The West Indies Cricket Board and its selection panel have started the 2003 Cable & Wireless Series with a master stroke by appointing Brian Lara as team captain and Ramnaresh Sarwan as his deputy.

It's now up to Sir Vivian Richards and his fellow selectors to maintain the trend for the composition of their squad for the opening Test against Australia starting in Guyana next Thursday.

While Carl Hooper remains a potential class act as a batsman, he was unable to produce the type of imaginative leadership qualities that were necessary and his ability as a tactician was only modest.

It was immensely satisfying that Lara has decided to accept the job, which up until recently he indicated he had no interest in.

It is even more pleasing that Sarwan, still only 22 in spite of seven years' experience as a first-class player, is being groomed as a leader for the future.

It was almost puzzling that Hooper's deputy over the past two years was someone only a year younger than he.

The million-dollar question now surrounds the immediate future of Hooper, who left us in the dark a few days ago.

On one hand, he said he believed he still possessed the physical skill, desire and passion to continue at the international level. At the same time, he said he must be unselfish and ask himself if his presence in the team would not be unfair and block the development of young players.

If he plays, it is almost certain that he will "block the development" of someone like Marlon Samuels.

Having said that, I still have room for the enigmatic Guyanese. His overall record as a batsman is modest for someone of his talent, but his record as a batsman [1609 runs at an average of 45.97] since coming out of retirement is one that suggests he should not be dropped at this time.

Bearing in mind the West Indies' opponents are the all-conquering Australians, his presence and experience will be even more important. Had the opposition been weaker, I would have thanked him for his wonderful service to West Indies' cricket.

It means then that Samuels can only find a place if Sarwan is not fit enough to play.

The remainder of the middle-order picks itself with Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul joining Hooper and Sarwanor Samuels.

Chris Gayle has been the established first-choice opening batsman for some time and his partner at the top should be fellow Jamaican Wavell Hinds.

Hinds, in particular, must know that the selectors cannot ignore the credentials of Devon Smith for much longer.

The 21-year-old Grendadian has hardly put a foot wrong during the last two years. Last season he scored 750 runs(ave. 62.50) and followed up this year with 572 runs (ave. 40.85).

The wicket-keeping slot should trigger some debate among the selectors. Ridley Jacobs has been a reliable servant for most of the last four years, but hardly anyone will dispute that he is on the decline.

At 35, it is time the selectors identify a long-term replacement for Jacobs. Junior Murray and Courtney Browne still remain good enough to play at this level, but Carlton Baugh's outstanding season for the West Indies "B" that brought him 486 runs (ave. 40.50) runs and 15 dismissals makes him a genuine contender.

The slow, low nature of the Bourda pitch means it is almost certain the selectors will not opt for four fast bowlers.

Mervyn Dillon is the spearhead, even if most believe his inconsistency suggests he should not carry that tag.

Pedro Collins bowled disappointingly in the World Cup when he was bothered by injury. His performance against Trinidad and Tobago gave the impression that he was back to full fitness and form and should be pencilled in as Dillon's new ball partner.

When Vasbert Drakes returned to the international arena last September at the age of 33, the general feeling was that he would be a key member of the limited-overs team and would perhaps not go beyond the World Cup.

That has changed. The experienced professional has proven he is also a wicket-taking bowler and his batting makes him the most qualified No. 8 in the Caribbean at the moment.

For all his promise and pace, Jermaine Lawson should be among the reserves for the first Test, but his chance will definitely come sooner rather than later. The same can be said of Tino Best, the most successful bowler in the regionthis season.

The choice of a spinner is likely to pose the most headaches. No one has come forward to demand automatic selection.

Neil McGarrell was the most successful slow bowler this season, but both he and his fellow Guyanese Mahendra Nagamootoo are steady moreso than threatening.

Had Sulieman Benn played the last two matches, he might very well have been thetop wicket-taker among the slow bowlersthis season.

It is interesting to note that Lara, without being prompted, said it was unfortunate he didn't geta chance to see Benn this season. Some are boundto ask why should he bein contention when he is not in his national team.

It should not disqualify him for selection because we all know of his ability as an orthodox left-arm spinner and capablelower-order batsman.

Dave Mohammed's left-arm back-of-the-hand stuff presents something of a difference, but he has not done much since returning to the first-class game in mid-season.

My team: Chris Gayle, Wavell Hinds, Ramnaresh Sarwan [Marlon Samuels if Sarwan is not fit], Brian Lara, Carl Hooper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Carlton Baugh, Vasbert Drakes, Mervyn Dillon, Sulieman Benn, Pedro Collins. Reserves: Samuels [Devon Smith if Sarwan is unfit], Jermaine Lawson