India in West Indies, 2006 - series review July 9, 2006

Proper leadership urgently required

Brian Lara and Rahul Dravid exchange parting words - Dravid had the last laugh after a disasterous ODI series © AFP

As with so much in West Indies cricket, properly assessing the recent series against India is so complex as to make it all but impossible. For instance, what logical explanation is there for a team that leads by 130 on first innings in one Test and 219 in another and yet ends up relieved to hang on for a draw each time?

What account can be given for a team routed for 103 on the second day of the decisive Test still coming to within a sniff of victory by compiling the highest total of the match in the last innings on a difficult pitch expected to deteriorate with each passing session?

And how can the psychological advantage of a 4-1 triumph in the one-day series and domination of the first two days of the Tests be transformed in the space of a month into recriminations and internal divisions? There was much more besides that was baffling throughout the four Tests. The common denominator in almost every case was West Indies, who continued to follow the established pattern of one step forward, two steps backwards. Or did they?

Perhaps the disappointment of the loss of the series through defeat at Sabina Park in the last Test, following three hard-fought draws, and, more especially, the manner of it unduly clouded the positive aspects of the international season. That, at least, seems to be the general conclusion of the ICC. According to their LG Test championship ratings, India are the ones who should be dissatisfied with the outcome. They lost two ratings points and dropped from third to fourth on the Test table, overtaken by arch-rivals Pakistan.

Jerome Taylor has the potential to be an allrounder © AFP
"The reason for that demotion is simple," the ICC explained. "The side failed to live up to its pre-series ranking. It began the tour a massive 39 rating points ahead of the West Indies and when one team is rated that far above another, it should expect to win by a bigger margin than 1-0 in order to justify its place."

West Indies began the Test series where they have been for some time now - eighth on the table above only Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. They remain there but, according to the ICC, their "better than expected performance in rating terms" gained them two points. They now have 74 points, 23 behind the two teams above them, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, and a full 54 behind leaders Australia (131). With one point for a Test win, half-point for a draw and a bonus point for a series win or half-point for a drawn outcome, it promises to be a long climb back to the top.

As with every other sport, the ICC rankings cannot be scientifically perfect. In this case, they did not take into account such variables as "bad pitches and bad selection" and their effect on the psyche of the captain and the team, dropped catches and the injury to Fidel Edwards half-way through the first Test that removed the bowler most feared by the Indians. They can, therefore, be no more than a general guide to present form, useful as that is.

So Rahul Dravid, India's immovable captain, gained points on the batting list for a series in which he averaged 82.66 and built on his already formidable reputation. He is closing in on his Australian counterpart, Ricky Ponting, who remains No.1, but whether Ponting, or any other contemporary batsman possesses the technique, concentration and commitment to match his remarkable 81 and 68 in the low-scoring decider at Sabina is open to question.

Brian Lara, who stood at the top of the list for so long, has slipped to tenth, his lowest position in five years, reflecting his current bad patch in which he averages 23.15 in his last seven Tests. Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle have also moved down but all three have proven records and their decline is surely only temporary.

Daren Ganga's success with Trinidad and Tobago reflected in his performance in the series © AFP

It is the advance made by their newer, younger team-mates that encourages optimism, if not quite enough to completely eliminate the divisions that Lara's public criticisms of selectors and ground staff have once more exposed. Jerome Taylor, in his first injury-free series, has emerged as a true cricketer, not just a penetrative bowler of pace but also a batsman and outfielder with the potential to develop into an authentic allrounder. He is only 22 and he and Edwards, 24, can form a potent fast bowling partnership in the coming years. Corey Collymore remains as fine a bowler of his type as there is in the game at present, an assessment confirmed by his elevation into the top ten after a superb series.

The advance of Daren Ganga, by 11 places in the ratings, and Denesh Ramdin, by 14, were as heartening as Taylor's. Steadfast selectors have kept faith in Ganga for seven years with only spasmodic glimpses of the basis for their confidence. He himself never seemed certain in his own ability but the signs in the second half of his 135 in St Kitts and his subsequent innings were that he has finally found the self belief so necessary at the highest level. His leadership potential, shown in his captaincy of Trinidad and Tobago to both Carib Beer titles this season and the one-day championship two years ago, was clear in his constant counseling that guided Edwards and Collymore through their 19-ball epic to save the first Test. His is the attitude that West Indies cricket sorely needs.

So is Ramdin's, but that has been known since his matured leadership of the under-19s. There was such concern that his game had regressed in every respect during the series in New Zealand and on his return that he was replaced by Carlton Baugh for much of the one-day series against Zimbabwe and India. The selectors might have been sending a warning against complacency, although it seemed hardly necessary for a 21-year-old Test novice. Whatever the case, Ramdin underlined his worth in the Tests as wicket-keeper, batsman and solid cricketer with a long-term future.

What is urgently required is proper leadership and direction from board, coaches, senior players and former greats. Sadly, the signs in this regard have not been as encouraging as they are on the field.