DIEHARDS, Chairman Mao has noted, are hard; but not hard unto death. Clearly, the Chinese leader did not live long enough to meet the mighty mullahs of West Indies cricket.
Whether meditating deep in their selection committee catacombs or preaching from privileged perches in media penthouses, the mullahs maintain a rigid orthodoxy called ``The Four-prong Pace Attack'' from which no deviation of length or line is permitted. They are condemning West Indies cricket to Hell.
For West Indians in general and Brian Lara in particular, the immediate cause for concern is that unless the new captain breaks quickly with this doctrine he runs the real risk of being as unsuccessful as his predecessors, Richie Richardson and Courtney Walsh...if he should be so lucky.
While it is possible that we can still win the current series against England, let there be no mistake: this is a contest between the two top teams of the international B league. We may eke out a win only because England has similar structural weaknesses, the most glaring of which is a tail too long. But anyone who believes that even Lara can lead us back to the top by beating South Africa or Australia with this ``Four-prong Pace Attack'' is hallucinating. While cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties, to expect Lara to do this is like expecting Hasely Crawford to outrun Ato Boldon in 1998.
The evidence is overwhelming. In the second innings of the lost Third Test our last five batsmen (Kenny Benjamin, Nixon McLean, David Williams, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh) contributed the awesome total of just four runs.
In the second innings of the Third Test between the cricketing world's superpowers, South Africa's last four batsmen (Brian McMillan [87n.o.], Shaun Pollock , Lance Klusener  and Jamie Symcox ) contributed 219, more than three times our totals in three of the four innings so far played in the current series.
This is not a selective use of statistics. Our tail seldom wags.
In contrast, in the next Test that the South Africans played, the 27-year-old Symcox, batting at number ten, hit a century against Pakistan to share in a world record ninth wicket stand which exceeded the totals of England and West Indies in two of the four innings so far!
And, be it noted, Klusener, who also bats at number nine, also has a Test century to his name!
These cataclysmic events on the other side of the world trouble our mullahs not at all. The only noise to break the deafening silence comes from the One off the Long Run: ``All Lara has to worry about,'' he intoned on the BBC, ``is the batting.'' Yeah right, Mr Holding, all a man with terminal cancer has to worry about is the cancer.
What is really happening is that while the mullahs adhere to their tired, discredited doctrine, the superpowers have enunciated a new theology: ``The One Rabbit Doctrine''. It states simply: ``Unless you are a Walsh, an Allan Donald or a Glenn McGrath who can mow down the oppostion with regularity, then if you want to make the Test team as a bowler you must be able to bat.''
You mutter such sacrilege at your peril in the halls of the EFBU (Ex-Fast Bowlers Union).
In the three Test so far played, 40 English wickets have fallen. Benjamin and McLean have accounted for less than 15 per cent of them. According to this new doctrine, as long as Walsh is on the team as the one rabbit, inconsistent bowlers such as Benjamin, McLean, Mervyn Dillon, Patterson, Thompson, Cameron Cuffy, Ian Bishop and Franklyn Rose cannot make the team. If Lara does not leanr the new doctrine very soon, then ony grief awaits him.
But how did we get to this sorry pass? Because we made the cardinal blunder of war, politics and sport: we believed our own propaganda! We came to accept, through unchallenged repetition, the Big Lie that our world supremacy in recent years derived from the ``Four-prong Pace Attack''. False. This was just one of the four prongs of the supremacy. The others were Clive Lloyd's captaincy, superb close-catching and seven world-class batsmen (one of whom just happened to be a wicketkeeper). In case no one has noticed, the last two components are just not there any more. You can't make Angostura without them.
So what's to be done? Lara must convince the mullahs to cast about (and pray for) fast bowlers who can bat. They simply have to bite the bullet and swallow pride. There is no other way. The choices are limited: Laurie Williams, who has played one-dayers and hit a century in the South Africa A Tests; Ottis Gibson, who toured England last time; the prematurely buried offspinner Nehemiah Perry, still the next stingiest bowler after Ambrose who has also hit a century in first-class cricket.
Pick two, lock up one end with them and Carl Hooper; attack at the other end with Walsh and Ambrose; significantly shorten the tail; pray hard and pay your tithes. While Lara meditates on the ``One Rabbit'' doctrine, he must also contemplate the folly of our two in-form batsmen, Clayton Lambert and Roland Holder, watching on television while the team struggles to pass 200. Even mullahs will agree that batsmen were not baptized at birth as openers.
Holder's 183 in the recent A team game in Jamaica earned the highest praise. It was a terrible error not to have picked him for the two Tests at the Queen's Park Oval, his happy hunting ground. Surely the mullahs would accept him as a ``converted'' opener.
Adams must also develop his talent as an attack bowler on wearing pitches or go.
David Williams must show quickly that his 65 and not his recent pair of spectacles is the way of the future or be replaced by Riley Jacobs or Ricky Hoyte.
Above all, Lara must break with the mullahs. Their orthodoxy is the road to perdition.