Windies employ 'flexible format' for Australia dress rehearsal By Tony Cozier in Colombo
Stabroek News
September 11, 2002

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THE idea behind what team manager Ricky Skerritt terms "the flexible format" for the West Indies' practice match against Australia today, their only dress rehearsal for the real thing in the ICC Champions Trophy against South Africa on Friday, is simple and sensible enough.

With a similar planned exercise against Sri Lanka Sunday proving impractical, today's conditions are that any eleven of the squad of 14 can bat and field and bowlers will be restricted to seven overs each.

It gives everyone a game while still maintaining the basic one-day limitations of 50 overs an innings.

With the present dominance of the Australians - World Cup champions, top seeds and the team that is to world cricket what the West Indies were a quarter-century ago - it might guarantee a close match if the "flexible" concept applied only to their opponents. But it extends to them as well and, for all its artificiality, it should be an exacting and instructive exercise.

Australia have come straight from Nairobi where they twice obliterated dangerous, if erratic Pakistan and twice defeated Kenya, even if avoiding acute embarrassment with a last over decision the second time.

They failed to make the finals of either of the two previous Champions' Trophy tournaments in Dhaka in 1998 and Nairobi in 2000 and, keen to assert their superiority at every level, want to make a powerful statement this time five months before they start their defence of the World Cup in South Africa.

By nature, they take every match seriously, even in today's circumstances.

The West Indies, who have been in Colombo since Saturday, have a couple of distractions to quickly get out of the way. This is an immediate chance.

Everyone has been distressed by Sunday's death in a car crash of Laurie Williams, a recent teammate of most of the players, both with Jamaica and the West Indies, and close friend of some.

He was one of a disappearing breed of West Indian cricketers, a genuine all-rounder and a modest, uncomplicated and widely popular individual.

Tears were shed from several eyes when the news was broken to the team on its way to practice on Monday morning and thoughts of his passing will not be far away over the coming weeks.

Hopefully, it will bring the players closer together and strengthen their resolve at a time when there is the potential for a split between the seniors, under captain Carl Hooper, and the juniors over the breakdown of sponsors' incentive bonuses.

In a letter to the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), Hooper has strongly objected to the move by the new executive of the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA) to change the previous arrangement by which the money for the recent successful home series against India - believed to be as much as US$750,000 - is divided on the basis of seniority.

The WIPA's position is that such a system already exists for the basic fee but that the team as a whole should share equally in additional, performance-based returns.

It is far from an ideal situation and one that will tax Skerritt's management skills as much as Hooper's leadership.

On a strictly cricketing basis, achievements against the Australians today are mainly likely to determine whether all four fast bowlers will be used in the key match against South Africa come Friday and, if only three, which one should give way to bolster the batting.

Hooper will report his preferences to chairman of selectors Sir Viv Richards who arrives in Colombo tomorrow to join the team in his official capacity throughout the tournament here and on the subsequent tour of India.

Although the structure of Champions' Trophy has been altered from the sudden-death knockout of the two previous events in 1998 and 2000 to four zones of three teams with the top four moving into the semi-finals, the seedings virtually make one match the decider.

The other team in their zone is Kenya and, in spite of the lingering nightmare of the 1996 World Cup defeat, the result against South Africa is all but certain to determine whether the West Indies get any further.

The tournament proper starts with a night match between hosts Sri Lanka Thursday when the Premadasa Stadium is expected to be filled to its 30,000 capacity.

After that, there is a match a day for the 12 teams prior to the semi-finals September 15 and 27 and the final September 29.