Seldom has any team been so dependent on the performance of a couple of individuals to do well in international cricket. In the case of the West Indies, there seem to be just two men who matter in this respect -- Brian Lara and Curtly Ambrose. Walsh seems to be past it; Chanderpaul is steady most of the time but he needs to go beyond the 70s and 80s and only then will he be able to change the outcome of a match. Hooper is as erratic as he has always been. Adams seems to need a psychologist to get some confidence back.
The abject showing in the fourth Test -- the loss, by an innings and 183 runs, is their third worst loss of all time and their worst since losing to England by an innings and 237 runs in 1957; it was also the Windies' biggest loss to Australia since the 1930-31 series -- has served to underline the extent to which the team is dependent on a good showing from Lara to get some runs. He failed in the first innings and the rest fell like a pack of cards. His knock in the second innings was too little, too late. In such circumstances, only a double hundred could have saved the team from humiliation. But maybe he realised that it was beyond him to salvage anything at that stage.
The one occasion when Ambrose showed his old fire, the West Indies won hands down. It is instructive to note that this was a low-scoring match and the Windies batsmen did not do all that much. They lost four wickets in getting to a victory target of 87 and that says a lot. It is a little impossible to believe that there are three batsmen in the team who have Test averages above 50. And to think that one of them is Adams!
Most teams have taken the trouble to nurture a few spinners over the last few years but the West Indies have stuck to their four-pace formula. There needs to be some serious rethinking on this, more so when the team is on tour. Both Rajinder Dhanraj and Mahindra Nagamoottoo have done enough to be picked. Yet, instead of either of them we find Patterson Thomson who, after the dismal show in Adelaide, has probably played his second and last Test and taken his first and last Test wicket. If he is representative of the cricketing resources which the Caribbean is going to call on in years to come, then this is not the lowest that the Windies will sink.
Now, there is nothing left to play for -- except, perhaps, wounded pride. A victory will do nothing for this team and it is as well that they were hammered this way for else there were some illusions that they had returned to their winning ways. There have to be sufficient people to carry the load; if one or two or three have to deliver every time, it will not be long before the strain becomes too much to bear.
There has been some criticism of Walsh for choosing to bat first on a newly laid wicket at Adelaide but he probably figured that he was doing the right thing; batting last on this track would have been far worse. And he is familiar with the brittle batting order, familiar enough to know that the team can go from 200 for one to 220 all out. He has looked to his batsmen for support, looked to them to give him some runs to bowl at, but there has been nothing. He has been shouldering on for nearly 12 years now and he is a tired man.
The West Indies thinktank will have some serious conferencing to do before the Indians arrive in the Caribbean. The quota business will have to be kept to the minimum and passengers like Roland Holder jettisoned speedily. Surely, there is more talent in the Caribbean, the islands which gave the world the likes of the three Ws, Sobers and Richards. Or has the well of seemingly unending talent finally dry? The four-pace attack may well have to be given up for there do not seem to be sufficient strike bowlers who can bowl well on all kinds of wickets.
A lot of soul-searching has to be done right away. The selectors will have to dig deep to come up with a solution to this embarrassment which is masquerading as an international team, this motley bunch which refuses to play in a professional manner, this collection of individuals who seem to be unable to jell as a functional unit. Else here's the first toll of the bell for West Indies cricket.