South Africa v West Indies, 5th ODI, Johannesburg February 3, 2008

Storm clouds on the horizon

Fazeer Mohammed at The Wanderers


Devon Smith's devil-may-care 91 off 76 balls went in vain as West Indies failed to avoid a 5-0 whitewash © Getty Images
 
It's 10.40 on a Sunday morning in Johannesburg and Devon Smith is sharing licks at The Wanderers. Hot sun, fast outfield and the ball is flying through the thin air of the highveldt, especially off the Grenadian left-hander's flashing blade. He's thrashing about like a drowning man, especially as yet another injury, this time to Sewnarine Chattergoon has given him a lifeline after a miserable tour in which he has barely managed a run since the West Indies touched down in Harare more than two months ago.

So what to make of all these scything cuts, full-blooded drives and savage pulls? Finally showing what he's really capable of, or just another one of those hit-and-hope spectaculars by a player who knows he has nothing to lose? We've seen it all before, of course, and even the media fraternity here is reminding me that West Indies rattled up 304 for 2 in their tour finale here four years ago, only to lose the match in the last over.

At least getting to 300 would be a decent effort. But does it matter anyway? Is it an indicator of anything other than the ability of the Caribbean side to give us all a grand show when the battle has already been lost, series after series, tour after tour, year after year? Is that being pessimistic--or realistic?

Just after midday and there is no glory of the first ODI hundred for Smith, falling nine short of the milestone as the tentative strokeplay that has defined his tour before today returns. To make matters worse, Charl Langeveldt had just added the scalp of Shivnarine Chanderpaul for 51. This could be a struggle for the rest of the way at a time when West Indies should really be pressing on the accelerator.

Again, the theme of spinning top in mud surfaces, for the only surprise about Chanderpaul's effortless, measured half-century batting at No 3 is that the tacticians in the team are still fooling around with shuffling him up and down the order. In Cape Town, he batted as if on a deliberate go-slow in protest at being sent in further down. Someone mentioned the other day that the word on the inside is that the 34-year-old left-hander is tired of this perpetual yo-yo treatment. He is nauseous with all this up and down thing. We're dizzy as the team keeps going round and round.

So much for 300-plus. It's almost one o' clock and the cheers are long and loud after Shaun Pollock's final delivery as a bowler for South Africa. He said he wants to go out while still capable of delivering the goods, and with 1 for 33 off ten overs, he certainly is. By the time he's finished, the West Indies are 220 for three with 11 overs to go. It's been all about Pollock around here for the past two weeks without affecting the team's focus on cutting our tails good and proper.

He goes out in glory on the same day that I read about the West Indies Cricket Board replacing Andy Roberts, Courtney Walsh, Desmond Haynes and Ian Bishop on their cricket committee, much to the dismay of those former players. And Julian Hunte has been trying his best to portray himself as the man for the players with all those syrupy press releases that we've had to endure, especially when the results were going our way over here (how come there haven't been any comforting words lately, or is the love only given when things are going our way?). I wonder what Clive Lloyd has to say about that? Actions speak louder than words, so give me a break with all this ego massaging, you hear?

Okay, so 295 for 7 isn't all that bad, especially as Patrick Browne shows a bit of fight in partnership with Rawl Lewis. But will it be enough? Maybe not, with only two fit frontline bowlers in Daren Powell and Ravi Rampaul. Fitness, fitness, fitness boy. This fundamental of the game is killing us.

At the interval, Jeff Dujon talks of "fragmentation" in the squad since the departure of injured captain Chris Gayle. Dujon emphasises that he isn't speaking as a biased Jamaican, but knows only too well that hardly anyone outside of Jamaica listening to his comments will believe him. His is also less than enthused by the changes to the cricket committee. Any chance that he could join that fold anytime soon? The emphatic "No way!" says a lot about the relationship between the administration and so many outstanding former players. No change there.

A change in the weather, though, as thunder rumbles, lightning flashes away in the distance and rain seems imminent at the start of South Africa's reply. The storm clouds looming over West Indies cricket could have a much more significant impact, though, in the coming weeks than the result of a match in which the only real interest is the farewell to one of the home country's great cricketing heroes.

To tell you the truth, the result --a loss - really makes no difference to the challenges that lie ahead - and I'm not talking as yet about Sri Lanka and Australia.

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