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Questions have been asked and countless answers offered regarding the now chronic demise of West Indies cricket, particularly as it relates to the longer version of the game, more so Test cricket. Prescriptions given have considered matters like putting in place a system whereby Caribbean players would enjoy a first class match schedule providing a larger number of competition matches on the regional scene. Others suggest the introduction of more high powered technical expertise, and even the controversial view that player remuneration should equate with levels of performance.

Surfacing recently have been suggestions coming from the latest cricketing knights Sir Ritchie Richardson, Sir Anderson Roberts and Sir Curtley Ambrose. Of particular significance has been a similar contribution of another notable cricketer from Antigua, Kenny Benjamin, former West Indies pace bowler. Benjamin urged the necessity to look back and put your finger on what we were doing in the past when we were winning that we have stopped doing nowadays.

Richardson and Benjamin held closely to understanding that players have ceased to engage themselves in running as an exercise to elevate physical fitness—much needed to assist optimum performance and promote consistency of output. This is allied to the notion that a batsman, all things being equal, who manages to produce only one score of fifty out of ten successive innings could elevate his frequency of high scores to an incidence of, say, five or six scores of fifty and above, provided he has proceeded to rectify a previous state of relative physical unfitness.

This is, of course, by way of assumption. And, it is to be configured as well that just as batsmen can benefit by improved fitness, the same premise can operate to the benefit of bowlers. However, by and large a greater elevation of fitness is more than likely to result in improved scores by batsmen.

Allow me to take a look at two batsmen who have been little heralded by having served tourther the success of West Indies in previous eras. The first is Joe Solomon, the little Guyanese right hander. Solomon was born on 26th August, 1930, and made his debut for his country in 1956 in the Regional Quadrangular Tournament and other such tournaments and the Shell Shield.

Solomon scored 114 not out, batting at No. 7 for Guyana against Jamaica, taking the score from 320 for five to 601 for 5. He followed this with 108 versus Barbados the same year, helping to elevate Guyana's score form 215 for four to 581. In 1961, Solomon batting up at No. 3 chalked up 166 at the expense of the Trinidad bowling as the score escalated from 40 for one to 501.

Bear in mind Solomon had difficulty getting into the West Indies team— what with the presence of luminaries like Sir Gary Sobers, Sir Everton Weekes, Collie Smith, Sir Clyde Wallcott and Rohan Kanhai etc. established ahead of him. His opportunity came in 1958 at the age of 28 against India. Batting at No. 7 he contributed 45 and 86 (run out) and was instrumental in pushing the West Indies score from 76 for five to 222 and from 197 for five up to 443 for 7 declared.

Called the best compiler of fifty, Joe Solomon is best remembered for his effecting of the run out resulting in the first ever tied Test match against Australia in December, 1960 at Brisbane. He needs acclaim for having posted 65 and 47, too, in that match. He was instrumental in moving West Indies from 239 for four to 453 all out, and from 127 for four to 284 in response to Australia's scores of 505 and 232. Solomon went on to record one Test century and nine fifties in his 27 Tests.

The next such highly valuable batsman in the middle order for West Indies, particularly when things were difficult was Larry Gomes. Born 13th July 1953, his debut for Trinidad and Tobago was at the age of 20 against Guyana in 1974, in which he scored 98 and naught, batting at No. 3. His first class maiden century came as he scored 74 and 171 not out against Jamaica in 1975.

Gomes' call up to the West Indies was fortuitous, coming by default, so to speak, during the impasse between Clive Lloyd's side and the West Indies board when the Kerry Packer World Series Cricket issue came on the scene. He seized the opportunity with both hands, getting four and 101 on debut in the 3rd Test against Australia in April 1978 at Guyana.

In the 5th Test against England in 1981, he went in at 227 for four and his 90 not out saw West Indies up to 442. Against Australia in 1982, his 126 in the 2nd Test provided the staying power to lift from 128 for two to 384. Gomes duplicated this feat in the following Test to score 124 not out and benefit West Indies to get 389. Those are only some of the several examples of Gomes' consistent repair work for West Indies.

Often it is said the current players in the West Indies team do not seem to have an awareness of the role they need to embrace for the benefit of their side. It would do well for them to rivet their attention on the roles played by Joe Solomon and Larry Gomes. Never a question of emphasis on self, these men focused solidly on the well-being of their team—making consolidation or repair work their cherished objective.

I saw Gomes score a century without my being able to recall, a single memorable shot. But his score was invaluable to his team's success. Also, I was fascinated as I watched Solomon in the nets batting for at least two hours—despite his knowing he would not be selected for the upcoming Test match. He played every shot with the utmost care and precision of technique. Thorough application was an inalienable aspect of his approach to batting. No wonder he could be that dependable.

When it comes to the approach by West Indies bowlers, the least said the better: Team planning and strategy appear to classify under "foreign language". This deserves a separate chapter altogether. For the time being, I would concur with those who still feel our batsmen are mainly the ones letting us down. We have talent. It is an imperative that we need to harness that talent effectively rather than allowing it to be so often dissipated in mindless fashion. If our players are so well paid they must reflect this in their performance levels. Responsibility must not be a dirty word.


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