Don't blame the batsmen
In the last few months, I have been having some one-on-one 'reasoning' with several batsmen on the senior Jamaica cricket team. They are all concerned with the fact that they just can't seem to score big runs at the regional level, and several of them have asked me for some suggestions as to how to improve their game.
While our bowlers find it fairly easy to get wickets in the senior regional competition, those picked to make runs have been mostly scratchy, most of them averaging in the 20s or lower. The coach, Junior Bennett, and the captain, Tamar Lambert, have done many interviews over the years pointing out this fact, but despite their best efforts, that problem remains.
The team, however, has been doing well, in terms of winning trophies, and therefore, the coaching staff has, by and large, escaped public wrath for its inability to make our batsmen shine at the regional level. So while the coach and captain speak about the obvious, the harsh truth is that they both seem at their wits' end on how to make it improve significantly.
Mind you, the problem of batsmen not making runs at the regional level is not confined to Jamaicans alone. When was the last time an up-and-coming regional batsman averaged over 40 in back-to-back four-day competitions? Ordinary batting is a feature of what West Indies cricket has come to be in the last two decades or so.
But, of course, I digress. The Jamaican batsmen to whom I have been speaking mean well. They are humble people, and hard workers, and are wondering what else they need to do. They are not too happy with what I have been telling them, but I believe I'm dead right.
There is not a lot they can do. Great sportsmen are invariably exposed to high-quality coaching or high-quality competition from very early in life, and the fact is, most of our current regional batsmen weren't exposed to high-quality bowling in their formative years.
NOT SO SIMPLE
It's as simple as that. Some blame bad technique. That's not false, but it's incomplete. They develop bad techniques and bad habits along the way in their batting because when they were kids coming through the age-group system, they were successful with the techniques and habits they had. They could score tons of runs with a lazy front foot or the inability to, say, judge length well from a spinner.
I remember once saying to Ricardo Powell, who had scored 300 plus runs in a few hours of Headley Cup cricket, that this can't be good for him. To score 300 plus runs in a day as a schoolboy, it must mean that the bowling was inferior. By whacking easy bowling to all parts as a 17-year-old, he would have missed out on the things that all batsmen at the top level need: a sound defence, and the ability to bat through difficult spells without panicking or losing concentration.
The reason the 1970s West Indies cricketers were good has nothing to do with 'talent'. They were good because they were exposed to high-quality cricket from the time they were in short pants. It was not something organised. It's not something that administrators decided on.
Cricket, then, was a passion. Every boy played, and where there are mass numbers interested in anything, the standards will be high. So merely to make my class team as a boy, I had to be a little special, because there were 25 boys in the class and all wanted to play. When it's a six-a-side game, the six who made it had their scores monitored, and consistently failing meant that the next pick-up game, you would be restricted to sulking and crying! Nowadays, a youngster will make his high-school cricket team without understanding the basics, simply because there isn't too much competition for a game. If he is half-decent, he will score runs there and get fast-tracked to youth and club cricket, and then ultimately to the Jamaica senior team.
The Jamaican batsmen, therefore, will continue to struggle. Very little can be done. They will not concentrate well because they never needed to when they were boys. They will struggle to correct bad habits because they have carried those bad habits for years and were 'successful' in holding down a senior team spot.
Essentially, then, we have to take what we get. We will see the occasional brilliant innings, but mediocrity will be the order of the day. They are simply the products of their times.
n Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.