Preparing to reach the mountain top
When I was a boy, one of the things I used to hear but never listened to, was this: "The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night."
In my childhood days, batsmen like Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, and Clyde Walcott were my cricket heroes. To me, they were talented batsmen, pure and simple.
Even later on, when my heroes became batsmen like Rohan Kanhai and Garry Sobers, it never dawned on me that they all had to work for hours to hone their skills.
It was not until I became a man, when I witnessed the likes not only of Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, and Brian Lara, but also that of Alvin Kallicharran, Larry Gomes, and Augustine Logie, that I understood the importance of hard work, training and practice to the fulfilment of one's talent and the satisfaction of reaching the top.
All those enthralling skills - the flowing runs, the elegant offside and on-side drives, the rapier-like cuts, the savage but thrilling hooks and pulls - that attracted thousands upon thousands of people to cricket grounds around the world, and the stamina to bat as if forever, like Shivnarine Chanderpaul, were the result of plenty sweat and aching, but well-drilled muscles, muscles that in the end reacted instinctively to anything and everything thrown at them on the cricket field.
Training and practice, I realised then, make perfect.
NOTHING LIKE TRAINING
I also realised then, the more I read, the more I travelled, and the more I talked to some of the great players, that there was nothing like practice, and nothing like training.
I learnt that in the general scheme of things, talent, what is usually called talent, is of less importance.
What you put in is what you get out.
Sport, success in sport, is one of the most published things about mankind. One of the least published things, however, is what makes a man a success.
Look at any sport, look at the great practitioners, look at champions like Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, and Usain Bolt, look at their habits, and they all have one thing in common practice and training, every day, and for hours, many hours each day.
Sometimes, however, I wonder if this is the same for the present set of West Indies players, and for those from Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago and others who aspire to play for the West Indies.
In fact, I stopped wondering years ago. I know now, based on what I have seen and based on what I have found out after asking questions, that most of them do not train or practise half as much as they should.
The players with the basic 'talent' to play for the West Indies do not train and practise as hard and as often as they should, and the reason is either that that they cannot be bothered with the work, or they feel that they are good enough already and do not need to work.
To them, training and practice mean going to the nets for a few minutes per day, stroking a few deliveries around, smashing a few deliveries out of the ground, and walking away after a few minutes. And most times, this is done in the presence of the coach, and it is done based on the demands of the team.
The bowlers usually jog up to the wicket and wheel their arms over a few times, the fast bowlers included. No one ever trains to really get fit, or to really keep fit, and no one ever practises to improve his attacking play or his defensive play, his accuracy and control, and his fielding and his catching.
Most times, even whenever they fail, even whenever the team fails, and whenever they lose in three days, it is the same reaction. Sometimes, most times whenever they lose early, it is no practice or training on the days scheduled as match days, according to some players.
The West Indies 'big guns' usually do whatever they want to do, and whenever they want do it.
A West Indies player lives off one or two or three successes for a long time. He plays as if a little success will last him forever.
NO RIGHT TO SUCCEED
A West Indies player, or a territorial player, must know, and must be told, that no one has any God-given right to succeed; that although no one can succeed all the time, he must never succumb to complacency; that like the reporter, he is as good as last copy; and that every time he goes out to bat, or to bowl, or to field, he must challenge himself to be the best.
The game, the fans, and his team expect nothing less. That's his job, and that's his road to success, to greatness.
The West Indies fans must support the players despite the players' poor performance, and the West Indies Board must do its best to support the players.
One of the problems with the development of the players, however, is the coaching, or the lack of proper coaching, available.
The West Indies have a lot of 'coaches' but most of them are not real coaches. They are, to call a spade a spade, nothing but organisers, admittedly, good organisers.
They simply set the time to train and to practise, see that the props are in place, organise who to do what and when, position themselves at the bowler's end, and direct traffic from there, sometimes telling the bowlers to keep the ball up or the batsmen to play in the 'V', and sometimes not to cut against the spin.
There is no attempt to do anything else, to talk to the bowlers and to the batsmen, to correct mistakes, their technical mistakes, to show them what they may be doing wrong, and to try and prepare them for the next outing.
No wonder West Indian players perform badly, making the same mistakes match after match, year after year.
It seems as if the exercise of finding a coach is only to find something for the former players to do, and not to find the former players who are really interested in coaching or who can do a good job as coaches.
Practice and training make perfect. Thank God for players like Easton McMorris, Sam Morgan, Desmond Lewis, and James Adams, and for one like Chanderpaul. They used to train and practise day after day, and till the cows come home.
Maybe the West Indies and territorial players will change their attitude and their habits now that they are professionals, and now that the young West Indians in Bangladesh showed them how to play the game, how to win, and how, it is said, they should prepare themselves.
Hopefully, they will behave like professionals, and that they will now train and practise, train and practise to reach the top.