ON MONDAY, January 13 this year, the West Indies team starts the long road on what will be a tough year of international cricket.
Their first assignment is the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, where they have been drawn in Pool-B with host South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Kenya, Bangladesh, and Canada for the preliminary round.
The team should, hopefully, make it into the Super Six stage of the World Cup and this will be another exciting round of cricket matches before the semifinalists and, indeed, the finalists are coughed up.
We are expecting that the West Indies will be one of the teams entering the cauldron of battle at The Wanderers in Johannesburg on Sunday, March 23, and they will help add to our World Cup titles of 1975 and 1979.
The World Cup is a special kind of pressure, but things will really heat up for the West Indies team when we host Australia and Sri Lanka for the Cable & Wireless 2003 Series.
Everyone knows that Australia is the most successful side in the world today and so we need not spend too much time discussing them. But remember the last Test rubber in the Caribbean four years ago ended in a 2-2 tie and the limited-overs series 3-3 and this shows how competitive the 2003 match-up can be.
Though they may not be as unforgiving as the Aussies, the Sri Lankans are no pushovers. We found this out the hard way when we visited south Asia two years ago, when, despite our best efforts, they were always able to top us. They are a side that cannot be underestimated.
Things will get no better when the side travels to Morocco for an international tri-nations competition. It will be the first time the team will be visiting this new entrant to the international cricket circuit and this will be a big enough challenge.
When the thought of facing Australia and the proficient South Africans are added to the equation, it’s clear to see how tough this series of limited-overs matches can become for the team.
The year will end for the team where they started — on the African continent - when they face the enigmatic Zimbabweans and (guess who?) South Africa for separate Tests and limited-overs series.
So a challenging year lies ahead for our West Indies team, but if they can go through it the way they ended last year or better, it will be an exciting time for us in the Caribbean.
Towards the end of 2002, the young players showed plenty character and really came into their own. It seemed they had grown tired of the heartaches and pains of the last three years and started to mature. Should they continue this way, some of their opponents had better be careful.
The World Cup is the thing that’s first and uppermost in our minds though. Our three months in south Asia last year shows that the team can rub shoulders with the very best and, if we can play good cricket, we are capable of beating any of them.
The camp over the next two weeks is the first installation to make sure of this. There we hope to build on the positive side of the players’ character that we saw at the start and towards the end of last year.
As always, we urge all our supporters to continue to “rally roun’ de West Indies” in 2003.