February 5, 2001

Colin Croft: Three positives in one week - things are looking up for the West Indies

This last week has been, rather quietly, one of the better weeks that West Indies cricket, on and off the field, has experienced for some time, perhaps over four years.

Lest you have forgotten, or perhaps have lost interest, the West Indies should be on a high, both naturally and somewhat unnaturally induced.

Let us deal with the induced high first.

Last week, that long ago supposed fantasy, a cricket academy, a facility to help nurture the young cricketers of the Caribbean, become a reality.

Signing Ceremony
Academy Signing Ceremony
Photo WICB

Opened with a dazzling array of pomp, ceremony and dignitaries, including at least five former West Indian captains, the facility will hopefully fulfil some of the void left when the younger people of the Caribbean were, generally, deprived of school cricket.

Then, perhaps worse, the Caribbean also saw the almost total demise of real club cricket (except in a few countries, Jamaica and Barbados probably being the exceptions), where discipline and character building were undertaken.

This has played a great part in the eventual downfall of West Indies cricket.

I am sure that some of the younger Prime Ministers of the Caribbean, those who are of the "New Caribbean Order", will be very pleased indeed at the development of the academy, particularly the likes of Dr. Keith Mitchell, the Prime Minister of Grenada.

Prime Minister Owen Arthur, of Barbados, and Prime Minister Ian Anthony of St. Lucia, among many of the younger leaders of the Caribbean, having actually played with or against many of the all-conquering West Indies teams of the 70's and 80's, must be garlanded for their continued foresight, energies and effort in "pushing" everyone concerned to get West Indies cricket back on the road to success.

Dr. Rudi Webster, too, West Indies team manager during World Series Cricket, 1977-1979, as the "head" of this new cricketing academy, must also take great credit for this eventuality. Like many that I know, he has been openly criticised from many quarters. Yet Dr. Webster has come out "on top", surviving the insular, useless, noisy onslaught, for the betterment of West Indies cricket. Normally, "he who laughs last, laughs best."

My final thought on the academy, at least for now, is with the current President of the West Indies Cricket Board, Mr. Patrick Rousseau. In his speech at the opening of the academy, Mr. Rousseau correctly pointed out that a "sports" academy does not only have to teach sport.

The WICB President suggested that he expects that the academy will cultivate all of the better attributes of the Australian, New Zealand and indeed, Indian cricketing academies, where getting a "full" education, including books, presentations, graphs, even calculus et al, as opposed to just getting a "good cricket" education, would be the eventual norm.

If that does become a reality it would be the best part of this exercise, even though cricket would, in any case, be the overall winner.

Now for the second instant of the week. It is ironic that the West Indies have qualified to meet Australia in the finals of the Carlton series, starting on Wednesday in Sydney, before moving on to Melbourne.

This, despite being so totally outplayed by Australia in all nine games - five Tests and four One-Day Internationals played between the teams so far. That the West Indies team has qualified for the finals could be counted as a great positive from yet another horrendous overseas tour. The team's immediate history is rather poor.

In Pakistan in 1997/8, the West Indies did not win a single game, that tour including three Tests in which they were terribly outplayed by the hosts.

In 1998/9, in South Africa, the West Indies won just one of the five one-day games, after being absolutely annihilated 5-0 in the Tests.

In New Zealand 1999/2000, again the West Indies lost every Test and every one-day game on another of those best forgotten overseas tours.

In the last overseas tour, the West Indies wilted to lose the last Cornhill Test series 3-1 to England, after winning the first Test handsomely. Worse, the West Indies did not even qualify for the final of the NatWest International trophy, the final of that competition being competed between England and Zimbabwe.

At least, in qualifying for the Carlton Series, West Indies have exacted some revenge on Zimbabwe. Now, they must try to do the same to Australia. That could be an each way bet too.

Australia have played wonderful, truly overpowering cricket over the last two months or so, but they seem to be coming off the boil somewhat, after the long campaign of five Tests and eight one-day games.

They looked rather sloppy against Zimbabwe in winning their final preliminary game, at Perth, by one run, 302 to 301 (truly amazing), thus keeping their record at 100%. But the West Indies should have taken note, having destroyed Zimbabwe two days earlier, the West Indies having made less than 200 runs in their allotted overs.

There is one final sortie to be completed, and if the West Indies and their batsmen could take the cue, they could come away from this tour, as the present captain, Jimmy Adams, and the immediate former captain, Brian Lara have both suggested, "with something positive to show from this tour."

That brings me to the third happening of the week.

Lara himself had categorically given his commitment to "becoming more consistent, while helping to nurture the younger players along, since they seem to like batting with me."

As if to show that he is "new and improved," Lara made 83 not out to be "Man of the Match" for the last preliminary game for the West Indies in the Carlton Series, against Zimbabwe, while those same youngsters fell about themselves, being run out, literally and figuratively.

Steve Waugh, in a veiled reference to reality, also suggested that "the West Indies have not yet really played the way that we expect them to play, and a final is a 'go for broke' situation."

In a strange way, Waugh Snr. might be acknowledging two things that may have coincided; that the West Indies, led by Lara's batting, are starting to look much better than they had done for the entire tour, while the Australians are starting to look somewhat ragged, despite the presence of some very good bowlers. That strange coincidence could cause some upsets and fireworks in the Carlton Series finals.

It should also be noticed, on the same theme of batsmanship, that a certain Carl Hooper has been making runs like rain, another century made this week against Trinidad & Tobago. This follows one century and two half-centuries so far this Caribbean season. Please remember, honestly, that you heard it here first; that Hooper will play Test cricket against South Africa. If he will be captain; now that is another matter altogether.

This first week of February has been a good change for West Indies cricket. Perhaps, since this is not a leap year, the West Indies will enjoy this "shorter" year after all, starting with the Carlton Series finals, followed by South Africa in the Caribbean in three weeks' time.

While the captaincy position would again be the main focus, perhaps the advent of younger players like Marlon Samuels, the stated commitment of Brian Lara, and the consolidation of wicket-keeper/batsman Ridley Jacobs, among a few others, must give some hope.

The future for the West Indies might be full of hope, and some positives too, but that future must also contain much effort and self-searching if anything is to be achieved. There is no need to be looking back or for recriminations. The only way now is forward.