What a fall!

N. SRIDHARAN

All of the teams skippered by Sobers, Kanhai, Lloyd and Richards lacked nothing in skills. But the far superior results of the Lloyd and Richards (in pic) combinations seem to indicate a synergy which far exceeded the sum total of their abilities.

GONE, gone are the all — the old familiar faces!

The poet Wordsworth put it much better than I could, when he wrote of the Extinction of the Venetian Republic:

Men are we and we must grieve when even the Shade

Of that which once was great is passed away.

This is the same feeling of loss which I am experiencing even now as I compare the current impoverished West Indian Test team which toured Australia — and suffered its second "whitewash" in two years — to the outstanding Ministries of Caribbean Cricketing Talents led and inspired by Frankie Worrell and Clive Lloyd in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Where have they gone, the old familiar faces and the brilliance of batsmen such as Rohan Kanhai, Gary Sobers, Conrad Hunte, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Lawrence Rowe and Roy Fredericks; why are there no bowlers such as Wes Hall, Lance Gibbs, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts in Shivnarine Chanderpaul's side? True, Brian Lara is of the same elite school as "King Viv"; but one swallow scarcely indicates the onset of a pandemic of avian brilliance. So what has happened to the former Dominators of World Cricket?

The lack of consistently high scores from their batting genius, Brian Lara, was undoubtedly a root cause of their 3-0 annihilation — plus the lack of support from their most experienced batsmen, Sarwan and Chanderpaul. On the bowling side of the coin, Collymore and Bravo alone possessed the disciplined accuracy one expects from Test bowlers and, in the absence of any recognised spinner, it was left to a medium-paced attack of club standard to provide the fodder for the clubbing bats of Hayden, Hussey, Ponting and Langer.

There is no doubt that the Kings of Calypso cricket enjoy their days in the sun. The trouble is that they have been deluded by their self-induced image of carefree stroke players and continue to play a swashbuckling game when discipline is demanded. They seem to have forgotten how to build an innings. Importantly they have forgotten the maxim that Test cricket is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. In fairness it must be said that the tourists were on the receiving end of some pretty ordinary umpiring decisions at crucial junctures of the games and at the expense of key players.

The Wisden Almanack of 2005 summarises the present West Indian cricketing slump to perfection when it describes the period between November 2003 and August 2004 as the most agonising period in West Indian Test history. Five crowded series and 16 Tests saw the Caribbean team lose 10 of those games — one by an innings, three by 10 wickets and two by over 200 runs. Its only victories came against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh — the only teams ranked beneath the Windies in the ICC's Test Championship. Now those unimpressive statistics have been rendered even more pathetic by Australia's crushing clean sweep in the 2005 three Test series — by margins of 379 runs, nine and seven wickets. How the mighty are fallen! It now seems improbable that the once all-powerful Windies will be offered more than a shared tour of Australia.

Defeat on the field was exacerbated and, to some extent, explained, by crippling disharmony off it. Just before the three-npower-Test 2004 tour of England, Viv Richards — the West Indian Chairman of Selectors and the wannabe of every young Caribbean cricketer — stalked out of the committee room — for good! Thus ended two years of continual rows and losses, which culminated with the West Indies Players' Association accusing the selectors of belittling and threatening them.

Further disputation arose from on the score of sponsorship. After 18 years of financial support from the telecommunications company, Cable and Wireless, the WIBC shifted its allegiance to its commercial rival, Digicell: a move which conflicted with some of the players' individual sponsorship agreements and led to the Players' Association accusing the Board of assuming "the infinite ownership of the players' endorsement rights." Consequently, when in November 2004, players were invited to prepare for a series of one-day internationals in Australia, several refused to sign their contracts, claiming that it was "an attempt to exploit players for commercial purposes"; it was an impasse which was only resolved by the intervention of Keith Mitchell, the Prime Minister of Granada — and then on a temporary basis which left a number of issues still hanging. The appointment of Aussies, Bennett King and his assistant, David Moore, as coaches wholly accountable for the West Indian Test team's performances did little to smooth ruffled feathers all around the Caribbean. Some thought it an insult that a former rugby league coach and a foreigner to boot should be called upon to be the first outsider to guide the destiny of a proud cricketing nation which once produced the genius of the likes of Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Wes Hall and the three Ws. But at least Bennett's appointment freed him from the accusations of island bias, which had hindered his seven precursors, none of whom had survived more than three years in the post.

The dilemma of West Indian cricket has always been that, while it occupies only one place in the roll of cricket's Big Ten, it is made up of six island nations, some of whom would be more than a match for fully fledged Test teams such as Sri Lanka — and certainly Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. But to cobble together a united Test side out of so many disparate parts demands the diplomatic and unifying skills of a Bismarck or a Garibaldi. Indeed, it has always been the outstanding feature of West Indian cricket that throughout the 20th century it has produced countless superb individual talents — yet probably only managed to fashion three or four outstanding sides. In the first decades of the 1900s it gave birth to Learie Constantine — junior and senior. Then came George Challenor the architect of West Indian cricket, George Headley the Black Bradman, George Francis and George John two fearsome fast bowlers and not far behind — in time only — yet another quickie, Manny Martindale. The 40s and 50s brought Weekes, Worrell and Walcott on to the scene, plus those "two little friends of mine," the beguiling spinners Ramadhin and Valentine.

Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith's appearance on the Test scene heralded the advent of the fearsome pace juggernaut of Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Curtley Ambrose. In Gary Sobers, the West Indies produced the most versatile all-rounder the game has ever seen; in Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd two of its most fearsome hitters of the ball; and in Gordon Greenidge, Rohan Kanhai, Jeff Stollmeyer and Lawrence Rowe spectators were treated to a feast of graceful batting. And no one spun and flighted the ball like Lance Gibbs.

Such names conjure up visions of pure natural talents. But only Frank Worrell, in the 50s, Sobers in the 60s, Kanhai and Lloyd in the 70s and Richards in the 80s have managed to weld those talents into sides which time and time again proved themselves worthy of the title of World Champions. Against England Sobers lost four of the games he captained and won three; Kanhai's record was three wins to one loss; Lloyd's tally was 11 to nil in his favour; Viv Richards won 13 of his encounters with England and lost three. Turning to the other tough opponents of the West Indies, Australia, one discovers that Sobers led his side to victory on four occasions and conceded defeat on three. Kanhai tasted success twice without losing a game. Lloyd was even more impressive, winning 10 games and losing seven; for his part Richards won five Tests and lost only two. All of the teams skippered by Sobers, Kanhai, Lloyd and Richards lacked nothing in skills. But the far superior results of the Lloyd and Richards combinations seem to indicate a synergy which far exceeded the sum total of their abilities. They were clear demonstrations of the truth that a champion team will always beat a team of champions. To create such a side must now be the primary goal of coach Bennett King and the young West Indian team, which, in the final Adelaide Test of the antipodean summer, suggested that such an ambition was not such a remote possibility. The task, however, will not be easy, since cricket faces stiff challenges for the hearts of West Indian youngsters from sports such as basketball and baseball: games popularised throughout the Caribbean by its television coverage on easily accessible American television.