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Experts indeed!

GIVEN the West Indies' miserable showing in England and Australia, one is not surprised that speculation over the captaincy has been growing. Carl Hooper's recent return to the Caribbean has been taken as evidence that he will be next in line. Every commentator in the region, be he a fool or a wise man, a parochial barbarian or one inclined to take a broader view, has had his say on who should be captain and who should be thrown to the dogs.

But at times, the views of some of these so-called experts makes me laugh. They are quick to see virtue where none exists and it quickly becomes clear that they are barking in the dark. Given the situation, they feel that they must make some comment but truly it does their flimsy reputations as writers and commentators little good.

Of course, some of these commentators have rather dubious credentials. I refer here to Colin Croft, former West Indies fast bowler, who, bad English and even worse orthography notwithstanding, appears to consider himself an authority on West Indies cricket. But then they say that every alcoholic at a bar in Caribbean can tell you what is wrong with cricket in the region so one must excuse Croft for his pretensions. Many people adhere to the view that a good cricketer will be a good commentator though nothing could be further from the truth.

Croft's latest submissions attempt to analyse the reasons for the West Indies' poor showing in Australia and suggest that either Sherwin Campbell or Ridley Jacobs should captain the team. A bit of background is needed - this is the same Croft who saw a great change in the team when Jimmy Adams was appointed captain. He saw a "great sense of purpose" and a great deal of cohesion when the team defeated Pakistan and Zimbabwe in the Caribbean. In his muddled mind, the statistic that the West Indies have only lost one series in the Caribbean since God knows when - against Australia in 1995 - would evidently convey nothing. (The second defeat is around the corner - South Africa take on the West Indies in March.)

It is common knowledge that for any team a home series is easier to handle than an away one. The players are able to return to their families for brief periods between games, they are playing in front of crowds which are, to a large extent, friendly and supportive, and they are more at home on the grounds which they play on. On tour, one goes for extended periods without any social life, one has to live in close proximity with a bunch of people whom one may not really fancy as company, the crowds are often hostile and the grounds are unfamiliar places. Only a team which has a great deal of bonding can go abroad and win on a long tour such as that which the West Indies are currently finishing in Australia. Honestly, one does not need a great deal of intelligence to understand this.

A great many of the West Indies players have not been around long enough to know their compatriots. Many of them are from different countries and the only time they play for one cause is when they are picked for this strange unit. A team which has no dissension in its ranks, one which has a strong leader, one which is confident and assertive and one which has a captain whose sense of confidence borders on arrogance can come forth from the Caribbean and conquer the world. It does not need too many talented people in its ranks. Witness Ridley Jacobs - he is no great stylist, no great batsman but he gives 150 percent every time he is out there and that makes him special. If the West Indies had a couple more like Jacobs in their ranks, they would have given Australia a run for their money.

Croft's reasons for the West Indies' poor showing thus fall to the ground. His response is an emotional one. It may be born of good motives but he is wide of the mark. It couldn't be more different from his bowling which was generally spot on.

Once again, as he did with Adams, Croft has seen a great difference in the team when Campbell captained them in Australia. This doesn't seem to have done Campbell himself much good. Indeed, it is rare to see Campbell ever approach Jimmy Adams and offer a word of advice; Lara and Walsh are the only players who have done so. Campbell, in fact, should not be in the team if one were to go on performance. He has played more because the others have failed as often and as regularly as he has. Croft disqualifies Adams from the running on the grounds that he does not merit a place in the team as batsman - how then does Campbell fit in? By virtue of being the best of the worst among the openers in the Caribbean? Logic seems to be a casualty when Croft sets pen to paper.

What makes him a worthy contender for the captaincy? Croft must indeed be viewing the world through rose-coloured glasses if he thinks that elevating Campbell to the leadership will make the West Indies fare any better. I think Campbell himself, who appears to have a tremendous complex about his batsmanship, would fare even worse than he has in recent times (indeed, if that is possible). He appears to be overawed by Lara and that feeling would increase if he had to lead a team in which Lara figured.

The West Indies have a habit of thinking that if a man can be a good follower then he must be a good leader. Croft's thinking runs on similar lines when he suggests that Jacobs is a candidate for the captaincy. Jacobs is doing an excellent job as a wicketkeeper and number seven; he should be left alone to continue as he is. It is worth noting that attempts to make him open the batting have only ended in spoiling his tour average.

On the other hand, Croft has been unable to spot the leadership potential and maturity that young Marlon Samuels displays. Give him a few years as a regular, and he will certainly become a worthy aspirant for the position of captain. Let's remember that Clive Lloyd had played only six or seven years of international cricket before he became captain; he made his debut in 1966 and became captain in 1974 but was out of the game for some time with a horrendous back injury.

Thus, if the West Indies are looking to the future their thoughts should be crystallising around a team that matures five or seven years down the road with many of the current crop of youngsters as the backbone. There can be an interim captain for that period and if he is retained for the entire period, no matter a few troughs, stability will return to the West Indies team though not overnight. Sacking a man every time he loses a couple of series abroad is no way to build a team. No, Adams should stay as captain. Miracles will not happen with him around but then the seeds for what is happening now were sown way back in 1992. It takes time to make the bad times go away and cutting and chopping a captain every time there is a loss here and there will not solve things. Solutions such as that suggested by the likes of Croft will only exacerbate the problem.