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TONY COZIER: Windies not the same since Lara


TONY COZIER: Windies not the same since Lara

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ON their four previous tours of Sri Lanka, the West Indies have been blighted by one setback or another. The fifth is following the pattern.

The latest team arrived in Colombo last weekend, underprepared after four months confined to Caribbean Premier League (CPL) T20s but without any first-class or 50-overs cricket since the two Tests against Australia in June.

Two days before leaving for Colombo, the young, largely inexperienced squad, under 23-year-old Jason Holder as the new captain, was sidetracked by the suspension of head coach Phil Simmons by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and his withdrawal from the tour for his public allegations of “outside interference” in the selection of the ODI team.

On arrival they were confronted by the seasonal monsoon rains that kept them indoors for much of their early practice and training. It was not unusual for October; the average rainfall for the month is 369 millimetres, just short of May, the wettest at 382 millimetres.

Their solitary warm-up match, meant to include all 15 players, was put back by a day. Just 46 overs were possible when it got going on Friday; a customary middle order collapse on what reports from Colombo described as a seaming, turning pitch ensued. When fading light ended the day, they were 127 for six.

It was either a troubling lead-in to the first of the two back-to-back Tests for players yet to find their way at international level or a necessary character-building exercise.

The first match starts Wednesday in the southern town of Galle, where, for good measure, the head groundsman, former Test player Jayananda Warnaweera, was replaced after rebuffing the board’s summons to an ICC meeting connected with match-fixing. The second, at the P. Sara Oval in Colombo, runs from October 22 to 26, leading into three ODIs, selection for which had stoked Simmons’ fire, and two T20s.

As it is, the contemporary West Indies have fallen so far from their once proud position at the head of Test cricket’s table that Sri Lanka Cricket’s interim committee fears it will take a loss on the schedule. As it is, the retirements of their three most celebrated players, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillekeratne Dilshan, have further diminished public interest.

The committee’s vice-president, Kushil Gunesekara, noted that TV rights for the West Indies international would earn 45 million (BDS $626 518) rupees, against 55 million (BDS $765 745) from Pakistan and 300 million (BDS $4.2 million) from India for earlier series.

The weather rendered West Indies tours in 1993 and 2010 non-events; in 2005, the first of the three strikes by leading players so decimated the team that both Tests were comfortably lost; they won one of the ODIs in the subsequent triangular series, also involving India.

The solitary Test in 1993, the first between the teams a dozen years after Sri Lanka’s elevation to the status, was restricted by a swampy outfield in Moratuwa to less than 12 hours play; only one of the three ODIs ran its course.

In 2010, Sri Lanka’s heaviest and most widespread rainfall in 18 years caused floods and landslides that displaced 300 000 people. There was enough play in Galle for Chris Gayle to accumulate his 333 but, overall, fewer than half the overs were bowled in the three Tests. None came close to a positive result. Ultimately, the three scheduled ODIs were abandoned and the West Indies returned home.

The one trip unaffected by the weather, in November, 2001, brought the joy of Brian Lara at his glorious best in a fascinating contest against Sri Lanka’s spin wizard, Muttiah Muralitheran. It was counter-balanced by the home team’s 3-0 clean sweep of the series.

The left-handed maestro’s Test average had dipped below 48 following 15 innings without a hundred; he announced that he intended to raise it back above 50 in Sri Lanka. Even for Lara, it seemed a ridiculous assertion. The magic figure was 620; it was reached in the second innings of the final Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo. 

His sequence of 178 and 40 in Galle, 74 and 45 in Kandy and the clinching double of 221 and 130 brought his tally to 688 runs. Only Graham Gooch’s 752 against India 11 years earlier were more in a three-Test rubber and the England opener could hardly have done it with such panache.

Lara apart, Muralitheran’s prodigious turn, teasing flight and clever variations allied to the left-arm swing of Chaminda Vaas exposed the frailties of the rest of the batting; they accounted for 50 of the 60 wickets. Later, Muralitheran classed him as “the best player that has ever been”.

Lara took his leave of the game following the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean. There has never been another like him although the West Indies still wait hopefully, if unrealistically, for another. It certainly won’t materialise in Sri Lanka this time round.

Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.