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Captain, my captain

WEST INDIES cricket is in crisis again. But, I hear you say, that is nothing new, maan. This team is always lurching from one crisis to the next. And the sad thing is that that is probably true; occasionally, the wounds are bandaged by means of a superlative performance. Else, the team is busy losing everything in sight.

Hopes were raised last year in the Caribbean when Brian Lara played a few stirring innings and earned his team a draw against a strong Australian contingent. There were hopes that there would be a resurgence. My view differed: I warned that all the old problems still remained and that the authorities should act if they did not want a repeat of the South African disaster again.

The repeat wasn't long in coming and it came at the hands of a team which is not exactly at the pinnacle of world cricket. New Zealand wiped the West Indies' faces in the mud, winning two Tests and five one-dayers. In the process, the West Indies managed to lose a Test after being 282 for one at the close of the first day. One does, indeed, need a great deal of genius to do that; I have not heard of many teams achieving a similar feat, not in 30-plus years of observing the game.

The truth is that the cupboard is bare. The ones who went to New Zealand will be on display again when Pakistan and Zimbabwe arrive in the Caribbean to play three and two Tests respectively and also a triangular one-day tournament. Plenty of opportunities for the Windies to display their ineptness again.

Around 20 players must have opened the innings for the team since the old firm of Greenidge and Haynes left. Not one has been a success, apart from Sherwin Campbell to some extent. Campbell still suffers from poor footwork early on in his innings; nobody apparently has been able to coach him out of these ways. Williams, Chanderpaul, Lara himself, Lambert, Wallace, Jacobs, Griffith... yes, there are a fair number who have tried to open the innings. The operative word is tried. Who will be next?

When Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose came to Australia in 1996-97, many people bid them farewell after the final Test. Given the paucity of fast bowlers -- or better still the fact that the selectors have not bothered to keep faith with any of the new pacemen -- is there any guarantee that either one or both of them will not be back in 2000-01? I wouldn't bet against it -- not unless they retire before that.

The West Indies are in the doldrums. They cannot sink much lower. They only have to lose to Zimbabwe at home, something which does not seem very difficult to achieve given their recent record. The teams which have been traditionally lower down in the pecking order have been getting their act together. The so-called professionals have been found wanting - apart from Australia and South Africa who have set new standards for hard, professional play. The West Indies are nowhere in this scenario.

There must be a return to basics, a willingness to play like professionals who have some pride in representing their countries. There has to be a willingness to stay there and wait for the runs to come, not an over-eagerness to wave one's bat about and walk back in a hurry. It took years to build a good team but it hasn't taken much to destroy it. It will take a Herculean effort to get back in the saddle again. By June, things should be clear.