West Indies arrive in a confident mood December 5, 2003

The men in white coats come for Lara

Ricky Skerritt is the epitome of managerial unflappability, but he seemed to be drifting towards the edge of that idyllic state on Thursday. Did he have a moment to talk to Wisden CricInfo? "Yes, but no more than a moment - I'm just leaving a doctor's office," said Skerritt, who was himself admitted to hospital for tests after complaining of chest pains in Zimbabwe last month.

The West Indies squad arrived in Bloemfontein at lunchtime on Thursday, and among team manager Skerritt's duties was to get his captain, Brian Lara, to a man in a white coat. "Brian had to go to the dentist, just for a little, routine filling," Skerritt said. Still, it was serious enough to preclude Lara from talking to journalists on the day: "Out of the question, I'm sorry."

There was urgency in Skerritt's tone, not least because Lara's presence will presumably be required in the team that begins a four-day match against Free State today. The match is West Indies last engagement before the Test series starts in Johannesburg next Friday.

Lara's teething troubles came on the heels of Jerome Taylor being sent home to recover from the lower back problem that curtailed his involvement in the Zimbabwe leg of the West Indies' southern African tour to taking 10 for 112 in a tour match and bowling 9.4 overs in the first Test.

"The loss of Taylor is significant because he was part of a balance that had been put together, and every young fast bowler has their own strengths to help create that balance," Skerritt said. "It's also unfortunate because it was an opportunity for him to get some exposure and some experience. He's definitely a player for the future."

Was the rest of the squad in good health? "More or less, I would say," Skerritt said. Curiously, the West Indies brains trust has decided to replace Taylor with Dave Mohammed, a left-arm wrist spinner. "I think the selectors probably took the opportunity to throw a little bit more variety into the attack, and to get a little more versatility," Skerritt said. Mohammed, 25, is no stranger to the West Indies squad and its environs - Chairman's XIs and the like - but he has yet to make his international debut. In 16 first-class matches from the 2000-01 season he has taken 53 wickets at an average of 23.41.

Mohammed is the youngest of 10 siblings, and he lists his mother, Saferan, as a guiding light in his life and career. South Africans understand so few of the mysteries of chinaman bowling that their selectors prefer to persevere with a patently out of form Paul Adams rather than turn to another, less exotic but more reliable spinner. Which could mean Mahommed is already halfway to making a name for himself in South Africa.