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February 24, 1999


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'Not the best team in the world, but...'

Michael Holding

Two decades ago, the West Indies cricket team were almost considered invincible, both in Test cricket and in the shorter variety of the game, the limited over contest.

That invincibility tag has long since shifted, and although the West Indies did not lose the unofficial title of world champions of Test cricket until the 1995 loss in the Caribbean to Australia, their proficiency in the limited overs game had declined appreciably.

The 1979 World Cup held in England was the last time the West Indies won the tournament and the 1983 finals, again held in England, was the last time the West Indies got that far. Now 1983 is a long time ago, but in recent times, the West Indies have shown some sort of revival of fortunes in the big tournaments, although they are still struggling quite a bit against individual teams. This is not an explainable phenomenon, but it is a fact.

In the last World Cup tournament, held in the Asian subcontinent in 1996, the West Indies, although faltering and not looking the part in the preliminary rounds, did very well to take out one of the title favourites, South Africa, in the quarterfinals held in Chandigarh. That form should have seen the West Indies defeating the other favourites, Australia, to advance to the finals, but they came unstuck at the very last hurdle, after looking all out winners. Once again an inexplicable batting collapse, as in the 1983 finals, brought about their downfall.

To prove that that near miss was not a flash in the pan, the next time all the Test-playing countries gathered together for another limited overs tournament, the West Indies got to the finals. This was in the ICC Trophy, dubbed the Mini World Cup, held in Bangladesh in November 1998. This time, South Africa had their revenge on the West Indies, lifting the trophy.

The 1999 World Cup returns to England after 16 years and the West Indies may see this as a good omen. This is a good opportunity for them to prove supreme once again, as they surely have the best record by far in the tournaments held in the mother country, having won two of the three and lost as finalists in the other.

The 1996 tournament saw the world's leading batsmen preening themselves on centrestage, holding sway over the bowlers and scoring century after century. The conditions prevailing during May and June in England 1999 promise to be a lot less kind to batsmen, and experience of the conditions will be vital. The selectors in the Caribbean will certainly have to be conscious of this fact when they sit down to select the squad, come April.

At this point in time, after the poor showing in South Africa and before the available evidence of the Australian fact of the Caribbean, I will venture to select my squad for May 1999.

Firstly, I will acknowledge the absence in the Caribbean of any young bright talent with the bat, with enough maturity to be confidently thrust into a limited over tournament of this magnitude. That pretty much leaves us with the same old set in the ring from past tournaments with a couple of additions, which doesn't sound very promising but at least there is experience under the conditions in abundance. Names such as Brian Lara, Carl Hooper, Curtley Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, if available, have been associated with English county cricket for many years, with outstanding results.

Shivnaraine Chanderpaul, Sherwin Campbell, and Franklyn Rose have less experience of the conditions, but have done well with their limited opportunities. These names seem likely to make up the nucleus of the tour party, with Carl Hooper the most experienced batsman of the lot with over 170 games under his belt.

Hooper cannot be said to be the most consistent batsman around, but with his 30-plus half centuries and five centuries, converted from them plus his ability to produce some explosive innings capable of wresting the initiative from the opposition in a matter of overs, he can be a valuable asset. He currently averages in the mid-thirties, which is very acceptable over such a long career, and he also can be considered a genuine allrounder, with his offspin bowling improving over the last few years. Add to those attributes his catching ability, especially in the slips -- a position which will prove vital to the West Indies bowling attack -- and Hopper just might be the most valuable asset in the West Indies team.

Brian Lara's input, although not as multifaceted as Hooper's, should have immense value as well. The double world record holder, of the highest score in the longer games of first class and Test cricket, is another who could easily win a game in a matter of overs with his willow. He has just about 135 game under his belt, with an impressive 12 centuries and 36 half centuries. He averages a phenomenal 45 runs per innings and has scored over five and a half thousand runs. What is also impressive is the rate at which he scores his runs. In the last World Cup, he ended up with a strike rate of 105 runs per 100 balls, one of only five batsman in the tournament to have a strike rate over 100.

Shivnaraine Chanderpaul completes the expected top three batsmen in the West Indies team. Chanderpaul, in the limited overs game, has been utilized in different positions by the West Indies hierarchy to great effect, and although the English conditions could find his technique wanting in the opening position in which he has been used mostly of late, coming after Lara and Hooper would not be a big drawback for the tiny dynamo. He is naturally, the least experienced of the trio, but his consistency stands out. Only just under 60 games to his credit, but he has passed 50 about 25 per cent of the times he has been to the crease. Add to his statistics his excellent, athletic fielding and sure arm, and you have got an asset many other teams would love to have.

While these three gentlemen should do the bulk of the run-scoring, Sherwin Campbell, who had an excellent tour of the UK in 1995, should help to provide a sound base on which to build challenging totals. Naturally a few more batsmen have to be added to the squad, and I would not hesitate to number Phil Simmons among that lot.

Yes, Phil Simmons. He knows the English conditions very well, having done extend well for Leicestershire with both bat and ball in recent years, and with the West Indies having a dearth of medium paced allrounders, he could certainly have a role to play if the ball seams around. There is also room for Adams and Arthurton -- Adams to add some solidity to the batting lineup in case of early loss of wickets, and Arthurton who, although he has been disappointing with the bat at times, adds variety to the bowling with his slow left arm and is an athletic, sharp fielder with a good arm -- always very important in the shortened version of the game.

The wicket-keeper is automatically Ridley Jacobs, after his very good South African tour, while fast bowlers Ambrose, Walsh, Rose and King, who also did well in South Africa should be on the tour. That leaves space for either another batsmen and a specialist slow-bowler, or another fast man with a slow bowler.

That slow-bowler for me would have to be McGarrell. Another excellent mover in the field with a sure arm, not very experienced at the game yet but certainly capable of showing vast improvement. With a bowling lineup of Ambrose, Walsh, Rose, King and McGarrell plus allrounders Simmons and Hooper plus the more than capable, if unpredictable, makeshift bowlers Arthurton and Adams to choose from, the fourteenth place should go to a special batsman. But I am definitely stumped to find one among the current crop. Hopefully, early May, one will emerge from the local Busta Cup or the series against Australia.

It's not the greatest team in the world, but well capable of holding their own when performing at their optimum.

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