Thursday, Mar 06, 2003
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By G. Viswanath
Things, however, have changed rapidly. In the last month they wasted their talented men, threw caution to the winds, made selection blunders, shirked responsibilities, did not take their chances and went through their motions in the ICC World Cup in South Africa.
Now they belong to the `Group of 8' that has been purged from the competition which will enter the second stage on Friday.
It's difficult to believe that the West Indies is not a mighty force it once was, when Clive Lloyd kept his flock together, shepherded them and turned over opponents with ease. The West Indies was unshakeable and Lloyd lorded over Lord's, lifting the Prudential Cup twice in the 1970s.
Lloyd's team did not lose a World Cup match until Yashpal Sharma surprised them at Old Trafford in June 1983, and Roger Binny and Ravi Shastri cracked a line-up that began with Gordon Greenidge and ended with Larry Gomes at No. 7.
It was the first indication that the West Indies could be beaten. Lloyd's team lost another match, in the final at Lord's, and also the title to Kapil Dev's Indians. Since then the West Indies has been on a decline and four more teams went on to lay their hands on the prestigious Cup.
The great cricketing nation has not looked the part for 20 years. The last time it came close to reaching the final was in 1996. It fought a close match against Mark Taylor's Australia, received some rough decisions against Otis Gibson and Ian Bishop and left Jaipur dejected and angry. Brian Lara had cut and carved the South Africans at Karachi and proved more than a match for their leader Hansie Cronje.
After Lloyd faded from the scene, the West Indies has not found the right man to lead and inspire them. Their players have been in conflict with each other the result of which was a defeat against minnows Kenya in Pune in 1996 and loss of face. Lara swore the other day, after taking a century off the South African attack at Newlands that the West Indies and captain Carl Hooper should get the best out of him.
Hooper was for some time an unwelcome captain after he abandoned the team beaten out of sight by all and sundry. It's difficult to replace Lloyd. The big left-hander was the team's leading batsman and led by example, patrolled the cover region like a panther when he was lean and young and also left an indelible mark at slips too. He kept his nose on the grindstone and never let things go out of control, though Lord's 1983 was an exception.
In the first World Cup final he hit 102 off 85 balls off an Australian attack that had Dennis Lillee, Gary Gilmour, Jeff Thomson and Max Walker. After his breathtaking knock, he had the measure of the smart Australians like Ian Chappell and Greg Chappell and Doug Walters.
Viv Richards was the cynosure of all eyes in the 1979 final against England. The West Indies held sway in the 1970s because of the individual brilliance of Lloyd and Richards. All the nations that make up for the Caribbean team, have not found a true successor for Richards.
But Richards did not emulate Lloyd by winning the World Cup of 1987 when he was the captain. The West Indies lost to England for the first time in a World Cup. Its bowling attack had lost speed that Lloyd had in his command in the form of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft.
Richards' omission from the World Cup squad in 1992 caused commotion. The Antiguan wanted to play, but another Antiguan Richie Richardson put his foot down. The clash of personalities took its toll, but the West Indies made a good beginning defeating Pakistan at the MCG, Lara making 88. But the same team tripped in the next matches against England and Australia and failed to make the semifinals.
Four years ago, the West Indies struggled to survive. Since 1992 it has leaned on the shoulders of Lara, but the West Indies selectors did not make him the captain. At 33, the champion batsman recovered from a serious ailment during the ICC Champions Trophy in Colombo and marked his comeback with a hundred in the World Cup opener at Newlands. Alas, that turned out to be his last spark. He was all at sea against Chaminda Vaas and failed to negotiate the Sri Lankan left-arm seamer.
The inconsistency of Lara was not the reason for the West Indies' exit. Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds who made runs on flat Indian pitches did not produce the same results, and were at times irresponsible. Hooper carried a wobbly knee and failed in two crucial matches against New Zealand and Sri Lanka. Richards was near at hand to see his team flounder.
Jermaine Lawson exposed the tour selectors' fallacy. He bowled fast and straight and extracted lift and demonstrated that he deserved better treatment in the competition.
The World Cup needs the West Indies. Lloyd's team had great players who electrified the atmosphere. Sadly this is absent in the present West Indies team and they have quietly departed.
The West Indies is the host for the 2007 World Cup. By then even Lara would have quit the game, leaving heavy responsibility on the likes of Ramnaresh Sarwan and Marlon Samuels. Until then, the supporters of the West Indies can only jog their memory and look back at the events of 1975 and 79 with nostalgia.
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