There's still time to change

The West Indian players cheer team-mate Chris Gayle on winning the Man of the Series award in the Champions Trophy. Natural talent is still in abundance in the Caribbean.-

Perhaps the biggest losers in the Champions Trophy were the teams from the sub-continent, with none of the big three reaching the semi-finals.

The recent ICC Champions Trophy has done little to solve the problems of almost all the countries competing in next year's World Cup in the West Indies. The slow-paced, often deviating surfaces have shown chinks in the armours of batsmen, particularly those going all out for the attack.

So, without doubt, this has been the lowest scoring limited overs tournament in a long time. While many countries would like to blame it on the pitches, the main reason for the low scores was the poor batting tactics employed by almost all the teams in the tournament.

It may well be a timely reminder for all teams that consistent batting under varying conditions requires sound tactics, patience and good technique.

The teams at the Champions Trophy adopted a slather and whack approach, which seldom works when wickets are doing something. While Australia had their fragile moments, they had the depth in batting which enabled them to recover from difficult positions. However, once again it was the depth, quality and variation in their bowling that helped Australia win the trophy.

Australia seemed capable of dealing with all kinds of situations and nothing illustrated this better than the way in which they handled the West Indies after suffering an early onslaught in the final. They were under extreme pressure for the first five overs following the West Indies' kamikaze-like blitz, but held their ground. Australia changed tactics and took the pace off the ball, realising that the West Indies' `suicidal' tactics could succeed only for a short time.

Perhaps the biggest losers in the tournament were the teams from the sub-continent, with none of the big three reaching the semi-final stage. The slow pitches should have suited their style, for they play much of their cricket on slow and deviating tracks. That they failed to make any impression in the tournament should surely make them rethink on the tactics they used.

Major tournaments such as the Champions Trophy and the World Cup are inevitably won by the most stable and well-drilled team that is confident of its tactics and the ability to change the course of a match when needed.

The Champions Trophy witnessed far too much one-dimensional cricket and a disappointing lack of nous or common sense to adopt theories to meet the changing situations. In this regard, England were the most culpable. They will face plenty of hardship ahead if they continue with their policy of selecting bits and pieces players.

England have searched long and hard for one-day cricket all-rounders. In Andrew Flintoff they have a potentially great all-rounder, but he still has to learn that selecting the right ball to hit is the most effective method in batting.

At present Flintoff is playing too many shots in the air to wrong deliveries. Even on grounds with ridiculously short boundaries, now the norm in ODIs, you have to select the right ball to clear the ropes.

Many of the good early English batsmen have been seduced into over-hitting and they have often taken an approach that is beyond their natural gifts of talent.

You can't fill a team with over-attacking batsmen for they are high-risk factors. Attacking batsmen always need to face a high percentage of the bowling to succeed and for this they need to have a skilful, unselfish partner to sacrifice the strike for them, thereby giving the dashers and their team the chance to post big totals.

There is no shade in the English batting at present and it is far too one-dimensional, which is why the good starts are all too short and seldom lead to big scores.

On the bowling front, England often forget that taking wickets is the surest way to victory and instead drop back into safety mode too quickly.

The West Indies, surprisingly, had some good matches and I am delighted to see them improve. Natural talent is still in abundance in the West Indies, but it is far too fragile in many of the younger players.

The great West Indian teams of the 1970s and 1980s were highly talented and motivated sides. When they came into Test cricket, they played for the love of the game and a few pennies that were available. They grew with better rewards and dominated world cricket for 20 years. While most teams could get arrogant with success, the West Indies carried their triumphs with pride and a great love for the game and their nations.

It is very easy to look back on the West Indies and suggest they were lucky to be blessed with so much natural talent, all gathered together at the same time.

Lucky? Maybe yes, but as Gary Player, the great South African golfer was fond of saying, "The more I practise, the luckier I get!" The West Indians really practised hard and any luck they had was well deserved. The current West Indies team have talent, but they won't gain consistent success until they realise that the skills they have are a gift from the genes of their parent, and it would require hard practice and a sharp mind coupled with a strong work ethic to become a major force they once were.

While almost all of the top teams in the Champions Trophy will be disappointed with their cricket, it may just be the kick in the backside that some of them deserve. It's still not too late to change plans and attitudes for the World Cup next year. Favourites don't always win the World Cup as Australia showed in 1987 and Sri Lanka in 1996. The players and the administrators shouldn't brush aside poor performances in India and blame them on the pitches. Instead, all the teams must take an honest, hard look at the performances, tactics and attitude and implement the necessary changes in order to be more successful in the West Indies in 2007.