MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - Alarm bells have long been ringing in the Caribbean over the West Indies' chaotic build-up to cricket's World Cup and those fears were realised on Monday, when the islanders slumped to a four-wicket loss to Ireland in Nelson, New Zealand.
Coming off a thrashing by England and an embarrassing scare against Scotland in the warm-ups, the wheels well and truly fell off at Saxton Oval, as Ireland's batsmen reeled in their first innings total of 304-7 with over four overs to spare.
Few expected West Indies to seriously challenge for the title, but the opening loss could leave the twice world champions in danger of not making through to the quarter-finals from Pool B.
Associate teams have made a habit of upsetting Test-playing nations at the World Cup, with West Indies' loss to Kenya in 1996 a case in point.
But the Ireland defeat has reinforced perceptions of a team on the verge of collapse and lacking the motivation to do anything about it.
West Indies had already been in disarray well before the tournament, with a crippling contracts dispute between players and the board scuttling what would have been a lucrative India tour.
That dispute cost regular captain Dwayne Bravo, the players' spokesman, a place in the World Cup squad along with big-hitting batsman Kieron Pollard.
The captaincy was handed to a rookie in fast bowler Jason Holder, a 23-year-old with about 20 one-day internationals to his name.
Worse was to come with leading spinner Sunil Narine pulling out of the tour, citing a lack of confidence in his bowling action after being cited during a club tournament.
He was free to play at the World Cup, having not breached the guidelines at any ICC tournament.
Holder has struggled to convince he is leading a united team at the global showpiece and was nowhere to be found at the post-match media conference.
Instead it was team-mate Darren Sammy, his mentor, facing the inquisition.
Sammy began by apologising, not for the team performance, but for cursing himself with a crude word that was picked up by the stumps microphone during his innings of 89. "Yeah, today we took them for granted as we fielded," he told reporters. "So I can't really pinpoint on what exactly. We just were not putting in a good game of cricket.
"Our bowlers have been going for some sticks over the last few games and today was no different against an experienced Irish team where you know they had a game plan and they stuck to it."
Though Sammy and Lendl Simmons (102) combined for a 154-run sixth-wicket partnership to rescue West Indies' innings after it had slumped to 87-5 in the 24th over, the bloodless display in the field will have been galling for home fans.
After seamer Jerome Taylor captured the fourth wicket of Andy Balbirnie with Ireland still needing 20 runs for victory, none of his team mates celebrated the dismissal.
"When things are not going your way, it's always difficult to motivate yourself," Sammy said. "But as a group, you've got to keep believing and we need to find some inspiration somewhere, and we need to find it quickly.
"I will always try to be positive in my approach, help our young captain Jason and hopefully the rest of the team could follow."