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Lessons from Down Under

NOT surprisingly, the West Indies have established a string of records during their tour of Australia, records that they would not like to remember. Thrashed 5-0, thrice without putting up even the semblance of a fight, they also took over the record for the number of ducks in a series. The earlier one was for a six-Test series; the West Indies, who love to go one better, beat it in a five-Test series.

Not one bowler could manage a haul of five wickets and there was just one century in 10 completed innings. Only thrice did the team score more than 200, the highest being 391 - but in that case, 182 came from one man. Only three batsmen scored more than 200 runs and the best bowler, Mervyn Dillon, with 16 wickets, was the only one to avergae less than 30 runs per wicket. If this isn't a crying shame, then I don't know what is.

There isn't any statistic for the number of catches dropped by this team but I am willing to bet that it must have come perilously close to the 34 which were put down by the 1968-69 team. And one isn't even thinking about the number of other fielding errors, the times when three runs were converted to four, and ones to twos. But while it may be time for everybody outside the team to ask some searching questions, believe me, members of the team are living it up, clubbing around and enjoying life. After all, nobody takes a pay cut when they play like clowns.

Before the Tests began, there was some kind of agreement among the West Indies selectors that Marlon Black was the best among the three rookie fast bowlers. He made his debut in Brisbane and did a decent job. The same followed in Perth. And then, after just one bad showing in Adelaide, he was dropped. What is the point? A man can have a bad day, can't he? If this was the criterion for dropping people, then the vice-captain, Sherwin Campbell, should not have been dropped, he should have been sent back to Barbados. Black did not play in either the fourth or fifth Tests. His confidence must be at knee level now.

This kind of treatment of fast bowlers appears to be the norm. Take the case of Cameron Cuffy. He bowled well in the one-dayers but conceded a little over 50 runs against Zimbabwe in the second match of the competition. He was promptly dropped. Back came Black, who had played in one match, a practice affair, and done well. He had been dropped after that. It must be unsettling to bowlers to be picked for a match and then expected to perform immediately.

And if performance is the criterion, what is Nixon McLean doing in the team? This chap has played in 17 Tests and taken 38 wickets at nearly 45 runs each. That's a little over two wickets per Test. His best bowling figures are three for 53. And his one-day figures aren't much better - 36 wickets at a little under 40 apiece. Why isn't he ever dropped to make way for somebody else? He reminds me of people like Roland Holder, who made more overseas tours than a good many others, and yet had nothing to show for it. If nothing else, McLean could have been dropped to experiment with Kerry Jeremy, a new face in the squad who came to Australia, broke his jaw, played in just a couple of tour games, and went back.

At the end of the Test series, the usual crap is trotted out about "the lessons we can take back from here, the gains from the tour." Cited were Sarwan's showing (everybody knew he had talent before the team came to Australia), the batting and keeping of Ridley Jacobs (if people were unaware of his abilities before the tour, they would have had to be deaf, dumb and blind), the composure of Marlon Samuels (but then he wasn't part of the original tour party; can one ask why?), the bowling of Dillon (who didn't know about his talent?), Black (then why was he treated so shabbily) and Colin Stuart (why was he kept waiting until the fourth Test? He could have played in place of McLean).

Some commentators are so blithe as to look back to the 1975-76 tour, when the West Indies were hammered 5-1 by Australia, and say that the whole thing turned around after that because of lessons learned on that tour. Probably, though I think the whole thing really turned around after the 1976 defeat at Port of Spain when India scored over 400 in the fourth innings to beat a West Indies team that had three specialist spinners - on a wicket that was taking spin. One must also remember that the man who was leading the West Indies at that time was an intelligent, forceful personality, one who cared about West Indies cricket, and one who wanted to make the team a winning unit. He was also willing to take some hard decisions and back his players to the hilt, to the extent of quitting the captaincy when he felt that some players - Desmond Haynes, Richard Austin and Derryck Murray, for those who aren't aware of this - had been unfairly treated by the board because they had played in Packer's World Series cricket. Where does Jimmy Adams stand beside him???

I am willing to go on record right now and predict a 5-0 defeat at home for the West Indies when they take on South Africa. Any team which can stomach what they have suffered in Australia and still laugh when they drop catches during a fielding practice session has still not hit its lowest point. If Adams is retained as captain for this series - there are already murmurs that Carl Hooper will be made skipper - then I will bet my last dollar that he will quit after South Africa completes the demolition. No, the changes will only come once a man who knows and cares about cricket in the Caribbean takes over the reins of the board. Bureaucrats are bothered about positions, not results. And for those who would like a case study, I would suggest taking a close look at one Yasser Arafat...