Flannelled knights ride again

Trinidad Express
May 9, 1999

IF A COOPERS and Lybrand man followed the Cable and Wireless One-day series, he must now be making a few changes to his World One-day table. A William Hill bookie may also be at work, shortening the odds on West Indies to win the seventh World Cup which bowls off in Merry England this week.

And in defending their actions, both would point to the 3-3 result against hot Cup favourites Australia.

In plain figures, the Windies appear to be back on track, on course, the optimists might say, to win in England for the third time in four World Cups. But Cup cricket is not played on computers or in betting shops. And statistics do not always the whole truth tell.

In the present case, the fine details do show the distance still to be travelled on the road to Lord's. But first, news of the ground already covered.

The tied rubber alone is a triumph for the Caribbean side.

If the 6-1 one slaughter in South Africa was a living hell for Brian Lara and his men, then they achieved partial peace on home soil, taking the best the Aussies had to offer and surviving, with no quarter given.

The home team might also feel justified in claiming the series on points given their seemingly decisive advantage at the end of the tied 5th ODI at Bourda, Guyana.

But the mob rule that ruined that match and robbed them of victory and the bottle barrage that blackened the final game at Bridgetown will stifle any talk of moral victories.

Yet, not even that ugliness, indiscipline, rank slackness can sully the fine competitive effort of the regional representatives.

Lara's super showing in the Tests had struck a huge blow for the team's self-belief. And it was in the one-dayers that the new confidence of the rank-and-file blossomed.

Speak stats for me.

The Windies led the series twice before having to come from behind in the final game.

Three batsmen-Ridley Jacobs (46.00), Jimmy Adams (44.83) and Sherwin Campbell (44.42)-averaged in excess of 40. It did not hurt either that the "fortysomethings" were also the first three men in the order. Lower down at number seven, allrounder Phil Simmons averaged 32.50. The bowling was also encouraging.

Quickie Mervyn Dillon with 12 wickets in five matches, averaging a miserly 15.00, was followed by another young pace Turk, Reon King (23.15), and off-spinner Nehemiah Perry (27.20) playing in his first ODIs for the WI.

That collective bowling effort also meant that only twice-on a flat track and Ferrari-fast outfield at the New Queen's Park in Grenada in game two, and in a run chase at Kensington in game six-did the Aussies cross 250. The visitors were never able to collar the attack.

It would not have escaped the selectors that, in both batting and bowling, good results were repeatedly achieved without significant inputs from Lara in particular, and to a lesser extent, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.

The flourish with which the trio of Man of the Series Campbell, Jacobs and Adams played was especially encouraging.

With the captain plagued by his slow-to-heal right wrist and restricted to just four matches and 49 runs, the unlikely threesome took charge.

The consistency that brought Campbell three half-centuries and just one score below 20 was no more impressive than his easy adaptability to the pace and tactics of the shorter game.

Adams too was able to throw off the shackles of his natural conservatism and recent lean years to play with freedom and pleasing style on nearly every occasion.

But it was Jacobs, the ultimate utility man, who was the real find. Given yet another challenge, this time as opener, he succeeded spectacularly, playing in a style that was exciting and appropriate for the circumstances.

Two half-centuries in four innings was proof enough that there exists a viable left-handed option to Shivnarine Chanderpaul at the top.

Dillon too answered some questions.

Still an outsider looking in on the Test team, he staked realistic claims to being Ambrose's new-ball partner in the ODI's in England.

If his superb 10-5-20-4 was achieved in helpful conditions in the second Queen's Park Oval match, Dillon also managed to bowl the right length and a reasonably consistent line at good pace throughout. He also had the happy knack of picking up early wickets, his use of the slower delivery adding variety to his repertoire.

The bowlers were also generally supported by effective ground fielding that was at times brilliant. Perry, Simmons and Henderson Bryan featured in the highlights.

But the high points in the field were perhaps punctuated too often by less sure-handed stuff. Concentration lapses often seemed to be the culprit.

Also, the Windies fielders failed to score direct hits often enough. It is a luxury that they can ill-afford this month.

The running between the wickets was unsettling at times, plain suicidal on others. It would please the selectors if fielding lapses were the only causes for concern. They were not.

Carl Hooper's sudden retirement has compounded matters for Lara.

As fine a prospect as Ricardo Powell may be, the Hooperless Windies are now short of that extra, proven class.

And not even numerical replacements may be enough when the journey up to Lord's really gets tight.

WI/Australia 1999 showed that the lower order is still an unsolved problem, their lack of all-round achievement specifically.

The effectiveness of the top three and Simmons against an attack missing Australia's best bowler Glenn McGrath for all but one over made the deficiency not so glaring.

But between them, opener Stuart Williams pushed down the order, and designated allrounders Keith Arthurton and Henderson Bryan managed just 103 runs in 12 innings.

Bryan, it must be said, had limited opportunity in his first international series. But his controlled swing bowling may prove an asset in England.

Williams, short on form and confidence, never found himself in the middle. Arthurton, too, also did not suggest that his lean times with the bat over the last three ODI series are at an end.

On paper, the 15 names suggest potential world-beaters. But the proof is far from conclusive.

Take the sixth ODI. Sailing along at 107 for 2 by the 17th over, the regional team were unable to recover once Shane Warne and Mark Waugh checked them. In the end 249 with two wickets still in hand was all they could muster on a very good pitch.

Come World Cup time, there shall be no excuses for a lack of depth.

In seam and swing heaven, with Wasim Akram and McGrath on the warpath, will Campbell, Adams and Jacobs be enough?

What are the options if Chanderpaul's prolonged illness continues?

What if another injury snags Simmons?

What if, dreadest of thoughts, the ailing Prince does not quickly find his feet? Or, more literally, his wrist?

Not comforting thoughts these.

But there is much to be said for positive thinking.

Already this year, we have seen the mountains that can be moved by the right spirit. And a certain star.

That perhaps is what Lara's squad have most going for them, their strong will and determination. It has been evident in Simmons's field-marshal spirit, Dillon's tigerish fielding, Adams's willingness to do the necessary.

All it may take now is for "Sir Brian" to rise again.

In the end World Cup glory may have to be channelled through "375".

Should Lara once more become "The Man", then come June 20, the flannelled knights of the maroon order may once again be holding court, having beaten all the odds to walk proudly along victory road.