New Zealand v West Indies, 3rd Test, Napier March 24, 2006

Last chance for redemption

Tony Cozier

Brian Lara: can he come to the party at Napier? © Getty Images

As the West Indies face the humiliating prospect of their fourth successive series whitewash overseas in the third and final Test against New Zealand, starting here tomorrow (overnight eastern Caribbean time), the words of the old typewriting exercise are appropriate.

"Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party" is the sentence forever used to assess proficiency on the keyboard. It is equally pertinent for beleaguered cricket teams, especially the ones depending as heavily as the West Indies on their 'good men', those with the experience and the statistics to render them leaders.

In this case, they are Brian Lara, the most prolific of all batsmen, multiple record holder, twice captain and a veteran of 122 Tests; and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the current captain and a consistent campaigner with the healthy average of 45 in his 93 Tests. Neither has come to the party in the preceding two Tests and the West Indies have duly lost.

Had each put together only half his average in each innings, the West Indies surely would not have let certain victory in the first Test turn to defeat by 27 runs. Their failures in the second Test were key moments in the middle-order collapses that opened the way for New Zealand's triumph by ten wickets.

Lara, scorer of one quadruple, one triple, six doubles and 23 single hundreds in his record 11170 Test runs at an average of 54, has scraped together only seven runs in his four innings. Chanderpaul managed 13 and 15 in the first Test, 8 and 36 in the second. Lara came into the series straight from the Caribbean, arriving a week prior to the first Test without a first-class match in six weeks.

Chanderpaul has been so burdened with the leadership of a team deeply divided by the boycott of a tour of Sri Lanka last July, by most leading players, that he hasn't registered a half-century in 13 Test innings since.

With another key batsman and vice-captain, Ramnaresh Sarwan, forced to return home after the first Test because of a leg injury and the two promising young apprentices, Dwayne Bravo and Denesh Ramdin, severely short of the form and confidence that made them standouts in the series in Australia last November, the reliance on Lara and Chanderpaul has intensified.

The simultaneous slump of the foremost batsmen of the past dozen years has been crippling but, in the 17 Tests the West Indies have lost since England's 2004 series in the Caribbean, the two have rarely come to the party when most needed-in the second innings.

The statistics are revealing. Lara appeared in 15 of those matches, reeling off one double and three single hundreds at an average of 69.6 in the first innings when he has seldom had support. In the second innings, when similar scores were required, he has totalled 212 runs, with a top score of 44 and an average of 14.13.

In the 17 losses in that time, Chanderpaul accumulated 603 runs in the first innings at 37.68, with his unbeaten 126 at Lord's in 2004 the highest. His overall 394 in the second innings have been at 26.26, with his unbeaten 97 in the same Lord's Test the highest. The upshot was inevitable. Nine of the 17 all out second innings totals were under 200, including 47 at Sabina Park and 94 at Kensington Oval against England in 2004, and only one over 300.

And if the good men don't come to the aid of the party over the last few days, the series will end in yet another clean sweep by the opposition, of which there have been seven since the first of the modern era in Pakistan in 1997.