WANTED: One miracle for the West Indies

By Craig Cozier

ST JOHN’S, Antigua, March 30, 2007 – ANOTHER weak display by the West Indies in a stadium named after one of its proudest and most powerful cricketing citizens has left the home team in danger of becoming an irrelevance in a World Cup tournament that promised much in the early stages.

It was not just the West Indies’ second straight loss that would have brought a frown to the face of Sir Vivian Richards, who watched at the new arena named for him, but the nature of the meek surrender. New Zealand produced a slick performance – tactically, as well as with bat, ball and in the field – while the West Indies trailed far behind in each of those disciplines.

The seven-wicket defeat, with more than 10 overs to spare, follows on the heels of the 103-run mauling at the hands of the Australians the previous day. It is sure to further sap confidence and with must-win contests against Sri Lanka and South Africa quickly approaching, realistic title hopes are fast fading.

Only fast bowler Daren Powell enhanced his reputation against the New Zealanders. The effervescent Jamaican again struck with the new ball, producing a wicked delivery that Richards would have struggled to cope with, to castle Peter Fulton.

But a modest target of 178 was never going to challenge New Zealand and even though Powell claimed another deserved scalp, the Kiwis marched home emphatically. The fact that Powell was operating virtually as the lone strike bowler offers some evidence of the rather wayward West Indian approach that characterized their day from even before the toss took place. Somehow, the team selection panel of skipper Brian Lara, coach Bennett King and others in the hierarchy thought it best to omit Jerome Taylor, admittedly struggling but still a wicket-taker supreme, and replace him with Lendl Simmons, a virtual batting rookie who was then condemned to batting at No. 8.

When the cream of the West Indian batting again folded against accurate but hardly devastating bowling, the selection looked like it may have produced an unlikely get-out-of-jail card. But if the top order cannot get the job done on such a pitch with few devils, even after a disciplined start, there was little hope for the technically-flawed lower down.

Lara again battled resolutely and Chris Gayle threatened to break out of a terrible slump but neither carried on and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Marlon Samuels again buckled under pressure. The much-heralded top five cannot afford any more off days like this past week.

One tiny scope for optimism lies in the up and down nature of the West Indies’ performance over the past several years. Often, a dismal performance has been followed by an inspirational one.

Last year’s rout for 80 all out by Sri Lanka in the ICC Champions Trophy preceded a charge to that final. Less than two weeks ago, an all out 84 against India in the final warm-up for this competition depressed followers for a few days before the emphatic opening victory over Pakistan. After losses to Australia and New Zealand over the past three days, there is no more room for such atrocious performances. Nor are the teams waiting in the wings likely to be accommodating.

If the West Indies do not lift their game in vast measures, they will be quickly ushered out of the tournament.

As the showpiece in cricket’s calendar, the World Cup is not for the meek or weak and if there is not a marked improvement, elimination would be exactly what the team deserves.