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Apportioning the blame

Both West Indies manager Clive Lloyd and captain Courtney Walsh have come out with statements after the massive loss in the fourth Test, words which indicate that they both feel a sizeable part of the blame for the series loss should be placed at Brian Lara's feet. Both seem to suggest that it is not so much the fact that he has not made any runs that matters but his attitude towards the team.

They may not be too far off the mark. In fact, so obvious has been the target of their statements that a cricket writer has even divided the Windies players into different camps -- those who are obviously giving their all (Walsh, Ambrose, Chanderpaul and Hooper), those who are trying but cannot do much because they lack the class (Adams, Campbell, Murray and Bishop), and Lara who is in a class of his own but lacks commitment to the team. The same writer has gone so far as to suggest that unless Lara undergoes a sea change in attitude, he may well continue to be vice-captain even when Walsh retires --- with Hooper as his captain.

That is a possibility which seemed remote until now. It has always been taken for granted that Lara will be the next captain. But when his commitment to the team is being questioned by people of the calibre of Lloyd and Walsh, whose devotion to the cause of West Indies cricket is second to none, then things take on a different hue. And Lara has said nothing to indicate that things are to the contrary; whatever statements he has made in Australia have been rather immature self-serving ones and have not shown him in the best light.

The only innings of note he has played in the Tests was the 78 after the fourth Test was almost buried. He had a few vintage innings in the one-dayers and that led to the speculation that his form slump was over. It may have been but his attitude apparently did not change for he got out to a careless stroke once again in the first innings of the fourth Test, and his dismissal seemed to precipitate what it has often done in the past -- a shameful collapse.

Are Lloyd and Walsh then right in their assessments? It is difficult to say though past incidents would seem to indicate that they are not half wrong. Lara does have some problems in adjusting to the needs of the team; he has shown no leadership at all, despite being vice-captain. It is obvious that the rest of the team looks to him, much in the same way that the bowlers look to Ambrose. Both are men of ability and they are the sparks that can light the way to excellence.

Ambrose's commitment has never been questioned, not even though his showing in the first two Tests was mediocre. The big man was struggling but determined to give of his best on what is surely his last tour Down Under. He made up in Melbourne and in telling fashion. Had he been able to play in Adelaide, it may have made a difference but what exactly that would have been will remain in the realm of conjecture.

But in Lara's case the question mark remains. It will stay until the little man starts pulling his weight as vice-captain. And even if he does something superlative in the final Test, the question will be asked in the Caribbean after the team returns. When one acquires the reputation of the new messiah, then the expectations are proportionately high. Failure is permitted but a question of commitment must never arise.

The downside of the comments made by Walsh and Lloyd is that they may lead to some ill-feeling within the team. Walsh himself has done nothing spectacular in this series and he has not led the team brilliantly either. He may well have to face some questions from his vice-captain. But his commitment is not in doubt and never was. The West Indies need him around for a while longer until Lara gains the needed maturity to lead the team. Making somebody else the skipper ahead of Lara would mean creating a similar situation to that which surfaced in 1996. And a man like Hooper does not have the mental strength to take what Richardson did. West Indies cricket indeed has a long way to go before it is out of the woods.