A pleasing transformation
by Tony Cozier
April 16, 2000
THE pleasing transformation of the West Indies team continues.
It was first evident a month ago, even if just barely, in the first Test against Zimbabwe at the Queen's Park Oval when the withdrawal of Brian Lara and the hubbub over the coaching job were still negative psychological factors. It has become clearer and clearer with every passing day since then.
If the narrow victory in the first Test was nothing less than a miracle, those that have followed, in the second Test and the first three one-day internationals, have been emphatic. They have reflected the growing self-confidence of a team that, from the start, has played with a unity of purpose so glaringly missing in recent times.
Credit for the turnaround must go to the new management team, above all to the new captain Jimmy Adams.
Mention of him as a possible successor to Lara, long before Lara decided to abdicate, prompted the inevitable rejoinder. Can he keep his place in the team?
It was not an unreasonable question. Adams' returns had diminished so markedly that he was averaging a mere 20 an innings over the 15 Tests prior to this season. Yet it ignored the leadership qualities that have been so conspicuous in the past couple of months, first in the Busta Cup, now in the international series.
He was thrust into a position fraught with the several pitfalls that confront every Caribbean leader, even more so the captain of the West Indies cricket team. The experiences of his three predecessors, Lara, Courtney Walsh and Richie Richardson, were proof enough of the difficulties that lay ahead.
Adams has met them head on. He and his support staff have told their charges that all they ask of them is to give of their best, whatever that might be.
In this regard, Adams has led from the front. He hasn't done so with the same devastating brilliance of Lara for his own limitations preclude the brilliance we saw from the left-handed genius against Australia last year. But his more understated contributions have been just as critical.
His painstaking, unbeaten hundred in the second Test against Zimbabwe was the foundation of eventual victory and his consistency at No.4 in the three one-day internationals have held the innings together when it might well have fallen apart, as it did so regularly in New Zealand, Sharjah and other scattered venues across the world.
Adams and coaches Roger Harper and Jeffrey Dujon have acknowledged the presence of several new, young players and others still striving to establish themselves and have worked on technical weaknesses with patience and understanding.
They have paid particular attention to the basics and the effect has been obvious. The running between the wickets has been refreshingly urgent, the bowling so disciplined that it has conceded only two totals in seven over 200 and the fielding sharp.
Above all else, the team looks keen, happy and united.
An accurate clue to the general mood has always been Curtly Ambrose's demeanour. Throughout this season, no one has been more enthusiastic and there certainly hasn't been anything more expressive of the renewed spirit than his smile, as wide as Antigua itself, that has followed his many successes.
The widespread euphoria surrounding Courtney Walsh's record and the lively crowd support at Sabina Park and Arnos Vale have been other contributory factors to the renaissance that has, for the time being at least, silenced the tumult over Lara and the coaching job.
The real tests still lie ahead. Pakistan will get better the more they become acclimatised and stronger in the Tests when they expect to be joined by Shoaib Akhtar, Saeed Anwar and Saqlain Mushtaq, all presently overcoming injury.
But they will be up against opponents who won't give up at the first signs of trouble and whose batting, hopefully, will be boosted by the return of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and, dare we even think it, of Lara.