The best WI players were selected
--coach Roger Harper By Tony Cozier
in Colombo
Stabroek News
December 7, 2001

THERE is, in coach Roger Harper's appraisal of the West Indies team's latest thrashing, the realistic realisation that there is yet more to come.

"Look at the statistics back home and ask, if not these (players), then who else?" he asked after the Test series against Sri Lanka that ended in the loss of all three Tests.

"The point I am making is that when we sit down to select our team, we pick the best available," he asserted. "We don't have people from Mars or Jupiter we can select, we pick the best available of the West Indies."

Harper, coach since February 2000, has been in charge while the West Indies have continued a protracted losing sequence overseas, 3-1 in England last year, 5-0 in Australia last season and now 3-0.

They followed similar heavy defeats in Pakistan in 1997, South Africa in 1998-99 and New Zealand in 1999 that have brought 21 defeats in the last 25 Tests outside the Caribbean.

"We simply don't have the quality players," he said. "There isn't too much to choose from."

Harper repeated the observation of captain Carl Hooper and former captain Brian Lara on the team's inexperience and compared it to the glory days of the 1980s when the West Indies went 15 years without losing a Test series.

"When you look around, you see Brian and Carl with 80-odd Tests and the guys after that with between five and 20," he said. "It means that most of them are still learning."

"When I came into the team in the 1980s, you had your Lloyds, Greenidges, Haynes and Richards with well over 40," Harper, who played 25 Tests between 1983 and 1993, said. "These fellows don't have that privilege."

The coach recalled that he had advised caution in judging the 1-0 triumph in the series of two Tests in Zimbabwe in July.

"I said then that the performance, as good as it was and reason to celebrate while it lasted, it did not mean we had arrived," he added.

"We played well in Zimbabwe but here, against better quality opposition, we were exposed and our inexperience was shown up," he noted.

"Sri Lanka know about playing in these conditions," he said. "They have a spin bowler (Muttiah Muralitheran) who would be effective on any pitch, a quality seam bowler in (Chaminda) Vaas who, on flat pitches, can be effective because he does something with the ball through the air and a very good batsmen on them."

He hoped Lara was "being sarcastic" when he commented that his 688 runs in the three Tests were not enough for the team.

"Any batsman who scores 688 runs in a series of five Tests, let alone three, would like to think he had a chance of being on the winning, and certainly not losing, side," he said.

"He was well supported by young Ramnaresh Sarwan but I'm afraid he didn't get the support necessary from anyone else for us to be very competitive here," he noted.

The problem with the batting was a lack of adaptability.

"One of the things at this level is that you've got to be able to think on your feet," Harper said. "The bowlers are working you out, they're looking at your strengths and your weaknesses."

"You've got to look at how they're getting you out and be able to make the adjustment," he observed. "We didn't show the ability to adjust and adapt quickly."

Openers Chris Gayle and Daren Ganga, who forged a highly successful partnership on the previous tours of Zimbabwe and Kenya, were especially culpable.

Gayle was caught off the outside edge off Vaas four times in six innings, the last three for 0. Ganga fell three times to loose strokes and twice in the last Test lbw half-forward to Vaas' inswing.

"We've got to get them to do some work against the moving ball to be prepared for it," Harper said.

It is straight from one frying pan for the West Indies into another, almost identical, for their next overseas assignment in Pakistan in February and early March.

Wasim Akram is going to present the same problems of each way left-arm swing as Vaas, multiplied through his additional experience, with Waqar Younis, Abdur Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood as backups Vaas lacked.

Saqlain Mushtaq is only marginally less of an off-spinning threat than Muralitheran and Inzamam ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar, Yousuf Youhanna and company are an even more formidable batting side on their own pitches.

It will be another stiff challenge. It proved well beyond the capacity of the 1997 team under Courtney Walsh - and nothing much has changed in the interim.