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Cozier on cricket : Desperate times

The hurt and the humiliation continue

Tony Cozier
Tony Cozier
The hurt and the humiliation continue.
Mercifully, relief is only a few days away, as the depressing New Zealand tour ends, but it won't be long before Zimbabwe, Test cricket's most recent and still weakest member, present the West Indies with the ultimate test of their current malaise.
These will be tense and testing times for it will determine whether we have, indeed, tumbled to the bottom rung of the ladder. We have been heading there for some time and there is an overwhelming sense of hopelessness in trying to check the fall.
The situation has become so desperate that there were those, admittedly in a vocal minority and mostly in Barbados, who were hailing the expected return of the prodigal son from Australia last week as the salvation, only to be once more let down by their hero.
There has even been the suggestion to bring in Geoffrey Boycott as coach which, while not as radical as it may sound, accurately reflects the pressing predicament.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world that not so long ago held West Indies cricket in envious awe, are now either enjoying or sympathising with our plight. Either way, it is disparaging - and instructive.
"Someone once suggested the England team of the 1990s had only three major problems - they couldn't bat, they couldn't bowl, they couldn't field. The West Indies seem to have all of those concerns and one other: they cannot select either," Richard Boock wrote in the New Zealand Herald after the changes in the third One-Day International that left what he referred to as a "one-prong West Indies attack".
West Indians following proceedings through the television coverage may not have been so uncharitable, but Boock's point cannot be denied.
The chopping and changing that has taken place on tour, not only in New Zealand but in South Africa last season and in more recent series of One-Day Internationals, have been confusing and disruptive.They signal to the players concerned that those in charge have no faith in them and lack a set strategy.
Two down in South Africa, the tour selectors exchanged five players for the Durban Test and used three separate opening pairs during the series. All, needless to say, were lost.
In the One-Day tournaments in Singapore, Toronto, Bangladesh and Sharjah, new, young players like Wavell Hinds, Chris Gayle and Ricardo Powell found themselves shifted about the order like draughts on Suki King's board.
Experimentation was the official explanation. It was simply foolishness.
In New Zealand, the confusion has been carried to new extremes.
In the second Test that had to be won to square the series, leg-spinner Dinanath Ramnarine was jettisoned for Nehemiah Perry, an obviously defensive manoeuvre presumably to strengthen the batting.
At the same time, the attacking, if impetuous, Ricardo Powell was dropped and Franklyn Rose retained in spite of his ineffective bowling.
The lack of logic has extended into the One-Dayers.
Rose was again chosen, shared the new ball in the first match but was not used until fifth change, even after Sherwin Campbell, in the second, before being finally discarded. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, entangled in a web of self-doubt, has been sent in at Nos. 4, 5, 4 and 1.
Campbell, so completely out of touch after his wonderful start to the tour that he was out four times for nought and once for three in his last six innings, was retained but demoted from opener for the first time in his career for the West Indies.
Then, of course, there was the choice of Boock's so-called "one-prong attack" at Taupo.
Yet nothing is more revealing, to his team and to his opponents, than Brian Lara's reluctance to lead from the front in his most effective way - with his batting.
In the first three One-Dayers in New Zealand, he dropped from No. 3 to No. 4 to No. 5. In the previous 15 matches in Singapore, Toronto, Bangladesh and Sharjah, he opened four times, went in No. 4 and No. 5 five times each and No. 7 once.
The plan seems to be that he starts at one-down and shifts at the loss of early wickets. If it is, it sends the message to both dressing rooms that Lara is protecting himself.
As the best and most feared batsman in the team, his place is at No. 3 and nowhere else, and, once he gets in, he must set himself up to bat through to the end.
Adrian Griffith, the only consistently successful batsman in the Tests, might wonder why he can't get a show in the shorter version, even while the team is struggling to bat out the 50 overs.
He is obviously considered by the tour selectors to be unsuited to the role, so what is he still doing in New Zealand? Why wasn't he flown home to get some exercise and practice in the Busta Cup?
There are a host of other problems contributing to the West Indies' present plight. They have been all documented and thoroughly discussed.
This lack of continuity and method in selection has been one of the most crucial.