July 7, 2000

West Indies relapse

Bristol-It is far too early to pessimistically proclaim an end to the West Indies revival under Jimmy Adams and the new management team.

But there were disturbing throwbacks to New Zealand and other ignominious overseas campaigns in a stunning defeat against Zimbabwe here yesterday.

The final, uncharacteristic gesture of Adams himself was instructive.

With Zimbabwe requiring one run to beat the West Indies for the first time in any match, Test or One-Day International, and by the commanding margin of six wickets and five overs, the captain took the ball and speared a leg-side wide.

He then strode from the field, ahead of his chastened players, with a look of fire in his eyes.

They had batted and bowled inconsistently and without cricketing common sense and bowled shockingly.

They deserved such humiliation in the first match in the first triangular series in England since England, Australia and South Africa contested Tests in 1912 and the first under floodlights.

They simply had no game plan against opponents who did and who stuck rigidly to it.

Batting first on a warm, sunny, sultry day, more Bridgetown than Bristol, the West Indies could only raise 232 for seven wickets from their 50 overs.

As they raised their 50 in the tenth over, there was seldom any doubt that the underrated Zimbabweans would achieve their target.

There was an inevitability that West Indians have suffered too many times in the past not to be able to recognise.

Neil Johnson, back to the form that made him one of the leading players in last season's World Cup and that he lacked recently in the Caribbean, was the backbone of the Zimbabwean innings.

The left-hander batted from first ball to last 95 off 129 balls with nine fours, the obvious Man Of The Match.

The left-handed Johnson gained critical support from Murray Goodwin, with a run-a-ball 23, and in successive partnerships with the Flower brothers.

Captain Andy made 42 off 59 balls in adding 70 for the fourth wicket and Grant was unbeaten 26 when the end came with their stand worth 73 off ten overs.

Considered the weaklings in the tournament, the Zimbabweans served early warning that they do not intend to return to their troubled country with nothing to show from what has been a long and fruitless sojourn overseas, starting in the Caribbean where they lost both Tests and all four One-Day Internationals in March and here when they were humiliated in their first much anticipated Test against England in May.

England will find them confident opponents in their opening match at the Oval tomorrow.

Their triumph was the product of typically efficient cricket against opponents who paid the price for their overall inconsistency and complacency and who patently missed the class and influence of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.

Ambrose was relaxing back in Antigua in readiness for the resumption of the Test series, and Walsh was given the day off after his exertions in the two Tests to catch up with old friends at the ground he called home for 14 seasons.

It was a chance for their support staff to show their mettle and they fluffed the examination by serving up foolishness.

It was the second blow to West Indian morale after their defeat in the second Test at Lord's last Sunday and presents a challenge to Adams and his management team to lift spirits in time for their next match, against England, also at Lord's on Sunday.

Batting first when the natural sunlight was supplemented by the lights that shone throughout the match from the temporary pylons, the West Indies' total was at least 20 runs short of what appeared likely early on.

The tall left-handers Chris Gayle, 41, and Wavell Hinds, 51, built the platform for a commanding total with a stand of 68 for the second wicket.

Brian Lara, even if not at his most destructive, hit 60 off 63 balls and, with the explosive Ricardo Powell, put on 56 off 43 balls for the fourth wicket.

Gayle and Hinds, confined to 17 consecutive singles at one stage, were gradually rebuilding the innings after Adrian Griffith's soft early dismissal to a catch to mid-off when Gayle was run out.

He and Hinds put on 68 in 17 overs when they found themselves parked in the same crease after confused communications over a single into the covers.

Hinds passed his 50, raised a further 34 with Lara and then needlessly hoisted Grant Flower into long-off's lap immediately after passing his half-century.

Powell arrived for his first innings on tour to provide the momentum the innings needed with 36 off 23 balls.

One of his five fours was one of the fiercest and most perfect ondrives I can recall, off Dirk Viljoen's left-arm spin, but he once more revealed his naivity by trying to clear long-off for a second six off medium-pacer Gary Brent after belting the previous ball straight for his first.

Erratic shot selection has kept Powell out of the touring squad proper and confined him to the shorter version of the game.

He is a clean, powerful hitter who has now hit 38 sixes in his 28 One- Day Internationals but he is short-changing the team with cameo 20s and 30s.

After Powell's dismissal, Lara threatened to decimate the Zimbabweans over the final six overs.

There was the occasional stroke that was vintage Lara but he fretted over his lack of timing until two exquisite coverdriven fours and a straight six off Brent brought the crowd to its feet and hinted at something more.

It was a brief interlude. In the next over, he chipped a gentle catch to mid-off off Grant Flower and there was no one else to take up the slack as the last two overs yielded only six.

Ignoring the Zimbabwean example that exploited a sluggish pitch with nagging medium-pace and the left-arm spin of Viljoen and Grant Flower, the West Indies fast bowlers seemed intent on outdoing each other on the speed gun.

Reon King, Franklyn Rose and Nixon McLean consistently revved up to between 85 and 90 mph but were punished for being too short and too wide.

King was cracked for four fours in nine overs, Rose for six in ten and McLean five and a huge straight six by Grant Flower.

It was painful watching to West Indian eyes. No wonder Brian Lara and Sir Viv Richards are beseeching Ambrose and Walsh to keep going.

Only Mervyn Dillon, specifically and only brought in for the triangular series, managed the necessary control. But even he wavered as the result became obvious.

Chris Gayle's off-spin was ineffective at damage limitation as any and Adams surely should have bowled himself more than his solitary wide.

But this was the time for questions to be asked and answered. They were not satisfactory.