Future looks bright after miracle win
By Tony Cozier in Kingston
Stabroek News
May 15, 2003

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IT is only natural to be swept up in the euphoria of Tuesday's astonishing, record victory over mighty Australia in Antigua. West Indies cricket has had little to smile about for a long time. Yet the sudden confidence about the future in the aftermath of one special result does not seem misplaced.

Both Brian Lara and Steve Waugh both referred throughout the series to the West Indies as an improving side.

It is now a matter of learning the lessons and consolidating the gains made against one of the most successful teams of all time which, after all, won 3-1.

Waugh, the captain who had led his unrelenting Australians to 10 consecutive Test victories over the West Indies prior to Tuesday's three wickets loss, had encouraging words as he headed back to Australia yesterday after what was his fourth and almost certainly last tour of the Caribbean.

"I think the West Indies are an emerging team and I said that before in the series," he stated. "Just because you're losing 3-0 doesn't mean you're not improving."

"They showed that in the final Test and a lot of their players have got a big future," he added. "We play the best we can to raise the bar and it's up to the other sides to catch up. The West Indies did that in the final Test so you can see what's possible."

In his second coming as captain, Lara said at the start he was excited by the number of talented young players already in the team and others pressing for selection.

The West Indies introduced five new players against Australia, all under 22 - Omari Banks, one of Tuesday's heroes, Devon Smith, Carlton Baugh, David Bernard and Tino Best. Nine of the 17 players used were under 24.

Lara saw the Antigua result as the culmination of the improvement throughout the series.

It started in Guyana, he said, when the West Indies were led by 252 on first innings yet fought back to total 398 and make Australia bat again to win.

"I thought it was a natural progression after that," he asserted.

The achievement of totalling 418 in the last innings of the series "showed the character and showed the progression of the guys, mentally and physically and they must be commended."

Lara's categorical prediction that his team would not lose another Test this year will soon be tested.

There are two home Tests next month against Sri Lanka, a strong team, if not so strong as Australia, that completed a 3-0 sweep of the series in Sri Lanka at the end of 2001.

That will be followed by two Tests in Zimbabwe and four in South Africa in November and December.

There are still glaring areas of weakness, especially in the bowling and fielding. But the new players seem to have brought a refreshing sense of commitment and spirit to the team that has stimulated others previously inclined to slack and pose.

Lara is clearly enjoying his leadership role appreciably more than he previously did when his team's "modest success and devastating failure" led him to quit early in 2000 and take a four months break from the game when he reportedly considered retirement.

The role of Gus Logie, the interim coach under whom most of the new Test players graduated in the under-19s and the 'A' team, should not be understated.

The circumstances of his elevation from chief junior coach to his present position were particularly complex.

His first days coincided with the upheavals over the dismissal of Carl Hooper as captain and the Australian Bennett King's rejection of the senior coach's job.

As Roger Harper and those who preceded him discovered, coaching a West Indies team filled with talented players with attitude problems can be a hazardous business.

Logie appeared to handle it with enough common sense and understanding for the board to make his position permanent.

West Indies cricket has had so many false dawns over the past few years that we need to wait to see what comes of the latest glow in the Antiguan sky.

It was visible three years ago when Jimmy Adams led a young team to home series wins over Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

Wavell Hinds was Man of the Series, Ramnaresh Sarwan the bright young batsman and Reon King and Franklyn Rose the ready-made replacements for Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Ambrose.

Only Sarwan of those four have survived.

For all the optimism of Lara and Waugh, only careful planning will ensure that the ratio is much higher over the next three years.

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