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Lessons from Down Under-II

THE West Indies have been finally put out of their misery. The tour of Australia, which in many ways was as bad as the first tour of South Africa in 1998-99, is finally over. For political reasons, that tour may have stung more, even though the West Indies won one of the one-day international matches. On the tour of Australia, they could not beat the Australian national team in a single match; they did not ever threaten to do so. They did beat Zimbabwe thrice but then that is neither here nor there

There are some people who gloss over defeat and try to see positives in a loss; this is a serious kind of defeatism which only leads to more of the same. The West Indies have doing this for some time, applying strips of plaster where major surgery was needed. I am strongly reminded of the Palestine Liberation Organisation when I look at the West Indies team today; the Palestinians have also been looking at numerous crushing military and political defeats as some kind of victory, using their own peculiar crystal ball to draw these conclusions. If the West Indies continue doing the same, then they will end up as the Palestinians have - without a piece of turf to call their own. Self-delusion must be avoided at all costs.

It must be clear to all and sundry now that Jimmy Adams cannot hold his place in the team as a batsman. His highest score on tour was 59 not out in a game against the Prime Minister's XI. His highest Test score was 49. His highest score in the tri-series was 44. To put this in perspective, it must be remembered that the same Adams was once the highest ranked batsman in the world. His technique has gone to the dogs, his confidence has made a similar journey and he is a man who is not at ease with himself. He reminds of me the way Richie Richardson was just before he took a break from international cricket in 1994.

If one goes by the standard process of picking the best 11 players and then picking one of them to be captain, Adams would not figure in the line-up. I would pick Wavell Hinds, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Brian Lara, Carl Hooper, Marlon Samuels, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Ridley Jacobs, Mahendra Nagamootoo, Mervyn Dillon, Reon King and Courtney Walsh, with Cameron Cuffy as 12th man; if the wicket is one that offers no assistance to spin at all, then I would make Nagamootoo 12th man and play Cuffy. The batting order would be as listed. Who should be skipper? In this line-up, it would have to be Hooper. Not that I fancy him as captain but some justice has to be done. Lara doesn't want the job.

If Adams had just lost every single match on the Australian tour, but captained the team well, then there would be no reason to replace him. But he has become totally negative. If ever he won the toss and decided to field, it was only because he was afraid that his team would not be able to counter the opposition's bowling, not because the wicket afforded his bowlers some assistance. If one starts out by trying to avoid defeat, then at best one can earn a draw. And against a strong team, you are merely writing your own obituary by doing this.

Frankly, Adams does not have enough of the mongrel in him to fight a team like Australia. He is a decent man and decent men do not win a Test or one-day series in Australia. The Australians will do anything to win and unless you lay down the law and let them know that you are not going to be cowed down by their tactics, you have lost the match before it even begins. Even a mild-mannered person like Sachin Tendulkar has realised that and during the ICC knockout tournament last year, his first act, after hitting Glenn McGrath over his head to the boundary as soon he came to the crease, was to charge down the crease and tell the fast bowler exactly where he could go. Tendulkar made just 38 but he hit three fours and three sixes; McGrath had figures of none for 61 in nine overs. India won the match.

Despite his captaincy, if Adams had made some decent scores on the tour, then he could probably have stayed in the side as a batsman. The last time the West Indies took a hammering in Australia was in 1975-76 when they lost 5-1 to Greg Chappell's team. Despite that, Clive Lloyd made two hundreds and two fifties in his 11 innings. This time, it was a disaster like no other and there was an air of inevitability about it that made for grim viewing. And the only time the captain looked anything like a top order batsman was in Adelaide when Brian Lara made the lone Test century for the tourists. Probably, Adams is aware that he would not be in the team if he were not captain; that is probably why he has not offered to step down.

There should be no papering over this time. The West Indies selectors should go for broke and think in terms of winning a series to give people a taste of what it is like to win. If the usual inter-island politics prevail, then people like Nixon McLean (who after 17 Tests has only 3-53 to show as his best performance and averages 43 runs per wicket) will be back in the team and it will continue to slide downwards. If, indeed, it is possible for the West Indies to slide any further. No amount of change, however, will bring success until players are picked on merit. Marlon Samuels was a revelation in Australia but he wasn't in the original touring party and that is an excellent example of how talent is overlooked. This is something which the West Indies can continue to do at their own peril. They haven't yet lost a series to Sri Lanka or Bangladesh but don't rule it out unless there is some drastic rethinking in the islands.