no doubt, just as it was in the West Indies cricket team at the start of its history in 1928, because of the English influences so long ago. It should be noted that Zimbabwe only became an independent nation in the early 80's and have so far only played 41 Test matches. Please note further that this is in no way racist, but a fact.

Now, unless you are dead or nearly so, you must have read, or at least heard somewhere, of the uprisings and political problems coming out of Zimbabwe itself in the last few weeks, with the upheavals featuring the Negroids and the Caucasians surfacing again, as they did in the 60's, 70's and 80's, when Zimbabwe was Rhodesia, over farms and lands etc., and ownership thereof. After actually talking to some of the Zimbabwean players, I know for a fact that some of them are very concerned and unsure of their own positions as situations continue to develop in Zimbabwe. Most of us would probably have been equally preoccupied with such thoughts, had we been under the same pressures. Anyway, so much for the politics, on which, incidentally, I am no expert.

Brian Lara, like most professional sportsmen, or more particularly, his "advisors", must remember a few things about professional sport, if indeed, he, or they, has (have) not yet been reminded of them. Firstly, the game must go on, regardless of the personnel making up the respective teams. The game is always bigger than the man!! Secondly, no man is an island, and even with T&T and its cricket involved, no pun is intentioned. Thirdly, and finally, for now, most players, in any game, are as good as their last effort, even if their overall collective achievements will probably always live in history.

We all heralded (Sir) Garfield Sobers as the greatest cricketer ever to have lived, but, unfortunately for us, by no fault of many of us, Sobers had to stop playing sometime, and worse, Sobers' input since quitting playing cricket has been miniscule, at best. Michael Jordan, easily the best player ever in the National Basketball Association of the USA, is now a distant memory in the minds of Tim Duncan or Koby Bryant.

Except in the case of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls; even then, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman helped him out; as did Gerson, Carlos Alberto and Tostao help out the incomparable Edson Arantes do Nacimento, otherwise known as "Pele", in Brazil's 1970's soccer team, the best ever; do we note that no player is good enough to carry a team forever. Sachin Tendulkar and India is a case of point. He keeps making runs, but India keeps losing.

Of course we all remember that the same (Sir) Vivian Richards now has the highest aggregate for West Indian batsmen, but, of course, he no longer plays.

Having experienced the euphoria of the present West Indies team bowling Zimbabwe out for 65 when they needed a (simple?) 99 in T&T, then the dominance of both the Test and the one day games in Jamaica, all of the "ordinary" West Indian supporter, those who drive taxis or push computer buttons, the "real" experts, remember, is that Adams made a century and was "Man of the Match" in Jamaica, Rose was "Man of the Series", King bowled the best and the fastest overall, and that Campbell has perhaps come of age, while Hinds and Gayle are moving upwards on the learning curve. The same supporters could not care less if our supposed best batsman has held a golf club much more recently than he has held a bat. People's memories are normally short, especially when a team wins.

Jimmy Adams and the present West Indies cricket team have won everything they have attempted so far, as a unit, even if it is against Zimbabwe. That light coming through the tunnel is not another train to derail the cricket, but perhaps, hopefully, the end of a long tunnel. If Lara and especially his "handlers" had any sense at all, he would join the fracas, with humility, as this force will gain momentum in the United Kingdom, and even in Australia, before this year is done.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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