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9 August 2004
Calypso Collapso

With the third England v West Indies test nearing, the question marks hanging over Brian Lara's captaincy will almost certainly be redrawn. Whether this is the wise thing to do is another matter. Outsiders should often bear in mind that, when criticizing West Indies' cricket, this is not a cricket board representing a single nation, but one that watches over cricket activities in several different countries. In these circumstances, the kind of intense regional feeling one can readily see elsewhere in world cricketing bodies has extra weight that adds another level to the kind of behind-the-scenes bickering that pops up in the media for us outsiders to view, as it were, 'through a glass darkly'.

So knives are out for Lara, wielded with gusto by the likes of Sir Viv Richards (whom I believe was the minority vote against his appointment by the selectors) and Colin Croft. But can we be sure anyone else would do better? Certainly a man whose name is increasingly associated with adjectives such as 'incisive' and 'penetrating' in conversations between the writers at this site, Geoffrey Boycott, is on the side of Lara being no worse than anyone else might be. And views on a blog devoted to West Indian cricket are running decidedly in Lara's favour. We'll spend some time this week looking at some evidence of what the problems are in the West Indian cricket side.

Without doubt, the West Indies could save themselves some trouble if they could avoid a traditionally English problem: collapses by recognized batsmen. A horrendous score of 47 a few months ago at the first test of England's tour is not something that West Indian fans will be grateful for me reminding them about. This, together with atrocious fielding, is held to represent some kind of absence of spine or iron in this West Indian side. Critics of Lara are basically demanding a dose of the 'grit' that Nasser Hussain was supposed to have brought to the England side (at least until Atherton retired). However, how collapse-prone has the team been under Lara's leadership?

First of all, we need to identify exactly what we mean by a collpase. After some discussion we settled on a working definition of a series of three or more partnerships that total no more than 60 runs, and individually score less than 35 runs apiece. Furthermore, we excluded the last three wickets in the order, since West Indian bowlers as a group are historically possibly the worst in cricket history. First, how did previous captain Carl Hooper's sides do?

West Indian Collapses under Carl Hooper

1st innings RSA, 1st test, 2000/01

 

 

2nd innings RSA, 2nd test, 2000/01

 

 

 

1st & 2nd innings RSA, 3rd test, 2000/01

1st innings RSA, 4th test, 2000/01

 

1st innings RSA, 5th test, 2000/01

1st & 2nd innings in SRL, 1st test, 2001/02

2nd innings in SRL, 2nd test, 2001/02

1st & 2nd innings in SRL, 3rd test, 2001/02

2nd innings PAK (Sharjah) 1st test, 2001/02

 

1st & 2d innings, IND, 5th test, 2002

 

1st & 2d innings NZL, 1st test, 2002

1st & 2nd innings in IND, 1st test, 2002/03

1st & 2d innings in IND, 2nd test, 2002/03

In IND, 3rd test, 2002/03

 

And here are the leading collapsers at the time:

Lara 8

Hooper 7

Jacobs 6

Samuels 6

Sarwan 5

 

And collapses under Lara's second captaincy?

West Indian Collapses under Lara

1st innings AUS, 1st test, 2003

 

 

 

2nd innings AUS, 2nd test, 2003

 

 

1st innings SRL, 2nd test, 2003

2nd innings in RSA, 1st test, 2003/04

 

1st innings in RSA, 2nd test, 2003/04

2nd innings in RSA, 4th test, 2003/04

2nd innings ENG, 1st test, 2003/04

 

1st & 2nd innings ENG, 2nd test, 2003/04

1st&2nd innings ENG, 3rd test, 2003/04

1st & 2nd innings in ENG, 1st test, 2004

1st & 2nd innings in ENG, 2nd test, 2004

 

And the leading perpetrators?

Sarwan 9

Lara 8

Chanderpaul 8

Jacobs 6

 

So, creating a formula off the top of our head, we get the following

Captain

Tests

Collapses

Percentage

Hooper

24

14

58.33%

Lara

18

11

61.11%

 

Lara does come out very slightly worse, but statistically it's not significant. He's a prominent collapser himself, topping the league table overall. And a big chunk of his side's collapses have occurred in the recent series against England. Prior to that, he was ahead of Hooper. However, of late his batsmen have shown marked fragility in both innings of a match, a propensity that dogged Hooper throughout his captaincy, and that Lara initially seemed able to fix.

So, if we accept that the case against Lara has to be made out that he is substantially worse than alternatives, any case resting on the fragility of the West Indian batting order has to be dismissed. He's not been doing any worse than Hooper, although that may change quickly. He's got two more tests against his current nemesis England!


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