From world beaters to favourite whipping boys

After 1979, West Indies failed to win the World Cup again. The team has struggled ever since, both in batting and bowling. S. Dinakar on the best and worst performances of the team, which once was the most feared.

Andy Roberts: A complete fast bowler. He could seam and swing the ball, with control. He was also deceptive, having two different bouncers in his repertoire. The first would fly over the batsman's head, the second, delivered with a lower arm, would come straight at the batsman, forcing him to fend the ball from anywhere between the shoulder and the head.

Michael Holding: Had a smooth, flowing run-up and a languid action that blended beautifully with his methods. He generated extreme pace. Unlike Roberts, who was quick off the wicket, Holding was quick through the air. He swung the ball both ways and could hurt batsmen with his short ball.

Joel Garner: Tall, strong and clever, he extracted bounce around the off-stump, which severely tested the skills of the batsmen. His consistency is legendary. Like Holding, he also possessed a vicious yorker. Simply put, he was very hard to play.

Colin Croft: A unique fast bowler, he delivered wide off the wicket, but consistently got the ball to straighten or leave the right-hander who, given the angle of the release, would be expecting the ball to come into him. The big and strong Croft could also extract menacing lift.

As the bunch of four hunted together, the pressure on the batsmen seldom eased. And add to this mean pace pack the batting might of Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Vivian Richards, Alvin Kallicharran and Clive Lloyd, we have a formidable side.

It's no co-incidence that West Indies' finest hour, when it retained the title in 1979, was in several senses the team's greatest moment in the World Cup.

In 1975, with skipper Lloyd blasting 102 off 85 balls, and a young Richards running out three key batsmen, West Indies triumphed in a cliff-hanger of a final against Australia at Lord's. Yet, a look at that side would indicate that the bowling resources — the fast medium to medium fast bowling of Vanburn Holder, Keith Boyce and Bernard Julien, spearheaded by fast bowler Roberts — were much weaker than the one unleashed by West Indies four years later.

In the summer of 1979, West Indies ruled in the old Blighty. Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, arguably the greatest opening pair in the game's history, picked up runs at a brisk clip, without quite resorting to undue risks. This was a solid, technically accomplished pair that laid a perfect platform for the destroyers who followed in the strong West Indian line-up. Actually, once he was in, Greeindge struck the ball with power and precision. Richards then blew the attack away.

Richards' 157-ball unbeaten 138 in the 1979 final against England at Lord's is among the greatest innings of the World Cup. In the same match, England, chasing 286 for victory, was bamboozled by Joel Garner's sizzling yorkers. This would be West Indies' greatest moment at the Lord's balcony, for the team never won the World Cup after that.

Four years later, at Lord's, Lloyd's men, chasing 184 for victory, were ambushed by India in the final. West Indies did not play the percentages well. Its tactics, in conditions where the pitch offered movement, smacked of arrogance. The fast and furious Malcolm Marshall was now a part of the eleven, but the much-celebrated batsmen let the side down.

West Indies struggled subsequently, even if it managed to unearth two great fast bowlers, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. The side's batting was not quite the same.

When the World Cup moved away from England to the sub-continent in 1987, West Indies failed to qualify for the last four stage, losing two crucial matches to England and Pakistan in the final over sent down by Walsh. Richards' awesome 125-ball 181 against Sri Lanka in a group game was West Indies' high point in the tournament.

Batting collapses continued to haunt West Indies as it failed to make the last four stage of the 1992 World Cup down under. The team had an exciting talent in Brian Lara, but the decision to omit Richards proved to be a blunder. The Caribbean batting collapsed in a vital qualification match against Australia.

In 1996, when the teams travelled to the sub-continent, a rejuvenated West Indian side, notwithstanding the shock defeat at the hands of Kenya, progressed to the semifinal. It then blew away the opportunity to make the final after restricting Australia to 207 for eight in Mohali. The West Indies collapsed from 165 for two to 202 all out in the 49th over. Shane Warne bowled a magnificent spell, but West Indies batsmen suffered a severe attack of nerves.

In 1999, the West Indies, despite brilliant bowling performances from Ambrose and Walsh, continued to be undone by batting failures. The side was eliminated before the Super Six stage.

In 2003, West Indies' performance was a touch better though the team was partly unlucky with the weather. It did not enter the semifinal stage this time also. The Caribbean batting continued to flounder, while the team also did not have Ambrose and Walsh. With the decline of its pace attack, West Indies' fortunes in the World Cup have dipped.