.html> sam's terrain: cricket news, views and controversies

Have the West Indies touched rock bottom?

CARL Hooper has just completed another disastrous Test series as captain. Sri Lanka, the team which was the whipping boy of international Test cricket not so long back, defeated the West Indies by three Tests to nothing. One more case of a whitewash. Or a brownwash, if you like to call it that. Remember, when Hooper took over, it only took a few Tests before the great commentator Colin Croft was describing him as the man who could turn out to be a combination of Clive Lloyd, the late Sir Frank Worrell, and Sir Vivian Richards!

But the great man, as Croft would no doubt describe him, has achieved precious little. The team has gone from bad to worse. Brian Lara made some runs in Sri Lanka. Apart from that, it was a story of pathetic bowling and total inability to combat spin on tracks which did turn. In other words, the batsmen lack technique - flat-track bullies can always make high scores on placid wickets.

Hooper's first assignment was against South Africa and his captaincy in that series was marked by some glaring errors. Despite a lot of brave talk, the West Indies lost 1-2 to the South Africans. It is pitiful to think that even 17 years after he made his debut, Courtney Walsh still had to do a great deal of bowling to help the team keep the margin down to this. In his last Test, the man who has bowled his heart out for his team was fortunate to be able to savour victory.

In between the South African and Sri Lankan disasters, Hooper took the team to Zimbabwe and Kenya. There were two Tests in Zimbabwe and the West Indies won one. Kenya is still not an official Test country - Jagmohan Dalmiya apparently deemed Bangladesh the better suited to get Test status for reasons which have been detailed elsewhere - and the West Indies played two games against the national team and won one.

After Walsh's departure, no bowler has emerged to carry even half the burden. The only notable thing which Mervyn Dillon has done is to be sent home from Sri Lanka for disciplinary reasons. Indeed, a lack of discipline appears to be a major problem for the West Indies - Franklyn Rose, who certainly looked the part when he made his debut against India in 1997, has not been considered for selection because of disciplinary problems. Add to this the chronic injuries which plague Reon King and who is left?

Marlon Black was touted as a sure thing for one of the pace spots when he came to Australia. He has certainly not impressed to the degree which was expected. His career has been limited to just five Tests due to the horrific injuries he sustained as a result of a racist assault in Australia. Of the others who came to Australia, Kerry Jeremy has not played a single Test to date. Colin Stuart has played six Tests but has showed little promise. When are the replacements for Walsh and Ambrose going to accept the baton?

It would appear that even poor Ridley Jacobs has lost heart if one goes by his recent batting displays. He was one player who could normally emerge from a bad tour with his head held high. But in Sri Lanka, Jacobs did little with the bat. Of course, he may well come good again - the man has spirit in him and is genuinely proud to be wearing the maroon cap.

Hooper can keep talking about having a young team - the truth of the matter is that only Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Daren Ganga and Marlon Samuels are on the right side of 25. If either talent or ability have not shown through by this age, then it is time to seriously think whether a player is really up to it, whether he can play Test cricket as it should be played. The tragedy is that the West Indies now have little choice when it comes to selection. Players are picked simply because they have at least some experience.

Lara is 32. Hooper is 35. Chanderpaul is 27 and not always there for selection. Jacobs is 34. Of the bowlers, only Pedro Collins, again one who makes an appearance now and then, is 25. The rest are older. When are the players going to mature? Apparently, judging by comments which some, like Gayle, have made, they think they have already made it. One journalist, who obviously has not understood a thing about Clive Lloyd, likened Gayle to the greatest West Indies captain. Bingo, it went to Gayle's head. And not so long back, I heard one Australian sports commentator likening Leon Garrick (who made a golden duck on his Test debut), to Rohan Kanhai. Given media commentators like this (and Croft as well), it is no wonder that players come to think of themselves as something when in reality they have achieved nothing.

Does all this sound depressing? There's more to come. Pakistan is next and this is a country which has always proved to be tough opposition, even for the teams of the '80s and '90s. One does not expect miracles - it would suffice if the West Indies are not beaten in both Tests.