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Will the Windies blow this one too?

A VISIT by India to the Caribbean should be welcomed by the West Indies, if only for the simple reason that this is one team which has had acute difficulty beating the home team, both in its own den and away. India has won just one series in the Caribbean, in 1971, when Ajit Wadekar's team defeated Gary Sobers' outfit 1-0. And in India, they have won just one again, in 1978-79 when the West Indies toured under Alvin Kallicharran, with the cream of the West Indies players doing duty for Packer in Australia.

Nevertheless, there are very genuine fears that this time things will be different. No matter that the first Test has seen the West Indies, for once, amass a sizeable score, without the help of a contribution from Brian Lara. Not that should really make that much of a difference any more - even with Lara firing on all cylinders in Sri Lanka, the West Indies did manage to lose a series. In fact, they took a pasting.

The problem does not lie with the batting. Never mind if it fails more often than it does succeed. The problem with the West Indies has, for a long time, lain with the bowling and the inability of the so-called strike bowlers to bowl out a team twice in a Test. It has been a problem which the West Indies have had for a long, long time and shows no sign of being solved. It is worth recalling that even during the halcyon days of the 1980s, there were times when the batting failed and the bowlers rescued the side admirably.

One of the problems lies in the cavalier manner in which the West Indies use, and then discard, fast bowlers (and even batsmen). A man goes on a tour, sometimes does not play even a single Test, returns to the Caribbean and is heard of no more. He may rear his head up again when a Test is played in his own island and he does duty as a substitute - after all, one has to keep the locals happy to some extent. End of Test, said player exits the scene and disappears into oblivion.

Another very genuine problem has been the lack of emerging good, fast bowlers. This is in part due to the expectation by the authorities that good, talented bowlers would keep showing up as regularly as they did during the glory days. Such, sadly, is not the case any more. Walsh and Ambrose, the last pair of class fast bowlers, had far too much to do as they were hampered by lack of support - and quality always suffers when the good players are forced to do more than what should be their fair share.

Mervyn Dillon has now been a Test player for around five years; indeed, he made his debut against India in 1997. He is not in the same league as any of the bowlers who came through in the 1970s or 1980s. His best figures are five for 111 - and he has taken five wickets just once. Marlon Black was a man who was considered to be a played of much promise; we haven't seen much evidence of that lately. The brutal beating which he suffered in Australia has affected his career to some extent, but I doubt very much that he will turn out to be anything like the class acts which were evident between 1975 and 1995.

Cameron Cuffy is one who could, in my estimation, have been a worthwhile replacement for a strike bowler. But he was one of those who went on the 1994 tour to India and then was forgotten until Australia in 2000. He is now 32, not exactly the age when a fast bowler can accept the role of being the main strike force. Adam Sanford has arrived at the age of 25 - where was he until now? What happened to Colin Stuart, Kerry Jeremy, Reon King and Pedro Collins? Have they been cast on the junk heap permanently? Let's bear in mind that even the best of the pacemen, the late Malcolm Marshall, was not such hot stuff when he made his first tour (the losing one of 1978). But the selectors persevered with him and the rest is history.

The funny thing is, even though the Indian team did beat Australia a season ago, they are not a class outfit. But they do have good spinners in Harbhajan Singh and a recovered Anil Kumble - and spin is something the West Indies have never played well. Thus far, their batsmen have served them well. Guyana has always been a rain-hit venue at this time of the year; the other Tests are likely to see at least four days of play each.

Apart from Barbados and Jamaica, the pitches should help spinners and India would be looking to gain the advantage when they can. Given past form, I would be very surprised if the West Indies manage to come away from this series unscathed. Indeed, if they draw the series, they should consider themselves lucky.