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West Indies: what of the future?

Victory in the fourth Test has given the West Indies plenty to rejoice about. Some of the celebrations may be premature though; nothing has changed much in terms of the team. The same players are doing duty and the performances of the same handful are again pulling the team through. Brian Lara and Shivnarain Chanderpaul carried the batting and Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh the bowling. How many times before has the same thing happened? Are the West Indies so unaware of the facts that they keep hoping for it to happen every time?

There has not been one opening stand which can be called respectable. And that holds good for quite a few previous series as well. Is there no opening batsmain the Caribbean who can play with some degree of consistency? When is somebody going to straighten out Sherwin Campbell's technical deficiencies? And when is someone going to tell Stuart Williams that playing like a millionaire and making 20 every time is just not enough? The tragedy of the situation is that we have former West Indies players actually arguing that the speed at which the West Indies score is an advantage because it gives them more time to bowl England out. It would be funny if it were not so stupid! What score would a Test team settle for -- 350 scored over 10 hours or 125 scored in an hour?

Leon Garrick and Robert Samuels are just two of the batsmen who could be tried for the opening slot. Samuels had six Tests in 1996-97 and made a mature 72 on his last outing in a Test, against Australia in Perth. After that he has not been considered. Williams was brought in for the series against India and did fairly well so the selectors went back to sleep. The fact that there is no consistency does not seem to bother these worthies.

It took a long time for the West Indies to decide that David Williams is good enough for Test cricket. He is now on the wrong side of 30. Pacemen Franklyn Rose and Mervyn Dillon have been cast aside after performing enough to show that they are material for the future. The non-performing Ian Bishop is picked time after time after time, without a thought for the tour of South Africa which lies ahead. It is far better to blood a young player at home and then send him off on this tour, one of the toughest which any team can undertake.

But all the West Indies seem preoccupied with is winning the series against England. Lara seems to be lapsing as well: on the third morning when England resumed at 87 for six and seemed unlikely to avoid the follow-on he had apparently decided that he would save Ambrose to attack once England were in for the second time. And despite the fact that Mark Ramprakash and Robert Croft hung on, he did not use Ambrose. Even after England were 140 for nine, 13 short of the follow-on target, he did not bring Ambrose on. The follow-on was long saved when he reconsidered; Ambrose took one ball to end the innings.

Victory over England may well come, even by a 4-1 margin. That is really irrelevant at this point of time. This is basically the B level Test championship; there are teams like South Africa, Australia and Pakistan who are in the big league and the West Indies have to think about that. A return to the pinnacle of world cricket can only be achieved by a team and selectors who think of the morrow. Else Lara's brave words after the loss of the Frank Worrell trophy to Australia, that it would be different the next time around, will remain just that.