Peter Robinson

Unenviable situation for Proteas

2005-03-29 13:03

As of Monday, four days ahead of Thursday's first Test, there were few signs that the impasse between the West Indies board and a core of leading players was likely to be broken.

It's more than likely, then, that Graeme Smith's South Africans will face a sub-standard team for at least the first Test. If the deadlock isn't broken this could persist into the second Test and possibly throughout the series.

If this is the case, there will be no winners, no matter what is recorded in the scorebook.

The South Africans find themselves in an unenviable situation. If they beat the West Indies, the achievement will be disparaged as coming against a weakened team.

If they draw or, however unlikely it seems at the moment, lose, they will be pilloried. Ray Jennings will almost certainly lose his job and Smith's position will come under the microscope.

The challenge for the South Africans, then, is to keep their concentration.

There's little they can do about the selection policies of their opponents, but they can keep a sharp eye on their own game and they can look to remedy the most serious shortcoming that emerged against England, an inability to finish off the opposing team.

The decline of the West Indies is to be mourned by all who value cricket.

During the early 1990s, with South Africa freshly back in international cricket, Ali Bacher could hardly wait to get the West Indies here for a full tour. They would provide, he believed, the spark that ignited a massive growth in African cricket.

Yet when they came, in 1998/99 and 2002/03, they were disjointed, disorganised teams, both led by Brian Lara. The 1998/99 tour was a particular disappointment, marked by a players' strike in London before the team left for South Africa and characterised, once they finally arrived, by gradual disintegration as Hansie Cronje's team whitewashed the Test series 5-0.

That West Indies side was managed by Clive Lloyd and coached by the late Malcolm Marshall, two of the most venerated figures in the history of the game. That they could not persuade the players to aspire to the standards of previous teams spoke volumes about the state of the game in the Caribbean.

The subsequent tour was notable largely for the woeful fielding of the visitors. Again their mishaps were revealing. Even teams short of natural ability with bat and ball can improve their fielding by simple hard work.

The 2002/03 team, it seemed, couldn't be bothered with this.

Whatever your views on the current dispute, the basic elements of the row involve an inept board, a belligerent players' union, under-performing players and sponsorship money.

It's a poisonous mix and one for which there seems no obvious remedy.

The lesson, though, should be obvious to all. If a team as mighty as the 1980s West Indies which strode world cricket so imperiously can fall so swiftly, then no nation can take the future of the game lightly.

We can hope for a resurgence in West Indies cricket, but we should not hold our breath waiting for it to happen.

Send your comments to Peter or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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