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West Indies lacking in self-belief despite draw

Ian Bell and Joe Root took runs off Jerome Taylor WICB Media/Randy Brooks of Brooks LaTouche Photogr

Phil Simmons would have known what to expect when he took over two weeks ago as the latest West Indies head coach. A West Indian himself, Simmons witnessed the game's decline in the region of his birth from afar while coaching Ireland over eight fruitful years; he may have had mixed feelings when Ireland defeated West Indies in their first match in the recent World Cup but it was a learning experience as he prepared to shift addresses.

As West Indies repeatedly faltered on his first four days in charge, in the first Test against England, his impressions gained from reading, and watching, would have been confirmed.

Before the decisive fifth and final day, with West Indies requiring their remaining eight wickets to carry them to an uplifting draw, Simmons said: "We will learn more about the team tomorrow."

What he did learn was what chief selector Clive Lloyd had foreseen when he and his panel chose Jason Holder as the youngest of all West Indies captains for the tough ODI campaigns in South Africa in January and the subsequent World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Lloyd described Holder, variously, as "one of the good, young players who we believe will form part of the long-term future", "a young man with a very bright futureā€¦ a very good cricketing brain and the makings of a very good leader."

It appeared overstated hype at the time. No more.

Holder was widely lauded for his competence and character throughout the World Cup; his match-saving, unbeaten, unflustered 103 when all seemed lost midway through the last day at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium was further confirmation of Lloyd's assertion that he would be around for "a long time".

Following his 52 on Test debut against New Zealand last year and two half-centuries in the World Cup, his innings was further support for former West Indies and Barbados fast bowler Ezra Moseley, his first coach at St Michael School in Bridgetown, that he was a batsman who could bowl, not the other way round.

It was the 23-year-old Holder's fourth Test, the 65th for Denesh Ramdin, seven years older, the pair that thwarted England for two and a half hours in the warm Antiguan sunshine. As ODI and Test captains respectively, they are the two players Simmons would automatically stick closest to as he eases into a position as tenuous as any in the volatile world of West Indies cricket; their level-headed application in the middle on Friday validated the leadership triumvirate.

Relieved to have escaped with a draw, several of Simmons' new team's familiar failings remained. Most, as always, can be sourced to the collective lack of self-belief brought on by years of decline.

Several times over the first four days, the West Indies held the initiative against opponents ranked five places above them on the ICC's register. Each time they let it slip.

England's precarious 34 for 3 before lunch on the first day mounted to 341 for 5 by the close. Inspired fast bowling by Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach, backed by Holder, limited the total next day to 399, the last six wickets tumbling for 58.

At 276 for 6, West Indies were whittling away at England's total. Jermaine Blackwood, another bright spark for the future, was past his maiden Test hundred in his sixth Test with Holder in a partnership of 23-year-olds. Abruptly, the last four wickets went for 19, the last three for three; a deficit of 104 was conceded.

The scenario was repeated when England batted again. The conversion this time was 52 for 3 to 333 for 7 declared as West Indies had neither the resources nor the will to seize the moment on a batsman's pitch. In the end, they were scattered across the outfield, tired and downcast, awaiting the declaration.

These were recurring themes. South Africa were 57 for 3 in the first Test in Centurion last December; they eventually amassed 552 for 5 declared and won by an innings and plenty.

In a tight contest in the deciding Test in Barbados last June, West Indies took a lead of 24, reduced New Zealand to 68 for 3 but couldn't press the advantage. Brendon McCullum could close the innings at 331 for 7, securing victory on the final day as the West Indies batting faltered.

As it was now, the middle and lower order was repeatedly blown away in South Africa - the last four wickets for eight, the last seven for 40 (both Centurion), the last six for 13 (at Newlands).

Starting the final day in Antigua with a draw the only option, three top-order batsmen succumbed to carelessness. Devon Smith battled stoically for three-and-a-quarter hours from the fourth afternoon into the fifth morning for 65; his sudden attempt to clear mid-on from offspinner James Tredwell was his first aggressive shot of the day; fraught with unnecessary danger, it ended in mid-on's grasp.

Marlon Samuels held himself in check for 45 minutes or so before he was unable to resist the temptation to go after Tredwell. So it has been throughout the long and chequered career of the most talented, most exasperating batsman in the present team.

The upshot was a couple of sixes, a four, a missed stumping and his dismissal at the opposite end, going after one wide of offstump that drew James Anderson level with Ian Botham's England record of 383 Test wickets.

Blackwood was even more culpable than Smith and Samuels. That he was less than two years into Test cricket, against a decade and more for Smith and Samuels was no exoneration. For an hour and three-quarters, the first-innings century maker settled to the task; then an inexplicable brain fade, a charge down the pitch at Chris Jordan, a wild heave and an edge to the keeper. Next to me on radio commentary, Geoffrey Boycott was apoplectic over such madness.

Eradicating the carelessness and restoring belief are now Simmons' main tasks. As Ottis Gibson before him discovered, there are a host of obstacles to overcome.

A draw in his first match in charge was a reasonable start. It was significantly different to what the heavy defeat that seemed certain nine overs after lunch would have meant.

Allied to England's disappointment at being unable to finish off opponents described by the incoming head of their board as "mediocre", it places a new spin on the remaining two Tests.

Both teams have selection issues going into the second match, starting in Grenada on Tuesday. Sulieman Benn's left-arm spin was well short of its usual nagging control; legspinner Devendra Bishoo provides a more attacking alternative for West Indies. England's one glaring problem is the form of captain Alastair Cook and the revived Jonathan Trott at the top of the order. Cook has acknowledged that his team leaves Antigua on "a bit of a downer". It's not a positive sign.