January 5, 2003

West Indies still waiting to regain former glory

Signs of progress were tempered by the same old inconsistencies for the West Indies in 2002. A clutch of young players - Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Marlon Samuels and Jermaine Lawson - shone with outstanding individual efforts. These performances were sporadic though, and the team was typically poor away from home, save a rousing ODI series win in India. There is still some way to go though for Carl Hooper's men to return to the glory days of old.

The year began in a soulless Sharjah, with a short series with Pakistan that gave no indication that West Indies woeful away form would improve. A hammering in the first Test was followed by an even heavier defeat in the second. No less than eight fifties were scored by West Indian batsmen in the series, with none converted to centuries. Coupled with lacklustre bowling, the visitors were no match for a rampant Pakistan. There was little to note in an unsuccessful one day series, with the only highlight a dazzling century from Hooper in the third game.

Back in Guyana, Hooper was being signalling his intentions in the Test series with India. He made 233 in the first Test, with fellow countryman Shivnarine Chanderpaul hitting a big century in a tepid draw. The series came alive in Trinidad, as half-centuries from Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle forced India to sweat their way to a 37 run win. Hooper and Chanderpaul were again in the runs at Barbados, with Merv Dillon's eight wickets squaring the series. Antigua was another run-feast, as Ridley Jacobs, alongside the ever-present Hooper and Chanderpaul reached centuries in the dullest of draws. To Kingston, where a Wavell Hinds century set up the game, and accurate bowling from Dillon and Pedro Collins bought the home side a welcome series victory.

India took revenge in the one-dayers, winning 2-1 after the first two matches were washed out.

Despite victory in the one-day series, the Test matches with New Zealand were to be a tougher prospect altogether. Shane Bond was in the wickets as the home side were routed in the first Test, while Gayle showed his potential to hit a flawless double hundred in the drawn Grenada Test.

Most of the squad took advantage of a two month break, but Gayle headed off to the A team tour of England, where he shone in a frequently shambolic trip. Discipline was poor, with Runako Morton, Suliemann Benn and Tino Best fined for bad behaviour. Morton would later be suspended for a year after leaving the ICC Trophy in Sri Lanka claiming his grandmother had passed away. She had, but Morton's grief was delayed to say the least, for the woman had been dead for 16 years.

West Indies hopes of progressing in the ICC Champions Trophy were halted by South Africa, who took a last ball thriller. The disappointment was compounded by the news that Brian Lara - who had looked ill despite a sublime century against Kenya - had contracted hepatitis and would miss the tour to India.

The visitors were never given a chance, and the Indians were soon setting about settling scores from the series in the Caribbean. Despite a solid effort with the ball from Dillon, India battled past 450, and skittled West Indies for under 200 twice to earn an innings victory. Further disappointment followed in Chennai, and it was not until Kolkata that India were challenged. Centuries for Chanderpaul, Wavell Hinds, and a first Test ton for Samuels were enough for a first innings lead. Four quick wickets looked to have West Indies in the box seat, but a 200 run partnership between Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman ensured a draw.

A thrilling ODI series was studded with three Gayle centuries. Level at 3-3, West Indies took the series in Vijayawada thanks to a brilliant 108 (from just 75 balls) from Samuels.

Bangladesh was never going to prove a problem for the West Indies, Sarwan's first ODI century the highlight of a 2-0 victory. He completed his first Test ton a week later, but it was a young fast bowler who would steal the headlines. Jermaine Lawson devastated the Bangladesh second innings with six wickets for three runs in an innings win. He has pace, and could provide the aggression West Indies desperately need. The series was wrapped up with a seven wicket win at Dhaka, a simple but satisfactory accomplishment.

There were no surprises in a World Cup squad which seemed to pick itself. In domestic cricket, Barbados beat Jamaica to claim the Red Stripe Bowl. Earlier in the year Jamaica had won the Busta Cup, but were defeated by Guyana in the Busta International Shield.

The year was not without sadness. The Jamaican all-rounder Laurie Williams was killed in a car-crash in September. He played fifteen ODIs, and was just 33 years old.

West Indies face a tough year in 2003. Immediately after the World Cup, they host Australia and Bangladesh. After what should be a successful visit to Zimbabwe, they finish the year in South Africa, where they were thrashed 5-0 last year. West Indies currently sit at seventh in the ICC Test Championship, and will do well to improve in 2003.