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Tony Cozier and John Ward
West Indies undertook their tour of southern Africa optimistic that they could finally end their abysmal overseas record. But their hopes, based on a stirring, if solitary, victory over Australia in the last of four home Tests six months earlier, their triumph over Sri Lanka in the brief series that followed, and the emergence of some young, obviously talented, players, came to nothing.
They were hard pressed to prevail even over Zimbabwe - along with Bangladesh the only team below them in the ICC ratings. West Indies scraped a draw in the First Test with their last pair together before winning the Second, and had to fight back from 2-1 down to take the one-day internationals 3-2.
Their inability to cope with the challenges of playing abroad was fully exposed in South Africa, where they were soundly beaten by opponents ruthlessly efficient in both forms of the game. Three of their most promising young players - Omari Banks, Marlon Samuels and Jerome Taylor, for whom the tour would have provided invaluable experience - had to return home injured at the start of the South African leg. Of the others, only Ravi Rampaul, the 19-year-old fast bowler, made any advance, and he was not risked in any of the Tests.
When the team reported to a training camp in Antigua before the tour, coach Gus Logie publicly expressed his frustration at several players' lack of fitness. The consequence was a proliferation of disruptive injuries. Zimbabwe and South Africa were better physically prepared and had no such problems. The outcome was a crushing disappointment for Brian Lara, especially as West Indies had endured defeat in all five Tests and six of the seven oneday internationals in South Africa during his first stint as captain five years earlier. A draw in one of the Tests and victory in one of the four completed internationals this time was only minimally better.
Lara himself maintained the form he had found after his reinstatement at the helm in March 2003, with 191 in the Test victory over Zimbabwe and two more hundreds in South Africa, where he averaged 66 in the Tests. In a high-scoring series on true pitches, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Chris Gayle had two hundreds each, Shivnarine Chanderpaul one, and 20-year-old Dwayne Smith, a surprise replacement for Samuels, an exhilarating, unbeaten 105 on debut that salvaged the only draw. Gayle could add two one-day hundreds in Zimbabwe and a third in South Africa.
Such scores were rendered irrelevant by ineffective and undisciplined bowling, along with catching and ground fielding that was an embarrassment set against the high standards of the Zimbabweans and South Africans. The home batsmen took full advantage.
In the six Tests, West Indies conceded two totals in excess of 600 and three more over 500. The pattern was set by Zimbabwe's 507 for nine declared at Harare, where their captain, Heath Streak, enhanced his considerable reputation as an all-rounder with a maiden Test hundred.
It was carried to exceptional heights in South Africa where Jacques Kallis, strong, sound and single-minded, accumulated hundreds in each of the four Tests, where he averaged 178, and two more plus an unbeaten 95 in the one-day internationals, where he averaged 180. There were also three Test hundreds for Herschelle Gibbs, two for Graeme Smith in his first home assignment as captain and one each for Gary Kirsten, Mark Boucher and Jacques Rudolph. South Africa's total of 12 hundreds in the series matched the Test record of Australia in the West Indies (1954-55) and Pakistan against India (1982-83) - but Australia played five matches to South Africa's four, and Pakistan had six. The 20 centuries scored by the two sides were one short of the record 21 of the West Indies-Australia 1954-55 series.
In spite of this glut of runs, South Africa's fast bowlers were seldom far away from a decisive wicket. The two fastest, Makhaya Ntini and Andre Nel, were the most penetrative: both had benefited from long hours in the nets refining their actions. Ntini's 29 wickets at 21 each helped make him Test cricket's leading wicket-taker for the calendar year 2003, with 59; Nel's 22 at 23 in his first full series included Lara's five times. As always, Shaun Pollock provided essential support by building pressure with his probing accuracy. In Zimbabwe, slow left-armer Ray Price had collected 19 wickets in two Tests - West Indies' leading wicket-taker, Fidel Edwards, managed 16 in six.
Sir Viv Richards, who had given his name to the trophy for the South African Test series, accompanied the team there as chief selector. He questioned the structure of the team management and criticised the attitude of certain players whom he accused of "playing games". These were among the factors that continued to keep West Indies in their undesirable position Tests, where he averaged 178, and two more plus an unbeaten 95 in the
Match reports for
Nicky Oppenheimer XI v West Indians at Randjesfontein, Dec 3, 2003
Free State v West Indians at Bloemfontein, Dec 5-8, 2003
Border v West Indians at East London, Dec 19-22, 2003
Easterns v West Indians at Benoni, Jan 9-12, 2004
South Africa A v West Indians at Paarl, Jan 23, 2004
Match reports for
Zimbabwe A v West Indians at Harare, Oct 30-Nov 1, 2003
Zimbabwe A v West Indians at Kwekwe, Nov 19, 2003