Will Chanderpaul go the Goddard way?
Just two days before the remaining two, back-to-back Tests of their latest series in Australia, the evidence has become depressingly obvious.
Their demeanour and performances on the field these past two weeks have once again revealed a West Indies team beset by internal problems that go beyond potential and preparation. The signs are easily identifiable. For one reason or another, they have surrounded and brought down every captain since Viv Richards' retirement during the fading years of West Indies invincibility in 1991. Shivnarine Chanderpaul is shaping to be the latest.
The symptoms of such disorder are indifference, indiscipline and inconsistency in every aspect of the game. They lead to the lack of care and concentration, the soft surrender of wickets, the proliferation of no-balls, the missed catches, the sloppy fielding and the slothful over-rate that characterised West Indies cricket in their crushing defeat in the first Test and in their follow-up match against Victoria.
The public pronouncements of Bennett King, the West Indies coach, and Courtney Walsh, the former captain, urging support for Chanderpaul indicate that the sixth captain in 10 years is not receiving it from those experienced and influential members best placed to give it. The unavoidable consequence has been the sharp decline in standards since the first heady weeks when a near victory over a strong state team, Queensland, and an encouraging opening day to the first Test raised expectations of a genuine challenge to Australia.
Such problems are not new to West Indies cricket. The comments of the late Sir Frank Worrell on the tour of Australia more than half-century ago, in 1951-52, carry a certain resonance to the present predicament - and the several others of recent times. It was West Indies' first tour of Australia. It ended in a 4-1 Test series loss and captain John Goddard's replacement. The man, who was to later become perhaps the most revered leader West Indies cricket has known, stated that Goddard received "practically all the kudos" for the historic triumph in the 1950 series in England. This, he asserted, "apparently annoyed the many players who had made a bevy of good suggestions during the tour".
"The annoyance was so great that, on our tour to Australia, the advice was withheld, leaving Goddard a captain without officers and we drifted on the rocks," Worrell wrote. "The reason was simple but, from a West Indian point of view, a catastrophic one, the withdrawal of the brains at a time when they were really needed. The West Indies team never really recovered from the splinter groups of this tour until Gerry Alexander began to mould the team in 1958."
The present circumstances are somewhat different. They involve the divisions caused by the sponsorship row between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) that brought Chanderpaul to the captaincy and the subsequent boycott of the tour of Sri Lanka by Brian Lara, the man he replaced, and seven others who have returned under him here. In contrast to previous West Indies Test captains, Chanderpaul is not in complete charge of his team. The WICB have made the head coach "the principal authority" and chief selector who decides on the final eleven. In addition, it has deemed that the captain "carry out the strategy and tactics as determined in collaboration with the coach". King's contract makes him accountable for the performance of the team and he has stated that he "will be judged accordingly". Human nature being what it is, there are issues with the potential to generate tension between the captain and the coach and the captain and the relevant senior players.
Time is short before Thursday and the second Test at Hobart. Chanderpaul, King, Sarwan and their players need to use it to do some serious talking. If allowed to fester, the present problems are certain to lead to the same catastrophic outcome as the 1951-52 tour, noted by Worrell.