Wednesday 21st May, 2008

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Old enemy

here again

Consistency is the word that is mostly bandied about whenever the West Indies cricket team is being discussed. It is a quality that has escaped the regional lads following the era of dominance when the likes of Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Lloyd, Holding and Marshall—to name a few—ran riot in the cricketing world.

Even the presence of the world’s most successful batsman, Brian Lara, failed to provide the kind of consistency regional fans were looking for when the superbly-gifted Trinidadian was at his prime and setting the batting stage on fire.

It is a word that is certain to surface once more as the West Indies and old enemy Australia square off in a three-Test series starting tomorrow in Jamaica.

A series draw against Sri Lanka at home and a first-ever Test victory on South Africa soil, although the series was lost, lend credence to the unpredictability of this current group of players.

The old enemy, wearing the crown of world champion, arrived in the Caribbean without some of its tried and tested players—some of the game’s great names who combined to elevate Australia to the cricket throne. There is none of the wily Shane Warne, the crafty Glen McGrath and of course the plunder of Adam Gilchrist.

Instead, several new faces, no doubt anxious to create impressions here in the Caribbean, will offer some vulnerability to a West Indies team that the optimists say is all set to be competitive.

There is no Chris Gayle in the first Test. The laid-back Jamaican has been credited with bringing a new spirit and sense of unity to the West Indies team. It is under his leadership that the victories against South Africa and Sri Lanka—the two most recent wins in Test cricket by the regional team—have been achieved.

Instead, Ramnaresh Sarwan, who was appointed as captain last year, is back at the helm as Gayle rests a leg injury that has plagued him for most of the season. Sarwan, the lynchpin of the team’s batting against Sri Lanka, will lead a team that is also minus Marlon Samuels. It is an inexperienced batting line-up in which only Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dwayne Bravo have had significant Test experience.

The bowlers—Taylor, Edwards and Powell, none of whom averages under 30 in Test cricket—are also terribly inconsistent but on their best day, with the help of Bravo, seem capable of dismissing any team. Whether they have the ability to do it twice against the Aussies is left to be seen.

While it may be argued that the visitors on paper are not the world-beaters of yesteryear, the presence of cricketers of the calibre of captain Ricky Ponting, Mathew Hayden and Mike Hussey gives some class to their batting, while the youthful Phil Jacques and new wicketkeeper Hadden would be keen on leaving the West Indies with enhanced reputations.

In the bowling department are the lethal Brett Lee, the tall and intimidating Mitchum Clarke, and leg spinner Stuart MacGill, who replaces Warne.

Those who believe that this series will be a true test for the regional team to determine just how far it is from turning the corner are well within their rights to think that way.

We expect the Australians to be tough and competitive and if the West Indies can hold its own, regional fans would feel that the promise that this team has shown is in the process of being fulfilled.

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