A welcome, positive step

Published : Oct 09, 2004 00:00 IST

We may not have seen a revival in embryo at the Oval that dark Saturday night but the celebrations afterwards suggest that the world is waiting to welcome a new era of Caribbean triumph, writes TED CORBETT.

A white, middle class Englishman, wearing a suit and a club tie, stopped us as we climbed aboard the underground train at the Oval station and asked who had won the final of the ICC Champions Trophy.

"West Indies — right at the last minute — but they won it well."

"Good. Now world cricket will be a better place with West Indies on the way back to the top." He marched off as if his world would be a brighter place for West Indies' victory.

But will it be? Are they on their way again? Or did Brian Lara's team simply take advantage of a lapse by England who ought to have won with plenty in reserve? After all, Michael Vaughan and Co. had the ninth wicket pair at the crease with more than 70 runs needed.

The average county team would have expected to beat Brian Lara's men from that point.

A miracle

Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff bowling at 90 miles an hour in light so appalling that you could see the headlights on the cars in the roads outside the Oval and still West Indies won!

Some mistake surely.

Vaughan showed his lack of experience at the highest level by persisting with the bowlers above medium pace by leaving Ashley Giles stuck on the third man boundary and the bowlers — even the very experienced Darren Gough — simply stopped thinking. Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw only had to accumulate runs at four an over to win the game with seven balls to spare.

Talented, no doubt

It was certainly a remarkable one-day victory — but a revival? That is something else.

Lara has sworn through all the defeats by England this last six months that his team had talent and no one will deny that. Show me a coach who says he would not like to have Dwayne Bravo in his side and I will show you a fool.

When Bravo, 21, reaches 25 he will be a rival to Flintoff, a dynamic batsman, an intelligent fielder and a belligerent bowler. Maybe one day he will be captain; but that is all in the future.

Tino Best and Fidel Edwards are promising young fast bowlers who have still to grow up, still have to learn the lesson that not every ball can be bowled as fast as Harmison's quickest ball, still have to become adults in both the cricketing and the social sense. They are certainly not ready for the stricter disciplines of one-day international cricket.

Juvenile behaviour

When the Test squad came here this summer a friend of mine stayed in the team hotel and complained repeatedly about the juvenile behaviour of some players. "They are little boys, let out into the big world," he used to grin.

Back in the Caribbean there are experienced Test watchers who think that Lara will never mould this mixture into an international side.

Few men of his standing have been so disliked by the previous generation of cricketers and it is difficult to understand why. Perhaps they expect too much from the batsman with 10,094 Test runs and 8,921 one-day international runs behind him.

Perhaps we were wrong to expect him to be a great captain in his second term in office but all the signs, all the stories about him and all the conversations I have had with him down the years indicated a man who would go about his business in a professional way.

Surprising tactics

Sometimes his tactics surprise even level headed, unbiased, thinking cricketers and sometimes he seems to experiment too much. His leadership is as daring as his batting. Is that the right way with a young side?

In the not too distant future West Indies are said to be about to announce their first foreign coach although it would be good to think that Gus Logie, who looked on that Final night as if a great load had been lifted from his shoulders by this victory, might be given another chance.

Logie was such a joyful batsman at the height of his powers that it was sad to see him so downcast as he appeared to be whenever he emerged from the dressing room. It was partly this distressed look — as if he might be a piece of furniture made to look older with a hammer, a scraper and a coat of paint — that made him an obvious target when the tide turned against his charges.

The coach always gets the blame so it is right that when events turn out for him he should get the rewards. It is possible that West Indies might keep him in place, not least because with so many youngsters around the team needs a period of stability, with few team changes and someone in charge who can be part coach, part master from a finishing school, part sheepdog.


Oh, yes, and someone who can work with Lara, a genius at the crease and, I suspect, with all the characteristics of a genius, perpetually surprised that others cannot do what he does without effort, angered when simple acts are blundered.

I once took part in a conversation with Peter May, the best England batsman to be discovered after the Second World War and the Sussex batsman Paul Parker. Parker was in a dreadful run of low scores and turned to this iconic May for help.

"What did you do when you couldn't score a run, when you were seeing the ball like a marble?" he asked. May gave him a bewildered look. "I'm sorry, I can't help you. I don't remember it happening to me."

More inclined to wait

So with all great players and I hear Lara is no exception. I should say he was no exception. In the Caribbean last spring when things went wrong he clearly became annoyed but now he appears to be more conciliatory, more inclined to wait, more likely to see that 22-year-olds need patience if they are to produce the perfect delivery, the solid defence and the diligence on their way to a Test century.

Is it, I wonder, the influence of Tony Howard, generally rated an intelligent man and now the team manager? Howard may be in his mid-fifties but he can still bowl his off breaks — one Test, a dreadful mauling and a return to obscurity have given him sympathy in his assessment of lesser cricketers — at the nets and so establish a rapport with young players.


He also has a reputation as a disciplinarian but I also hear he is one who rarely has to raise his voice. At last West Indies seem to have the right man in that post and if, as I also hear, he was responsible for the selection of Bradshaw and Browne, both from Barbados as he is, then he has had a big hand in this victory and will be respected within the dressing room for that if for nothing else.

Is it enough to bring about a revival? I think not, but it may be enough to give Lara and Howard time to which way they want the team to go, enough room for Logie to take advantage of this piece of good fortune, enough for Howard to establish his place even more firmly.

Life will always be difficult for any West Indies captain and his support group in the Caribbean. Jealousies between islands, racial tension real or imaginary; and a bunch of great old timers writing and commentating on the new boys, fired up when they see stupidities they swear they never committed and always saying that their words are motivated by their desire to see their old team succeed. It is a difficult atmosphere in which to start at the bottom.

Honest analysis

I am sure the ex-players are honest; but I prefer the self-analysis of one former England captain. "When you step down you don't want your immediate successor to beat your figures. You hope he will fail. It is difficult to get over the feeling. You often think that, even at your age, you could do better than the guys who have stepped into the breach. And sometimes you express opinions which damn lads who don't deserve it. Human nature, I suppose, but it is something we should all beware of."

So let us rejoice that West Indies have won the ICC Trophy with an unexpected mixture of vivacity and sober batsmanship, good captaincy and fielding worthy of any team in any era. In Lara, Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Bravo, they have batting strength although they will always have to be patient with Gayle's on-off concentration and wait for Bravo to learn his trade and Chanderpaul to straighten out his stance.

They need a new wicket-keeper to replace Ridley Jacobs and someone to teach their emerging fast bowlers the art of consistent pace.

We may not have seen a revival in embryo at the Oval that dark Saturday night but the celebrations afterwards — and the words of the man on the Tube — suggest that the world is waiting to welcome a new era of Caribbean triumph.

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