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Windies bid to bat themselves
back into history
January 29, 2003 16:58 IST
They were household names then and they are household names now.
Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose: since the inaugural World Cup in 1975, at least one of them has been in the West Indies squad, making batsmen duck and weave and look desperately skyward before trudging disconsolately back to the pavilion.
The bowling production line has finally ground to a halt. West Indies 2003 is a team front-loaded with batsmen, Brian Lara and Carl Hooper heading the list. Mervyn Dillon is their only bowler of real note.
The decline, of course, has been in progress for more than a decade. The last throw of the dice came four years ago in England.
West Indies may have failed to reach the second round but the top three names in the tournament bowling averages in 1999 read: C.A. Walsh (WI) 11 wickets at 9.81 and an economy rate of 2.29 per over; R.D. King (WI) eight wickets at 11.87 and 3.01 per over; C.E.L. Ambrose (WI) seven wickets at 13.42, economy rate 2.35.
At least West Indies, the 1975 and 1979 winners and 1983 finalists, will start in the easier group B, vying for one of three qualifying spots with South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Kenya and Canada.
There are some grounds for optimism, with a 3-1 one-day series win over New Zealand in June last year, backed up by a morale-boosting 4-3 victory in India, when Chris Gayle made huge strides in filling the problematic opening berth by clattering three centuries and a half-century in seven innings.
Nor will Hooper's men fear a repeat of their shock 1996 defeat by Kenya -- one of the three biggest World Cup all-time upsets -- after putting the record straight with a 3-0 away whitewash last time they met in late 2001.
Sri Lanka, however, pose a real threat, having won the teams' last three meetings, including knocking the Windies out of last year's Champions Trophy.
South Africa, meanwhile, have come to represent the West Indians' worst nightmare.
Last time the team travelled there in 1998-9, the tour started with a players' strike over pay which saw them refusing to leave their Heathrow hotel for several days. Lara, then the captain, was sacked then reinstated.
When the series finally got underway, West Indies were whitewashed 5-0 in the Tests and lost 6-1 in the one-dayers.
Last time the South Africans visited the Caribbean in 2001, they again won both, the one-dayers again by a comprehensive margin of 5-2.
Hooper became the first West Indies skipper to lose both Test and one-day series at home and the president and vice-president of the West Indies board soon departed after a power struggle.
Under Hooper, however, with Viv Richards now heading the selectors, the team seems to have toughened up, with Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan at last turning potential into runs.
The tactic will be clear. This side may not bowl out too many sides but it will look to restrict while backing themselves to chase down whatever total their opponents can post.
Much of the responsibility will rest with Hooper and Lara. Dogged by injuries in recent times, the left-handed Lara remains one of cricket's biggest names and biggest match-winners.
The 33-year-old Lara has 15 one-day centuries to his name but the last against a major side came two years ago.
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