Invest in our pacemen Orin Davidson's Eye on Sport
Stabroek News
March 24, 2002

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Despite the controversial selections and all the disappointments West Indians have endured with the latest work of the West Indies selection panel, cricket lovers now have no choice but to swallow their anger and switch back to supporting their team which takes on India within three weeks in their next engagement at home.

In the regional team's current rebuilding process or more appropriately, recycling of players, this Indian team will leave the sub-continent with little apprehension of the type they have harboured before making previous visits.

Even before West Indies developed its lethal four pronged pace attack, our fast bowlers have always driven great fear into Indian teams they have opposed, and have been mainly responsible for our many victories over the years.

As early as the 1950s when Charlie Griffith ended the career of Nari Contractor with a vicious bouncer to the head, in Barbados, West Indies fast bowlers have consistently exerted their dominance over Indian opposition.

Almost every series the two sides have engaged in, there have been instances of routs of the opposing batting lineups by West Indian speedsters. Even in the 1971 home series when India won its first rubber against the regional side, the hostility of Uton Dowe and Keith Boyce was a constant source of concern for the visiting team.

One could also easily remember the 1976 home series when Michael Holding drove so much terror into the Indian team, captain Bishen Singh Bedi surrendered the Sabina Park Test match even before losing all ten wickets in the second innings.

In West Indies' last visit to India in 1995, a last day blitz by Kenny Benjamin and Courtney Walsh gave the visiting team a series levelling last day victory at Chandigarh.

Yet again when the countries last met in 1997, Ian Bishop, Franklyn Rose and Curtly Ambrose struck fear into the Sachin Tendulkar led batting lineup and bowled West Indies to a 1-0 series victory in the third Test at the Kensington Oval.

This time around though, the Indians are aware that West Indies will be without the dangerous pair of Curtly Ambrose and world record holder Courtney Walsh and will face a considerably weakened fast bowling attack for the 2002 confrontation.

This was proved recently in Sri Lanka and Sharjah where the former team and Pakistan made a mockery of West Indies' reputation as fast bowling giants.

The attack spearheaded by the Mervyn Dillon led group of trundlers was put to the sword by the Sri Lankans who scored 1762 runs for the loss of 34 wickets. In other words we only managed to dismiss the home team once in the three-test series.

It was a similar tale of woe in Sharjah where Pakistan amassed 1404 runs while only being dismissed twice in the two Tests.

Thus it was not surprising that West Indies lost all five of the Test matches against the two opponents, which should give the Indians the high level of confidence perhaps unknown before any of their previous visits to the Caribbean.

Ambrose and Walsh happened to be the last two pacemen to emerge from the glorious eras of the Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards led teams.

The times now are very different to the days when our champion teams of the past had the knack of producing calibre fast bowlers at will.

We do not have champion teams, the English county circuit is now virtually closed to foreign players and coupled with poor infrastructure of slow wickets throughout the region, it is difficult for classy pacemen to emerge from the woodwork.

It leaves the West Indies Cricket Board with only one alternative to regain one of the greatest assets of West Indies cricket, that of its fast bowlers.

The Board can start by undertaking to make fast bowling the destructive weapon it has been for so many years, by identifying the ones with potential from our crop of pacers and groom them with special treatment to be the world class.

The Board can start by recruiting someone with the knowledge and communication skills to coach a group of about four pacemen with the speed and hostility needed over a period of time.

Holding, a member of the first four pronged attack easily comes to mind. He is currently one of the sought after experts on the sport as his long term contract with Sky TV as an analyst and more recently his appointment as International Cricket Council (ICC) advisor, proves.

Among the crop of current young pacemen, Darren Powell of Jamaica, Fernix Thomas of the Windwards, Barbados' Tino Best and Jermaine Lawson of Jamaica have displayed the raw pace and aggression that could be honed to produce outstanding express bowlers.

Holding could be contracted to work with these players initially and as a follow up, they can be sent to the Australian academy to finish the process.

Many countries have discovered the wisdom of developing their players at the best academy of all in Australia, even the traditionalist English had a batch of 17 players there recently.

And from all indications, their officials are singing the praises of the results.

It would be no shame for West Indies to follow suit with its fastbowlers.

After all, batsmen can score tons of runs, but it is the bowlers who win matches.