Thrashing no surprise
Leeds - The most alarming aspect of the West Indies' two-day capitulation in the fourth Test at Headingley was not the result itself but that it was no aberration.
It was simply the latest in a sequence of similarly spectacular collapses, another example of the inconsistency that no international sporting team can abide.
It is inexplicable and seemingly incurable.
The team, steamrollered by Darren Gough, Andy Caddick and Dominic Cork for 54 at Lord's and 61 at Headingley, was the same that amassed 397 at Edgbaston and 438 for seven declared at Old Trafford.
The Brian Lara who hopelessly misjudged line angle and swing that he was LBW with the bat raised high above his head in both innings, was the same exceptional batsman who has Test cricket's highest score and a reputation to match, and who had stroked 100 off the same bowlers only two weeks earlier.
The Jimmy Adams who, twice, identically dragged the ball back into his stumps, was the same dogged competitor who defied them for six-and-a-half hours at Edgbaston and four-and-three-quarter hours at Old Trafford.
The Reon King who gave poor Ridley Jacobs more problems than the batsmen, was the same Reon King who made such an impression with his pace and control not long ago in New Zealand and the West Indies.
The rag-tag band that frequently fumbled in the field, threw wildly and dropped one of Test cricket's easiest catches on Friday morning, was the same slick outfit that pressured England into their three-day innings defeat at Edgbaston.
Two of those culpable, Adrian Griffith and Wavell Hinds, are usually the most reliable.
It has happened time and time again, yet, no lasting remedy has been found.
Since the 1996 World Cup, there have been three captains, three coaches and three managers. No combination has been able to make a difference.
With every change, a false dawn has briefly emerged from the gloom, each time in the welcoming environment of the Caribbean, only to vanish in foreign lands.
Courtney Walsh's first three series as captain on replacing Richie Richardson, brought victories over New Zealand, India and Sri Lanka.
But reversals in Australia and Pakistan brought his downfall.
When Lara took over, he triumphed 3-1 over England in the Caribbean, but drubbings in South Africa and New Zealand prompted his resignation and an appointment with a New Jersey psychologist.
Adams arrived in England in May with the promising kickstart of home success over Zimbabwe and Pakistan in which Lara was absent and several of the newer players were prominent.
The resounding result at Edgbaston, breaking a succession of ten overseas Test defeats, suggested the revival would be permanent. It has proved another deception.
England have been through a similar, even longer trough and appreciate how difficult it is to escape from it. They too have changed captains, coaches and managers seeking an answer.
It calls for patience, hard work and meaningful planning, not traits that figured prominently as the West Indies ignored the truth that the long, heady days under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards would inevitably end.
Desperate measures are now being put in place and, under pressure from a passionate public, governments have suddenly begun to take more than a passing interest.
They are late and well behind the opposition, but they have started to bear fruit as the emergence of young batsmen like Wavell Hinds, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Chris Gayle and the success of the under-15 team in winning recent international tournament here attest.
But more trying times lie immediately ahead.
Adams and his men have 12 days to pull themselves together after the shock of Headingley for the final, decisive Test at the Oval.
They have not been beaten in a series by England since 1969 when Garry Sobers and Ray Illingworth were tossing with coins known as shillings and pence and certainly have the cricketing potential to ensure that they don't this time.
It is whether they can muster the mental strength required that will determine whether they can keep the Wisden Trophy that has been in their secure grasp since 1973.
And mental strength will be the prime requirement for the consistency they seek on their next assignment. It is in Australia in three months' time against the contemporary game's equivalent of the powerful and clinically ruthless Clive Lloyd teams of the 1980s.
They will be without Curtly Ambrose and, possibly, Courtney Walsh as well, irreplaceable losses not only in the middle but in the dressing room as well.
It presents a huge challenge to Adams, coaches Roger Harper and Jeff Dujon and manager Ricky Skerritt and to selectors who have to identify players with the required heart and the discipline.
Their team may not be the strongest to have worn the West Indies colours but it can hold its own if each player realises his potential - but only for each session of each day of each match.