February 12, 2001

Colin Croft: Hope springs eternal for the West Indies after drubbing in Australia

Ramnaresh Sarwan
Sarwan: Hope for the future
Photo © CricInfo Ltd.

Having experienced nauseating and debilitating "whitewashes" when the West Indies visited South Africa in 1998/9 and New Zealand in 1999/2000, I then experienced more professional and personal pain seeing England beat the West Indies last summer for the first time since 1969. I was at least hoping, somewhat desperately maybe, that the West Indies would at least improve on their recent appearances and efforts while on tour in Australia.

To even contemplate a complete victory over the Antipodean hosts in the Test series, though, might not have been realistic. All I could have hoped for, like so many in the Caribbean and, strangely enough, even in Australia itself, was that, with Australia's cricket so strong, the West Indies would be competitive, maybe even win a Test or two. At least, I expected them to do enough on the tour to regain and then keep everyone's respect.

What I certainly did not expect was the absolute annihilation that was effected by the Australians this last southern summer. To be honest, I doubt that even Australians, in their wildest dreams, could have hoped for a more inept show from the visitors. Had it been in olden times, when gladiators fought each other for the pleasures of the privileged, the "thumbs down" sign would have been given to the West Indies much earlier in the piece. Indeed, by the end of the summer, even the Australians were sufficiently embarrassed to want to call an end to the farce. They did not want to be accused of beating "no-one." The West Indies certainly did not leave Australia being respected by many for their cricket.

Australia is not, man for man, a really great cricket team, though, one could describe any combination that they do field as "very good" or "excellent." In captain Steve Waugh, his twin brother Mark, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, though, they certainly have greatness. It should also be pointed out that Warne, who, by the end of the one-day series, was starting to regain some of his old confidence and abilities, had not even played in the Test series, yet his replacement, Stuart MacGill, was able to carry on as if Shane was never going to be needed again.

Australia's cricket team is, collectively, a highly competent, professionally prepared and effectively run squad of men, oozing with the confidence which comes from winning consistently. They literally overpower opponents with abundant aggression and tremendous psychological strength, with players like Damien Martyn, who averaged 149 for the one-day series, not even considered a regular for the Test team, while Ricky Ponting and others, with broad shoulders and even broader bats, puff out their proud chests and just strut their stuff.

Australia simply blew the West Indies off the parks with an aura of psychological, technical, physical and professional supremacy seldom experienced in international sport. Indeed, ironically even, the Last time such overall completeness in a cricket team was experienced, it could well have been when the West Indies, then the real world power in cricket, visited and beat Australia in 1983/4, then duly destroyed England in England with one of the now infamous "blackwashes."

The West Indies were never going to be ready for what actually hit them in Australia. The Australians were hard, experienced cricketers exposing and exploiting the vast bareness of the West Indian cricketing landscape.

Obviously underprepared, both physically and especially psychologically, with only a very short camp of about one week, in Jamaica, before journeying to meet the best cricket team in the world; certainly ill-equipped, with an ageing fast bowler, Courtney Walsh, still, at his advanced age, the best of the West Indian bowlers; and the team's best batsman, Brian Lara, looking to find himself in many ways, on and off the cricket field, the West Indies floundered from debacle to debacle without seeming to have any clue whatsoever. At times, they even seemed leaderless.

"Lost" is as complete a word, thought and event, as can be used to describe the observed experiences of the West Indies cricket team in Australia. The last three months have produced more negative cricketing history for the West Indies cricket team than ever before in a three month period, and that includes Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand.

Another irony of this situation was that the 40th anniversary of that wonderful occasion, as the first ever tied Test match, played between the same two combatants in 1960/1, at "The Gabba", was being celebrated, in all its pomp, by all of those tremendous players who were still alive and who had contributed so much to such an unprecedented occasion.

For the 2000/1 tour of Australia, the West Indies had, not only unlike their predecessors of 1960/1 but, for the first time ever, three coaches, led by Roger Harper, and a badly out of touch captain, Jimmy Adams. The players seemed totally uninspired, at least uncommitted and were probably confused too, complements perhaps of just too much input from the coaching staff, a group which seemed more worried about their own personal survival in the squad, than at their effectiveness with the team. There were times on this tour when one, absolutely inexperienced and uneducated about the game of cricket, would have thought that the West Indies cricket team was like the Titanic after it had hit the iceberg: mortally wounded, simply waiting to die; surely hopeless.

Yet, miraculously, 19 year old Marlon Samuels and wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs emerged from the debris as the highlights of a very poor tour, not, it should be said, because their cricket was of any standard higher than that required to play at this level, since, honestly, it was not so. They were simply "outstanding", with their "normal", for Test cricket, performances, because the rest of the entourage, including Brian Lara, were so sub-standard.

While Samuels' efforts were commendable, and Jacobs was his usual competent self, it was more like drowning West Indies supporters catching at the proverbial straw. There is great hope everywhere in the cricket world that the West Indies have now "bottomed out", so the expectation is guardedly high that the next direction should be up. It is doubtful that a once mighty cricket team could go much lower.

If, however, there is going to be any upping of the performances against the South Africans, in three weeks time, there will have to be ultra speedy recalculations of having a Coach, an Assistant Coach and a Fielding Coach, plus a physiotherapist (has anyone ever heard of any West Indies cricket team since 1928 ever being so unfit and perpetually injured?) who just make excuses as opposed to actually facing facts and agree that, overall, the entire exercise was a shambles.

In the immediate future, there will have to be some responsibilities thrust on the shoulders of the younger men: Samuels, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle etc. to augment the efforts of the tried, tested and most importantly, successful efforts of some seniors: Jacobs, Lara and even Carl Hooper. If Shivnarine Chanderpaul can be re-engineered after his injuries, at least there would be a semblance of a batting order taking shape.

The bowling is a bigger worry, believe it or not. Reon King, like Chanderpaul, is just recuperating from an injury, one he need not have had. Franklyn Rose has just injured himself, while Nixon McLean, ordinary at best, after nearly 20 Test matches, has less than 50 wickets to show for them. At least Dinanath Ramnarine is back, so he must play immediately, while Walsh, if he can walk, will probably play too. Oh, the bowling is worse off than the batting, and that is saying much.

Whatever happens, there is not much more that anyone, including former Test cricketers turned sports journalists, can take. The corner has to be turned immediately. The road ahead might be straight, but rocky once more and with no corners to turn, yet. Buckle up the seatbelts, please!