Incredible dearth of talent

THE agony is reflected on Michael Holding's face as he watches the steady decline of West Indies cricket.

THE agony is reflected on Michael Holding's face as he watches the steady decline of West Indies cricket. The giant of international cricket has been reduced to a nondescript force, a pale shadow of its glorious past when oppositions shuddered to take on the West Indies.

The factors that have contributed to the poor state that the West Indies finds itself in are many. From lack of talent to utter indiscipline, the team has suffered on many fronts and the slide has been marked by a shocking indifference among the players.

Even greats such as Viv Richards, Holding, Clive Lloyd and Andy Roberts have not been able to identify the malady. There is no doubt that despair has gripped the cricket fraternity in the Caribbean but strangely none has come up with a remedy.

When some of the past masters from the Caribbean spoke their mind on the subject they pointed out one aspect that has left their cricket in a shambles — a lack of self-pride. The glory of the past lies buried under the weight of humiliating losses at home and overseas to an extent that a West Indies defeat no more raises eyebrows.

Critics have acknowledged the impact that a weak West Indies can have on international cricket. Known to play entertaining cricket, the West Indies has not been able to raise its game at a consistent rate. It is a team prone to slide from an impregnable position in one session to a shocking surrender in the next.

When the administrators handed the charge to Carl Hooper a few years ago, the Guyanese, on the strength of his experience, was expected to bring about positive changes. Instead, he got embroiled in island rivalry and lost out on support from all fronts. Infighting in the team was said to be rampant and West Indies cricket hit its nadir.

When Brian Lara was entrusted with the job of captaincy, there were protests from various quarters. The man did not possess leadership qualities but then the administrators had little choice. To saddle Ramnaresh Sarwan with the responsibility would have been inadvisable. Lara, however, failed to lift the morale of the side even though he did manage to maintain his personal focus on the job.

From the time it lost the home series 1-3 to Australia in the 2002-03 season, the West Indies has struggled to put up a decent show. A series-win against India was hardly seen as an achievement. The West Indians gained from an off-form Sri Lanka, winning the home series 1-0 and then a 1-0 win in the away series against Zimbabwe provided a ray of hope. But disaster awaited the West Indies in South Africa last season when it went down 0-3.

Richards travelled with the team but even his presence, as chairman of the selection committee, failed to motivate a set of players who had come to accept things lying down. Holding continued to be critical in the media and Richards later quit the job as West Indies was whipped by England in front of home crowds. The heavy defeats at Kingston, Port of Spain and Bridgetown were no consolation for the draw at St. John's when Brian Lara scaled the peak of 400 runs in a Test innings.

The darkest moment for West Indies in recent times was being skittled out for 47 at Kingston. The innings signified the degeneration of West Indies cricket, much to the chagrin of its greats. The draw against Bangladesh in a Test at Gros Islet hardly boosted the reputation of Lara and his men.

The game has suffered on many counts in the Caribbean but nothing has halted its growth more than an incredible dearth of talent. A majority of the youth in the Caribbean is being weaned away by soccer and basketball.

Professional boxing has made inroads, too, but nothing has damaged the base of cricket more than basketball, which offers far more lucrative opportunities to the youngsters than cricket.

Compelled to make do with the little talent that is available, cricket in the West Indies continues to suffer, with mediocre players donning national colours. As Holding so painfully noted some time ago, unless a cricket messiah descends on the Caribbean in the near future, the team may well languish at the bottom of the Test-playing list of nations.

If his words come true, cricket would indeed have suffered its greatest tragedy.