Thirty-one years ago, a certain Raymond Illingworth held the Wisden Trophy
proudly aloft after the Test series against the West Indies ended in victory
for England. The three Test series ended with England winning 2-0, over an aging
West Indies team which had already taken a 3-1 beating in Australia. The two
speedsters of the '60s, Hall and Griffith had retired, Gary Sobers wasn't in
his element and the newer players who formed the beginnings of Clive Lloyd's
world beaters hadn't come through yet. Incidentally, that tour saw the team
bowled out for 25 by Ireland in one of the tour games!
Nasser Hussain has become the next England captain to have this honour, and
with it another of the West Indies proud records has been wiped out. First,
the 15-year unbeaten streak went when Richardson's team was beaten by Australia
at home. After that, there have been whitewashes at the hands of South Africa,
Pakistan and New Zealand. Now comes the 3-1 loss to England. The only things
left to be achieved are Test defeats by India, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. Of course,
Bangladesh are waiting too. India last won a series against the West Indies
in the Caribbean in 1971 under Ajit Wadekar. Sri Lanka hasn't played the Windies
often enough, neither has Zimbabwe.
And close on the heels of this ignominious defeat, we have the usual backchat
from Brian Lara, that it will be different against Australia. I
recall that this gentleman made a similar statement after the West Indies lost 3-2 to Australia in 1996-97; things would be different in
the Caribbean, he vowed. Well, they weren't, despite all his personal heroics; the Frank Worrell trophy was retained by Australia.
There is a trend in West Indies cricket which has led in one direction for
a long time: downward. This kind of spiral cannot be arrested by brave words.
It cannot be stopped by all the fervour and passion that is part of the brand
of cricket played by the West Indies on occasion. There has to be some method,
there has to be serious physical training, there has to be the threat of not
being paid if one does not perform, there has to be professional help.
In Australia, the West Indies will be lucky if they get away without losing
all five Tests. This Australian team is as hard as nails and if the West Indies
went under to England so tamely, I shudder to think how things will be two months
from now. It could well end up more one-sided than the last summer in Australia
when India and Pakistan came, saw and conquered nothing.
The West Indies panic when things like this happen. Richie Richardson has offered
to come out of retirement at the age of 39 and play. It won't do much good;
applying a band-aid to a bleeding wound will not staunch the flow, only reduce
it. There is talent in the team but there are too many swollen heads. Batsmen
are unwilling to learn, unwilling to apply technique, unwilling to be patient.
They want to swish their way out of trouble the way they do at home.
And there is far too much of living on past glories. When the West Indies went
into the final day of the fifth Test needing 341 for a win, there
were many who had hopes that Brian Lara would come up with the goods again. This is mere fanciful dreaming. Lara is past his best and even if he can summon up some of his past genius, he simply isn't interested enough. He has had his heyday and he is enjoying the fruits of his past exploits.
Fortunes in international cricket have often turned because people have actively
resolved to do something different. Like Allan Border did when he decided that
he was going to stop being the nice guy and play the game hard. Ian Chappell
made his team into a hardened lot after the South Africans hammered them under
Lawry in 1970. Sunil Gavaskar's batting feats owe much to his dedication and
practice; he never had half as much talent as did his brother-in-law Gundappa
Vishwanath. Gavaskar made a conscious decision to stay out in the middle and
score. And most famous of them all, Clive Lloyd, who decided one day in 1976
that he had enough of playing attractive cricket and getting beaten.
Jimmy Adams may be a thoughtful captain, an intelligent man, but he did make
two costly cricketing blunders in the series: batting first in the
fourth Test and batting second in the fifth. Of course, this was his first tour but he will have to learn fast. And there is no time to do any learning in Australia; the very first Test will be one where the Australians can equal the 11-match winning streak of Lloyd's team, one of the few records still intact. If the West Indies fail to protect that mark, I fear that they will not win a single match during the four months that follow. Brave talk is one thing; deeds on the field are quite another. There are some hard lessons ahead for this team; if they think the worst has gone by, they had better think again.