The hosts need a win like never before April 10, 2007

Unseasoned professionals

Fazeer Mohammed



'The most that can be expected right now is that Brian Lara will lead his team on the field against South Africa in Grenada, a match the home side must win to retain any hope of reaching the semi-finals' © AFP

Hope for the best, but brace for the worst. That's all you can really do as a West Indies cricket fan these days.

Expectations? What, a miraculous revival or just another pathetic performance? Don't even bother to agonise. The most that can be expected right now is that Brian Lara will lead his team on the field against South Africa in Grenada, a match the home side must win to retain any hope of reaching the semi-finals of the ICC's World Cup. Anything else is just plain guesswork. To say they have to improve significantly-in application, attitude, intensity and technique-from the showings in the three previous matches against Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka hardly qualifies as a startling revelation. There really is nothing new that can be said about the Caribbean side, because everyone with even a cursory interest in West Indies cricket has passed this way many times before in the last few years: a must-win situation after a series of sub-standard performances, accompanied by the eternal hope that one spark of genius can somehow turn the whole thing around.

None of the comments from any of the prominent personalities ahead of this encounter at the redeveloped Queen's Park Stadium offer any enlightening insights, except to reinforce the damning reality that it has taken a pretty long time, in sporting terms, for the senior regional team to have gone exactly nowhere.

Yes, they have traversed the globe many times over and there have been the occasional moments deserving of real celebration, but when our most successful captain ever, in the midst of a first-ever World Cup in the Caribbean, speaks about players needing to understand the importance of representing the region, you just want to throw your arms up in frustration and disbelief that a grand legacy has been reduced to this.

[Clive Lloyd's] statements last week were loaded with the contradictions that could be a reflection of the confused state of the team on the field, at least in their three Super Eights matches so far

Again, such remarks are not exactly groundbreaking, for many other well-placed individuals have lamented the apparent lack of pride at different stages of this painfully long downward spiral of a West Indian entity that was for so long looked upon with admiration, fear and envy all at the same time by opponents both great and small throughout the cricketing world.

It's just that when the latest similar utterance comes from a man who spoke hopefully about the players' willingness to listen and learn less than six months ago, only then do you really wonder if we will ever emerge from this bottomless pit.

Clive Lloyd seemed full of hope and expectation during the Champions Trophy last October, when his impromptu role as team advisor appeared to be bearing fruit as West Indies reached the final before surrendering the title meekly to Australia in Mumbai. Now, in the full-fledged role of team coordinator, his statements last week were loaded with the contradictions that could be a reflection of the confused state of the team on the field, at least in their three Super Eights matches so far.

"We must impress upon them the importance of playing for the West Indies, wearing this badge that I have here with pride," Lloyd was reported as saying. "They are seasoned professionals but we are trying to get a work ethic with some youngsters and I hope that they understand after this World Cup what it means to the people of the West Indies."

Seasoned professionals needing to appreciate what it means to represent the region? That sounds like a contradiction in terms, for the description "seasoned professionals" implies not only a wealth of experience and a high level of application, discipline and consistency in their particular endeavour, but also an awareness of the circumstances and conditions in which they ply their trade.

He or she may not be able to rise to the occasion every time, but the true professional, at the very least, is aware of the significance of an event, which is why the big names are invariably the ones regularly at the top in all the high-profile competitions of the sporting world. It may not seem like much on the surface, but a failure to comprehend the context of a particular contest could mean that the battle is almost lost already.



'Every West Indian fan is hoping against hope that tomorrow will be one of those days when there is a sterling effort to match the significance of the team's World Cup prospects' © AFP
What Lloyd is saying, although not in so many words, is that most of those players who currently wear West Indian colours really have no idea what they are doing. It is just another day's work for just another day's pay. Blistering hundred or first-ball duck, five-wicket haul or none-for-plenty, it really doesn't matter all that much. Producing a match-winning performance in a critical situation is merely a happy coincidence.

Every West Indian fan is hoping against hope that tomorrow will be one of those days when there is a sterling effort to match the significance of the team's World Cup prospects, bearing in mind that the same South Africans were hammered in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy not so long ago.

But if victory does come our way to break the streak of embarrassing defeats, will it carry any significance as a guide to expectations in the immediate future? On the evidence of the last few days, last few months and last several years, the short answer is no.

At this stage, though, we'll take whatever we can get, even if it is only to elevate expectations so that they can fall from a greater height next time.