Samuels, Sarwan, Lawson emerge from cocoon
By Tony Cozier
December 20, 2002
THE West Indies team returns to the Caribbean on Sunday after three months hop-scotching around the most passionate and populous parts of the cricket world with more than an unaccustomed collection of overseas victories and trophies.
In their time in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, the makings of a team for the foreseeable future have been forged.
It is by no means the finished article, as the lingering immaturity that surfaced in the second Test against Bangladesh on Monday and Tuesday revealed. But a core of young players has developed sufficiently to allay the pessimism developed over five years of unprecedented failure.
Marlon Samuels, 21, and Ramnaresh Sarwan, 22, two batsmen with the undeniable stamp of class, both got their first hundreds, in each form of the game, under their belts.
Wavell Hinds, 26, had his first in a Test overseas in one of the most demanding environments of all, against India at Calcutta's Eden Gardens.
Chris Gayle, 23, confirmed his potential as an opening batsman of devastating potential, if not technical perfection, with three hundreds in the one-day series in India.
Jermaine Lawson, a 20-year-old fast bowler on his first full tour, was to the fore in both a crucial one-day international and a Test match. If the latter was against the minions of Bangladesh, a spell of six for none from 15 balls against the blind school would be phenomenal enough.
Ricardo Powell, 24, has taken the unexpected chance of a recall to demonstrate his value as a fielder and fierce late-order striker in the limited-overs game.
His fellow Jamaican and namesake, Darren, 24, has shown himself a fast bowler of promise and an intention to work and learn on his initial tour.
Wavell Hinds has been identified as the captain of the future and Sarwan is the clear choice to be his eventual deputy.
It is perhaps the most essential position in any team and, while Carl Hooper and Ridley Jacobs are both admired and conscientious leaders, they are by no means tactical geniuses and both are at the tailend of their careers.
They and the other senior men, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and, particularly, Vasbert Drakes, with his lengthy background of professional cricket in South Africa and England, provided the guidance of experience without which youth can be astray.
Skerritt and coach Roger Harper deserve credit for their part in preventing another complete collapse of confidence after the last-ball loss to South Africa in the Champions Trophy in South Africa and the first two Tests in India.
They have been widely held responsible for previous disasters, so much so that their imminent demise at the end of their three-year contracts is almost taken as read.
It all amounted to a new-found confidence and team spirit. The fact that Brian Lara was missing in India and Bangladesh and Hooper and leading fast bowler Merv Dillon in Bangladesh placed additional responsibility on the youngsters and they responded.
Yet not everything has fallen into place.
There is still no obvious successor as keeper to Jacobs, not a single all-rounder is to be found anywhere and no bowler of the real pace.
That used to be a West Indian preserve but now the fastest bullets are fired by Shane Bond of New Zealand and, even if through dubious means, Shoaib Akhtar of Pakistan and Brett Lee of Australia.
Nor can the effect of the late successes in India and the expected clean-sweep in Bangladesh only be properly assessed against the strongest opposition.
That won't be long in coming - in South Africa against the best of the rest in the World Cup in February and March and in the Caribbean right after against cricket's present-day equivalent of the West Indies of the 1980s, Australia.
Administrative bungling and disunity, inconsistent selection, superstar egos and weak leadership at all levels have been the main factors in the most depressing era in West Indies cricket history and they remain ever-present menaces.
The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has several pressing needs at present, all of which are constrained by its parlous financial state. But high on its list of priorities must be the issuing of contracts to the group of, say 20 emerging young players that would transform them into full-time professionals.
It is a system first mooted in the mid 1980s but never implemented, initially because some governments shamefully reneged on their agreement to contribute towards it.
Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa all keep their leading players under contract and there is no more urgent time for the West Indies to follow suit than now.
The WICB also needs to consider the advice of Bob Simpson, the former Australian captain who, as coach, and along with captain
Alan Border, is credited with leading them out of a lengthy slump in the 1980s.
He is not universally popular, least of all in the West Indies, but he has recently observed our position from close quarters during a coaching assignment in Jamaica.
(West Indian) coaches and administrators must work with the players to instil a work ethic and common sense to their cricket so that they will know how to plan and play an innings which will be of discipline and concentration and not be marred so much by poor judgment of length and undisciplined shot selections, Simpson wrote in Sportstar magazine in India last week.
He added: "Bowlers must learn to bowl to a plan which will vary with each batsman and have the confidence, control and cricket nous to do so.
"And what of the selectors? They need to be strong, compassionate, thoughtful and above all patient and not to take it personally if individual players or the team do not perform as well as they would have liked."
Who can argue with that?