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It all began under Richards...

Way back in 1983, the West Indies were defeated by India in the final of the World Cup and their captain at the time, Clive Lloyd, said he would be stepping down. But the desire for revenge was strong and he was prevailed upon to stay just for the forthcoming tour of India. Lloyd led the West Indies to a 5-0 drubbing of India in the one-day internationals; the Test series was won 3-0. He had gotten his revenge and in good measure too.

When it came to the question of stepping down, there was tremendous pressure on Lloyd. And understandably so. He had moulded the West Indies into a world-beating outfit, one which had not lost a Test series since 1980. He was 39 at the time, an age at which a good many others have quit the game, but the pressure was too much and he had to carry on. At that time, he said it would be for just one more series.

Viv Richards had already been named his deputy and had been looking forward to taking over after the tour of India. There were many who had reservations about him being captain but few were bold enough to voice them; Richards had proved his credentials as a batsman, fielder and sometime-bowler in no uncertain terms. He was as forceful off the field as on it and nobody was really willing to tangle with him.

Lloyd stayed on for the series against Australia, one which the West Indies won 3-0, victories coming in the last three Tests. Richards, by now, was straining at the bit. But again, Lloyd was forced to stay on; perhaps, at this stage, after leading the team to such a resounding triumph, he himself had begun to feel that there was a lot more cricket left in him. Whatever the reasons, the vice-captain began to feel that there was some kind of a plot to keep him from gaining the captaincy.

So it was on to England and another series. By now Richards had given vent to his feelings on occasion. He had spoken of people who gave the impression of stepping down and then stayed on. The series ended in something which had not been done for over 60 years -- a 5-0 whitewash (some called it a blackwash) of England. This meant that the West Indies had won eight Tests on the trot. If anything, there was no reason for Lloyd to go now. His batting was not in any way diminished and the West Indies were winning like never before.

To say that Lloyd was under ever-increasing pressure to stay on was an understatement. To the casual observer, this was only because the West Indies were winning. This was the reason on the surface. Below that, there were a good many who felt that the unity which Lloyd had managed to forge within the team would the first casualty when Richards took over. It was a question of delaying the inevitable but that was the best which could be done.

Finally, the pressure of staying on as captain became too much for Lloyd himself. The murmurs from Richards were increasing. And though Lloyd himself was probably aware of the reasons behind his being forced to stay on, he could not postpone the inevitable any longer. Before the tour of Australia in 1984-85, he announced that it would positively be his last. The next tour, to New Zealand, would see Viv in charge.

After Richards took over, things did not change openly. The winning continued; England took another 5-0 pounding, this time in the Caribbean. But he was not a leader in Lloyd's style, a man whom players looked to in times of trouble. He led by the sheer force of personality and his decisions were not questioned because he could still tilt a match decisively one way or the other. He had a withering look for those who dropped a catch or misfielded. Perhaps, he had forgotten the way Lloyd himself had counselled the team out of trouble after the disaster Down Under in 1975-76. And he had his favourites. A man like Keith Arthurton came into the team during his stint as captain. And a man named Brian Lara was kept out.

Despite the fact that Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Malcolm Marshall and Jeff Dujon all had prior claims to the captaincy, Richards quietly began grooming his fellow islander, Richie Richardson, to take over. And with this the West Indies team slowly began to come apart. They had been one team under Lloyd. They slowly became 11 men playing as individuals. Greenidge was out of the reckoning on one count -- he had been brought up in England and thus knew that he would never be considered to lead the team. No white man or one who has had his formative years outside the West Indies has led the team after Jeff Stollmeyer.

When Richards handed over charge, Haynes continued to play under Richardson. But the fact that he was piqued came through clearly when he declined the offer to be skipper during the tour of India in 1994 when Richardson was taking a break due to fatigue. Walsh was given the reins. Marshall had already quit in disgust after the 1992 World Cup, saying he would never play under Richardson who goofed up badly after losing to South Africa, describing it as just another game. The Springboks had just gotten back to world cricket after years of ostracism due to their country's policy of apartheid and here was a black captain saying that losing to them wasn't a big deal. Thus the West Indies lost a man who was probably the best of the pacemen who came through in the days when they were churned out as though they were being manufactured on an assembly line. Marshall continued playing first class cricket for nearly four years more.

After the 1994 tour, Walsh gave the reins back to Richardson; he never wanted to be anything but a player, he said. "I began as a player and I'll end as one." But then fate decided differently. The Richardson who returned was a player who could not command his place in the team on the strength of his batting or captaincy. And thus, with players of the class of Ambrose and Lara in the team, the barbs began to be thrown. Most came from Lara, especially after the Trinidadian had a record-breaking 1994. Richardson, once a batsman who could win a match on his own, had become a hesitant prodder, a failure on most of his stints at the crease. The barbs were bound to increase.

The whole thing came to the boil during 1995. Haynes was kept out of the team for the home series against Australia on a technicality; he had gone off to play in South Africa and missed a single Red Stripe match which was sufficient reason to keep him out as the law says that only players who have played the entire season are eligible for selection. He did try legal means to get back into contention but then the law is made by those in power and it will run their way. (The outgoing president of the West Indies Cricket Board of Control, Peter Short, told a radio programme in Barbados some time later that Haynes had been eligible for selection for the tour of England which followed the home series against Australia in 1995. But, said Short, he was not picked. On what grounds he did not say. Perhaps he could not. There were no grounds, cricketing ones anyway, for keeping him out.) Haynes then played in the veterans series in Sharjah. That did not in any way render him ineligible for selection to the regular team. There were still a few years of cricket left in him but when he was overlooked for the World Cup and also for the home series against New Zealand, Haynes, who by now had landed a job as coach of Sussex, decided that he would retire for good. Another good man had been done in.

The 1995 series against Australia in the Caribbean was a tragedy for the calypso cricketers. They lost their proud record of never having lost a Test series for 15 years and were beaten 2-1. Richardson was roundly criticised and had to take it. His dependency on Lara for runs was exposed during the triangular World Series Cricket contest in Australia later in the year when Lara pulled out of the team. The West Indies never saw the inside of the finals.

Losing to Kenya in the World Cup was merely the logical outcome for a team which had a collection of individuals merely going through the motions. By this stage, Richardson was ready to go, unable to bear the humiliation to which he had subjected himself and the others. And in truth, Richardson, though portrayed as a gentleman cricketer by many commentators, has played his own brand of politics to keep his job. When Richards announced his availability for the 1992 World Cup, it was his own protege who ensured that he was not picked. A batsman of Richards's calibre was kept out of a World Cup solely because the captain felt that his authority would be undermined by having a former captain -- and a very aggressive cricketer -- playing under him. Dujon, who many felt had the stuff of a future captain, had retired due to alleged differences with Richardson.

Part of Richardson's contribution was not opposing the quota system which often dredged up mediocre players and gave them berths in the team. Given the fact that his own performances were getting to be very ordinary, he did not oppose the presence of anybody who did not show him up. Rather, he encouraged their presence. Sheer luck and the performance of a few kept the Windies from hitting the bottom earlier.

But then the team could not run on Ambrose, Lara and Walsh with the others showing an occasional flash of brilliance. They needed direction, discipline and strong leadership. Richardson was content to let things drift; so long as the team kept winning, no questions were asked. But once the wins stopped coming, the public started baying for blood. By now even Richardson's chief sponsor, the man who had referred to him as protege -- Viv Richards -- was willing to criticise him in writing. It came at a crucial time too -- when the West Indies were in danger of being knocked out of the 1996 World Cup in the preliminary rounds.

It is thus not surprising that one finds the West Indies today to be a team lacking in confidence. The wounds which have been created over the last decade will take their own time to heal. For Lloyd to forge a combine that terrorised opposing teams took time, patience and leadership of a rare kind. He was senior enough to the rest to be considered a father-figure; most of those who played under him as captain made their debuts at least eight years after he did.

It will clearly be some time before the West Indies becomes a force in world cricket again. Walsh is unlikely to stay on after the series against India. Lara is next in line but it is doubtful whether the talented left-hander, master batsman though he is, will have the necessary leadership qualities to pull the team back to the top. The team is being cruelly exposed on the tour of Australia as one which is overly dependent on one or two players to win. The manager and coach may be the best around but the work has to be done on the field. It will take a lot of doing to forge a winning combine again.