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Lara Got It Right First Time Around

by Tony Cozier

April 12 1998


BRIAN LARA got it exactly right.

The Cable & Wireless series against England, he said following the final triumph at the Queen's Park Oval on Wednesday, had ``restored the respectability'' of West Indies cricket.

Following the 3-1 margin in the Tests, the 4-1 decision in the limited-overs contests was the icing on the cake, the gravy on the cou-cou.

In the euphoria of the moment, typified by the scenes of uncontrollable joy at the Antigua Recreation Ground, Kensington, Arnos Vale and Queen's Park over the past fortnight, it is easy to forget the pessimism that engulfed West Indies cricket prior to England's arrival.

Here are a few reminders:

After the disasters of Pakistan, former Pakistan captain Hanif Mohammed designated them ``the weakest among the nine Test-playing countries'' and said he was ``shocked and devastated to see them in this condition''.

Samiul Hasan predicted in The Dawn of Pakistan that if the West Indies team ``remains as disparate as it currently is, they may be in for greater humiliation when they face the Englishmen''.

Writers in the British and Australian Press, who had been forced to endure West Indian domination for so long, gloated.

Brendan McArdle of the Melbourne Sunday Age placed the West Indies below Australia, Pakistan and South Africa and ``probably no higher than England and India''.

Michael Henderson wrote in the London Times: ``At the moment, their rightful place is exactly where they are''.

All that was compounded by the internal bickering over the captaincy and the embarrassment was further intensified by the fiasco of the Sabina Park pitch.

So the respectability of West Indies cricket was, indeed, in tatters. Where it would have been had the results been the reverse as England confidently expected is too terrible to contemplate.

Now the self-confidence has returned, to such an extent that the beleaguered selectors, so understandably intent on winning the Test series, could use the One-Day Internationals as an early testing ground for a host of new players.

All of which doesn't mean that Lara's team has suddenly become the strongest in the world.

England, temperamentally and technically far weaker than they would have everyone, themselves included, believe, were hardly a realistic yardstick by which to judge.

The real challenges lie ahead, in the back-to-back series against South Africa in South Africa at the end of the year and against Australia early next and in the World Cup in England next summer.

Forthright

Clayton Lambert and Philo Wallace, whose forthright approach at the start of the innings had such a positive impact on the whole attitude of the team, may not find it as easy belting Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock all over the ground, and out of it, as they did Dean Headley and Andy Caddick.

And Dinanath Ramnarine, whose leg-spin gave the attack a vital balance, is likely to find Hansie Cronje, Gary Kirsten, the Waughs and Ricky Ponting not quite as acquiescent as the uncertain Englishmen.

But nothing breeds success like success and the overall gains these past three months have been significant.

Lara has immediately established himself as a victorious, if unconventional, leader, sure of himself and the capabilities of those under him and with their obvious support.

Carl Hooper, as he himself explained, was encouraged by Lara to be more aggressive with his off-spin bowling with the result that he at last looked the Test-class all-rounder he has always had it in him to be.

He must have been desperately close to Curtly Ambrose as Man-of-the-Series.

Lambert, Wallace and Ramnarine fit perfectly into their designated roles as did Ridley Jacobs when finally given his chance, albeit by default, as the latest of the several wicket-keepers.

To be sure, not everything in the mix was ideal.

The younger fast bowlers were denied the chances they should have had, No. 6 remains a problem position and Shivnarine Chanderpaul is passing through the period of uncertainty that overcomes all quality batsmen at some time.

But there is nothing more important to any team than its self-confidence and that is patently back.

It was most obvious in the One-Day Internationals, the last two of which were comfortably won with experimental sides lacking the controlled bowling and experience of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.

Throughout, the importance of disciplined bowling and fast, sure-handed fielding within the 30-yards area was emphasised.

In the five matches, the West Indies sent down six no-balls, and only six, discarding chains that had been a repeated hindrance to their limited-overs efforts in the past.

In three matches in the Golden Jubilee tournament in Lahore last November, they gave away 30 no-balls; in four in Sharjah a month later, the tally was 21.

The presence of Hooper, Lara, Chanderpaul, Keith Arthurton and Neil McGarrell transformed the semi-circle where once the static Walsh used to station himself into a zone of danger.

It gave the outcricket the kind of electricity that was the hallmark of the teams under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards.

No doubt, it would have been noted by those who will pick future teams for One-Day tournaments, not least the World Cup, a campaign that deserves as much attention as those to come on the Test fields of South Africa and the Caribbean.

DANGER AREA

IT has become a dangerous and unedifying ritual.

Long before the final ball is bowled, the frenzied invaders mass on the boundary's edge.

The police and security forces nervously and unconvincingly take their places in unstrategic positions and three or four television crew ready themselves for the ordeal of having to rescue the expensive stump-camera.

As soon as the winning run is struck or the last wicket falls, mayhem breaks loose.

Players sprint for the safety of the pavilion like frightened prey fleeing a rampaging lair of ravenous lions, umpires use stumps as defensive weapons against the marauding pack and souvenirs are scrambled with the frenzy of a dog fight.

When the dust has settled, there is a collective sigh of relief that there is no more to show than a few bruises and scratches and that cricketers and umpires haven't had their livelihoods ended by the uncontrolled madness as the Australian, Terry Alderman, did by such foolishness in Perth some time ago.

It is, of course, only a matter of time before some drunken lout, displeased with an umpiring decision or the looks of an opposition player, uses the opportunity to, literally, stick the knife in as the case with the world's No.1 women's player on an international tennis court four years ago.

Yet no one seems to care. Instead, there are indignant protests on radio call-in programmes when a radio commentator refers to the senseless mob as exactly what they have become, hooligans.

As always, we just sit back and wait for the disaster to happen and embarrass us all.


Source: The Barbados Nation
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Date-stamped : 13 Apr1998 - 10:37