Will Willie cope with the pressure this time? It's more than nine years now since his modest international playing career came to an end, but it would only be natural for David Williams to look back on what could have been, even as he prepares for the challenge of the role as assistant coach in the West Indies' campaign at next month's Twenty20 World Championship in South Africa.

Having solidly established himself as the most successful senior regional coach over the last three seasons, and with the additional experience of supervising the regional "A" team's preparations for the home campaign against their Sri Lankan counterparts less than a year ago, making the step up to the senior squad would therefore seem to be just part of the natural progression to what he must surely hope will be consideration for the head coaching job by the time the squad returns to South Africa for a full tour at the end of the year.

Yet after a largely unfulfilled career as West Indies wicketkeeper, Williams knows only too well that nothing can be taken for granted, especially in the chaotic environment of Caribbean cricket. The list of outstanding former players who have played some direct role in the affairs of the senior regional team, only to become casualties of the protracted downward spiral of the past decade, gets longer with every passing year. It is a depressing reality that could be intimidating for someone who possesses neither the formidable physical presence nor the impressive statistics as several of those who came expecting to turn things around and left disillusioned and extremely bitter with the whole painful experience.

Indeed, it can be argued that the 43-year-old southerner has everything to lose and little to gain from a tournament that could be over almost before it really begins. In such an abbreviated form of the game, and with so little experience of it at international level, form and reputation in the longer versions could count for nothing, which mandates that if Ramnaresh Sarwan's side get off to their traditional slow start to this competition, they will be on their way back home just three days after the first white ball is bowled in Johannesburg on September 11.

As at the 2003 World Cup, also in South Africa, the West Indies will be featured in the tournament opener against the host nation at the Wanderers before taking on Bangladesh in their other group fixture at the same venue two days later. So there is no time to gradually ease into the contest. You either hit the ground running or pack up and ship out.

But it is still an opportunity, however tenuous, for Williams to prove his worth, even if very recent events mandate that he must be conscious that some of the same players he will be laughing with are just as capable of stabbing him in the back if or when things start to go wrong. The irrepressible character that he is though, it would not be surprising if Willie contends that his lack of inches gives him an advantage in this regard as the potential conspirators are likely to miss their target.

All jokes aside (and that may be asking a lot of a man who inhales oxygen and exhales picong), the long-serving former national gloveman has had more than enough exposure to relentless pressure and merciless criticism in the full glare of the international stage so as not to be put off by the pettiness he is likely to encounter in the West Indies dressing room.

An unflattering record from 11 Test matches and 36 one-day internationals do not tell the whole story of a player who was involved in a continuous game of musical chairs with Junior Murray and Courtney Browne for the West Indies wicketkeeping position in the eight years between the end of Jeff Dujon's career and Ridley Jacobs' full-time occupation of the position.

Interestingly, Williams was the first-choice wicketkeeper at both the beginning and end of that uncertain period from 1991 to 1998. In between, however, he mixed moments of incomparable brilliance with glaring errors, mistakes that probably had more to do with a lack of confidence after being constantly reminded of those lapses, especially on his first full tour of Australia in 1992-93.

As someone who had experienced his infectious enthusiasm on the field first-hand, it was more than a little surprising to hear that the belief in himself had been shaken so fundamentally at the end of what has, ironically, proven to be the last great West Indies series triumph away from home (and people still believe that this is just a cycle or a phase we're going through?). He may not be as much in the firing line now, for most attention will be directed at David Moore as head coach.

But if he hopes to make this assignment considerably more than just another unsatisfactory stint with the senior team after enjoying so much success in all capacities at the lower levels, Willie must be prepared to cope with the inescapable challenges of being involved in a struggling team that continues to be the object of regional obsession and international concern.

There must be a grim determination to get the job done, for even if that ever-present smile can defuse most potentially inflammatory situations, an iron fist or a bulletproof vest might still come in handy.