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Captain, the ship is sinking...

BRIAN Lara did everything possible in order to become the captain of the West Indies. I don't think he is exactly relishing his position at the moment. All his grandstanding at the beginning of the tour has led to a split between the senior and junior players in the team and as a result the West Indies are looking at the very real possibility of being thrashed 5-0 by South Africa.

Man for man, the West Indies can match South Africa. But there is no commitment, no discipline, no sense of responsibility. Wearing the maroon cap appears to mean nothing and that is the crucial difference between the two teams. The South Africans take pride in playing for their country; the West Indies couldn't care less. Or so it appears.

About the only players who seem to be taking some pride in playing for the West Indies are Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose. They may be old, creaking at the joints or whatever but they have done their part. But it is a matter of shame that the bowling resources have been mishandled so badly; the support players Mervyn Dillon and Nixon McLean have been so underbowled that they have no confidence at all.

It all boils down to bad captaincy. How can the support bowlers develop if they are just asked to stand in the shadows and are only given the ball when either Ambrose or Walsh goes off the field? Why are newcomers like Ridley Jacobs thrown to the lions by being asked to front for the captain at number three? If anyone had to bat at three in a situation like the second innings of the second Test it had to be Lara, and not merely because he is the regular number three. If a makeshift opener was sent in because Stuart Williams was not well (indeed, Williams has no business being in South Africa at all when a player of Sherwin Campbell's ability is playing for the 'A' team) then there was all the more reason for the captain to come in at his regular spot. If the so-called greatest batsman in the world has no confidence, then how are the rest expected to bat with anything like it?

There is plenty of murmuring in the West Indies camp at the moment and even the sobering influence of past players like Clive Lloyd and Malcolm Marshall can do nothing to heal the rifts. According to some players, the dismal performance in the first two Tests has more to do with lack of morale rather than with ability. The fight over pay before the tour began has led to senior players getting more and juniors nothing additional; can a situation like this breed anything but bad blood? Lara has yet to learn that one man, no matter how brilliant, can never carry a team unless there is some kind of unity within.

One cannot hope for miracles but Lara seems to be hoping for just that if his statements about levelling the series are to be taken seriously. Indeed, if the captain had done something to prove that he has some commitment to the cause, then he might have been taken at least a mite seriously. That is not the case. His highest score has been 39 in four innings. When did he last make a century in a Test? It was way back in the second Test of the series against Sri Lanka in June 1997! Brave words can never be a substitute for runs.

It is a sad scene. The West Indies thought they had touched rock-bottom in Pakistan last year when they were brown-washed 3-0. But that humiliation will be nothing to what they will experience if they do not salvage some pride in South Africa. The greatest cricketing son of the Caribbean is there to watch the woeful performance and the verdict of Sir Gary Sobers was curt: "They must remember that playing for West Indies is a privilege, not a right. Test cricket is all about accepting responsibility and this team is not doing that."

If that does not sting them into action, then nothing will.