West Indies must learn to win again
As popular and appropriate as it was at the time, David Rudder's converted anthem Rally Round the West Indies is wearing a little thin for cricket supporters despairing over whether there will ever be a revival.
Perhaps the more apt chorus would now come from The Foundations' hit of the late 1960s, Buttercup. Why do you build me up … just to let me down and mess around.
It has certainly been, once again, the theme in the current Tests and ODIs in India where, in every single match, the inexperienced West Indies have built us up only to let us down by converting surprisingly strong positions into four defeats and one tie-draw.
It is not a new phenomenon, although more pronounced, and thus more frustrating, over the past month or so. There have been several individual "positives", to use the favourite noun of all captains and coaches, but they are diminished by the results and the manner of them.
Darren Bravo confirmed his promise as a star of the future. Kirk Edwards' consistency at No.3 proved that his debut Test hundred in Dominica in July was no one-innings wonder. Marlon Samuels' now sanctioned off-spin has given the bowling a new dimension.
Ravi Rampaul maintained the form that made him the outstanding bowler in the Caribbean earlier in the year and there are gradual signs that Kemar Roach is regaining the confidence and penetration that made him such an effective leader of the attack on his entry into the team.
Without piling up big runs, Kraigg Brathwaite, 18, and Kieran Pollard, 21, showed they were more than just boys in a big man's world, showed their potential as batsmen with the potential for long and productive futures.
So why did West Indies repeatedly squander winning positions? Why did first-innings leads of 95 in the first Test and 108 in the third end in defeat in the first instance, a scrambled tie-draw in the second when a first innings total 590 was followed by a second innings 134?
The same questions could be repeated for the two ODIs to date.
In the first one-dayer, the pace of Roach and Andre Russell left India lurching at 59 for five in reply to a seemingly inadequate 211, only for them to recover and, finally, for the last pair to squeeze out the last 11 runs for victory by one wicket. West Indies helped them along with 16 wides and four no balls (each worth a free hit) in 23 extras, crippling statistics in a low-scoring match.
In the second, Rampaul's extraordinary record 66-ball, unbeaten 86 at No.10 and his last wicket partnership of 99 with the unruffled Roach was followed by India faltering at 84 for three in the 17th over. West Indies had reason to be bouyant but the balloon soon burst. They missed four catches, and flawed tactics subsequently allowed Virat Kohli (the same batsman whose dislike of bodyline bowling had been exposed in the Caribbean) and Rohit Sharma to comfortably gather singles to the deep-set fields. Inevitable victory was achieved with five wickets and 11 balls to spare.
So why does it all go so wrong so often?
To be sure, the failures with the bat of the wicketkeepers, Carlton Baugh and Denesh Ramdin, at No. 7 and captain Darren Sammy at No. 8, repeatedly opened the door to late order collapses. The bowling often went flat once the ball lost its shine and hardness.
To state that Chris Gayle's hypothetical inclusion would have been a boost of experience and proven record is to state the obvious, but it wasn't much different when he was in the XI.
The reasons for such stunning reversals go beyond cricket alone. As Harsha Bhogle, the writer and commentator, put it after the first Test, West Indies "seemed to be trapped in a mindset that dooms them to failure".
It is not a condition easily resolved. It is a truism applicable to all team sports that losing becomes a habit as much as winning, perhaps even more so.
Floyd Reifer, who is coach of the Barbados champions, University of the West Indies (UWI), and the Combined Campuses and Colleges (CCC) at the regional level, and thus close to young charges, has identified one of his priorities. "Winning is part of development as well," he said recently, recognising that batting, bowling and fielding are not the be all and end all of his remit. "We have to create guys who, when they get into positions to win matches, know how to win them."
It is easier said than done but it must be an urgent priority for all West Indies' coaches, especially at the age-group levels.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years