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The Gap Widens



THERE was no surprise in Australia ending its home test series against the West Indies by retaining both the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy and its status as the world's top test team.
For the last six years, the home team had been steadily proving itself as the world's best: in the process usurping some of the marks established by the great West Indies team of the 1980s. One of these was the eleven match
winning streak posted under the captaincy of Clive Lloyd, during what may have been the peak years of that 'Windies side, 1983-86. Not only did Australia surpass that winning steak during the just concluded series, but it went on do something that the West Indies did twice to England in that aforementioned three-year span: sweep its opponents 5-0.
Its an achievement that symbolizes the complete reversal in fortunes between the two teams, with the West Indies lying closer to the middle of the test team rankings than the top. Australia now has a deep and solid batting line-up: Michael Slater and Matthew Hayden may not be the greatest opening pair ever, but they have proven to be reliable at times; Justin Langer, Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting have all contributed to Australia's cause throughout the series, while Steve Waugh emphasized his standing as one of the world's top batsmen with two centuries during the series;
wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist has stood out with both the glove and the bat and, in the absence of the injured Steve Waugh, captained Australia to victory in the third test in Adelaide; Glenn McGrath underlined his growing
reputation as a dangerous paceman by capturing 21 wickets, with Jason Gillespie definitely showing signs of coming along; Stuart MacGill and Colin Miller both made a worthwhile contribution with their spin. It is definitely not a young team. The Waugh twins are 35-years old while Miller is 36. Of the rest of those that played in the test series, four players are 30, while another four are just a year younger. Ponting, Gillespie and the rising, fast bowling sensation Brett Lee, follow on at 26, 25 and 24, respectively. It is very hard to get into the Australian line-up at the moment and, for now, there is no need for experimentation with inexperienced talent.
The West Indies team, by contrast, is a mixture of youth and experience. The accomplished Courtney Walsh is  coming to the end of a 17-year test career. Captain Jimmy Adams, 32, and Brian Lara, 31, have both participated
in more than 50 test matches. In addition, Sherwin Campbell, 30, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 26, have also made their test debuts prior to 1997.
Marlon Samuels, who turned 20 last Friday, was the youngest participant in the test matches with Ramnaresh Sarwan, 20 and Darren Ganga, 21, also representing the youth brigade. The problem is that the West Indies is a very unsettled side. The performances of the openers, Campbell and Ganga, are subject to review, with Campbell only able to breach the half-century mark in the final test and Ganga scoring no higher than 32. Lara's knock of 182 not out in the third test was his only worthwhile innings of the test series. Adams, a worthwhile partner that day with a contribution of 49, failed with the bat otherwise. Chanderpaul showed great class in his knock of 62 not out but suffered an injury that sent him back home. Sarwan was viciously picked apart by the Australians and had scores of 0, 0, 2, 1 and 0 before regaining some composure in the second innings of the last test with a score of 51. Samuels, however, provided some relief with his composed play, despite being thrown in as an emergency replacement in the middle of the series, finishing with a top score of 60 n.o. But the biggest cheer must go to Ridley Jacobs. The wicketkeeper had 20 catches and did well with the bat, scoring a total of 288 runs. However, with the West Indian propensity for collapse, he never really had a reliable partner, except for Samuels in the fourth test.
There were hits and misses so far as the West Indies bowlers are concerned. Mervyn Dillon finished as the top wicket taker with 16 - 12 short of what Malcolm Marshall got in the 1984-85 series. Marlon Black made an excellent start to his test career with figures of 4/83 in his first innings in the opening game - but only got two wickets after that. Nixon McLean was 9/476 for the series and Mahendra Nagamootoo received a lot of praise for his fine performance with the bat during the final test, but was blasted for 147 runs while taking just three wickets in the same game.
So, as we all can see, there is definitely a widening gap between the Australian and the West Indies teams. During the last year Australia has swept aside Zimbabwe, India and Pakistan and is now looking forward to a series in India and a much-anticipated showdown with the world's No. 2, South Africa. But the South Africans, who also humbled the West Indies 5-0, two years ago, will roll through the Caribbean first and it is going to be a stiff challenge for the West Indies to protect its six-year unbeaten streak at home. With a renowned cricket academy, an institute of sport and established development programs, Australia may very well have established itself on the upper echelons of world cricket for a very long time to come.
For the West Indies, with certain top players not pulling their weight and with a weakened cricketing culture, the only solution is to establish a similar program, whereby Caribbean kids can learn the basics of the game and play it the right way, once again.

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