Who was the real winner?

WHILE the West Indies obviously beat Zimbabwe in the recent two-Test contest in Zimbabwe, the question raised here in Jamaica, where I am coaching at present, is who was the real winner?

By BOB SIMPSON

WHILE the West Indies obviously beat Zimbabwe in the recent two-Test contest in Zimbabwe, the question raised here in Jamaica, where I am coaching at present, is who was the real winner? The general consensus seems to be that a one-all draw would have been the fairer result, with the West Indies desperately lucky to scrape out of the first Test with a draw.

Heath Streak, running up to congratulate Ray Price, is a tricky swing bowler. Price, certainly is now the best left-hand spinner in Test cricket. — Pic. REUTERS-

That, however, is not what is concerning the Jamaican supporters. They are more bothered about where West Indies cricket is really heading.

With a very good recovery against Australia, and a win against Sri Lanka, both at home earlier this year, the West Indies supporters had hoped they had turned the corner and brighter days were ahead. Unfortunately, the supporters feel that while a corner has been turned they are still in the maze.

That may well be the case, for, reaching the open road to success after a slump following one of the greatest runs in Test cricket, is a long and frustrating journey.

The top-order West Indies batsmen may have had some trouble with the swing of Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak and the tantalising flight and spin of left-armer Ray Price, but generally I feel that they have the talent to do well against most teams.

However, I believe they have more problems with their attack.

In the first Test the West Indies bowling was generally handled easily by the inexperienced Zimbabwe batsmen and they also did well against them in the first innings of the second Test.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a sameness about the West Indies attack.

Andy Blignaut, too, is a bowler of genuine Test quality. — Pic. REUTERS-

It is all right to go into a Test match with four fast bowlers as good as Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft or Courtney Walsh, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose and either of the Benjamins and blast the opposition out with a barrage of short-pitched very fast bowling, but fatal to try the same tactics with bowlers of lesser pace and skills as the present attack.

The West Indies badly need variety and in particular swing bowlers to take advantage of the weakness that many present-day batsmen are showing against this type of bowling.

Wavell Hinds, the West Indies opening batsman and part-time swing bowler, showed up the problems that modern-day batsmen have with the swinging ball by snapping up Zimbabwe's two best batsmen — Vermeulen and Wishart — in the second innings of the second Test and seal a series victory for the Windies.

Zimbabwe have much to be proud of with their performances in the series. Yes, they did have a terrible batting collapse to lose the second Test, but in the 10 days of Test cricket played I thought they won at least on six days.

While the Zimbabwe batsmen did pretty well, the West Indies aided this by bowling too short.

When the West Indian bowlers kept it up it was a different story and too often the Zimbabwe batsmen were out as they misjudged the length of the deliveries and were caught straddling the crease, neither forward nor back.

Zimbabwe's bowling, however, was very good and in Heath Streak, Andy Blignaut and spinner Ray Price I think they have three bowlers of Test quality.

Certainly now Price is the best left-hand spinner in Test cricket.

He has wonderful flight, spins the ball with bounce and is accurate even under pressure.

Zimbabwe's fighting spirit has always been enviable and even with such a tiny cricketing base they are improving with each season and will continue to do so as they make further inroads for cricket in the black community.

Over the last six months I have been delighted to work with under-15 years of age squads from Jamaica and India and marvelled at their precocious skills. I have already written in these pages of my admiration for the youngsters that I assisted at the CCI's cricket Academy earlier this year.

Twenty boys came from almost every part of India, Nepal and Kenya for this camp.

They were selected following an invitation for all cricketing states in India to send two youngsters for trials at the splendid Brabourne Stadium, undoubtedly one of the great grounds in World cricket.

These camps are the fulfilment of the dreams of Raj Singh Dungarpur and have been running for three years.

The talent in 2003 was outstanding. but no better than the squad that I have been working with in Kingston, Jamaica. This is also my third year of visiting these camps.

For the first two years we concentrated on older groups under 19 and 23, but on my suggesting, the camps now are for under 18 and 15.

While the talent in the older group was good, these youngsters were outstanding. Interestingly, 90 per cent of the group are from the country. They have won their spot on merit and have continued the worldwide trend of country products providing the bulk of players for representative teams.

Australia have always had outstanding players from the bush — Bradman, O'Reilly and McCabe — led the way in the early 30s and a continuous stream has followed since with Hayden, McGrath, Lee, Bevan and Gilchrist being a few of the country products in the present Aussie team.

One of the more interesting aspects in the Jamaican squad has been the emergence of two excellent leg spinners and two genuine quicker boys who can swing the ball.

Most of the youngsters are fine athletes, much more flexible than the older squad and quick to learn.

I have no doubt that this age group absorbs and retains more information than the older squads.

With the world under-15 championships coming up in the near future, I will be watching it with greater interest than I normally do.