Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Tony Becca | Preparing for the heights

Published:Sunday | March 26, 2017 | 3:00 AM
Jermaine Blackwood

On my way home at the end of the first day-night four-day regional game at Sabina Park last Sunday night, I felt really down, disappointed, and even embarrassed.

Jamaica had lost the match scheduled for four days and nights in just under two days and nights, and like the other few spectators, or fans, many of whom, including a few former national players, had left the ground before the match had ended, I felt empty and cheated.

The fans were angry, to the extent that some of them were fuming and uttering all sorts of unflattering things against Jamaica's cricket in general and the players in particular.

One man said to me: "Lord, God. Mr B, is Manchester a coming from, and is this mi come fi see?"

All I could say to him was: "That's how it goes, my friend. I only hope that it will be better next time."

I was being kind because I had seen better, much better, batting displays by Jamaican and West Indian batsmen of the past. This, however, was among the worst batting that I have ever seen, and it has being happening too frequently in recent times.

The first day of the match was rained out, the second day saw the Leeward Islands Hurricanes reaching 32 for five in their second innings, and the third, the second day of play, saw the Hurricanes going on to 133 before dismissing the Jamaica Scorpions for 114, chasing 149 for victory.

The first day of play saw 25 wickets falling for 159 as the Hurricanes totalled 71 and 32 for five and the Scorpions were bundled out for a paltry 56.

 

BLACKWOOD UP TO PAR

 

The only batsman who batted with any resemblance of a first-class player was Jermaine Blackwood, the Jamaican Test batsman, who promised so much, but who recently, including in the first innings, had earned the reputation of even his most avid fans as simply being a hit-or-miss batsman.

Without Blackwood's solid contribution, however, the Scorpions' second innings would have been a replica of the first, which was a total disaster.

On my way home, I remembered the words of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of long ago: "The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upwards through the night?"

I kept repeating those words because after remembering the Jamaica and West Indies batsmen of recent times, after remembering some other batsmen around the world, I came to the conclusion, as I did some time ago, that the region's batsmen, most of them, are not ready for first-class cricket, or for Test cricket.

I used to believe that maybe it was because of the lack of regular first-class cricket, but when I remembered the quality of batsmen of decades past, I said, no, that could not be the case.

Again, I used to believe that it was because of poor coaching, or bad coaching, but then I remembered the quality of batsmen in times past, when there was none or very little coaching, and again, I said no, that could not be the case.

 

QUALITY OF THE PITCHES

 

What I never did believe, although it was sometimes true, was the cry that the pitches were not good, that the ball either kept low or that it bounced too high and awkwardly, that they were too slow or that they were too fast, that it was difficult to play the ball because they did unexpected things at different times, or that the batsmen were simply unlucky.

And I did not believe that if only because there are good pitches and there are poor pitches, and whether they are good or they are poor, the batting is usually the same, more or less, and with the exception of something like the explosion in Antigua recently.

What I now believe is that the region's batsmen do not work hard enough, or train long and hard enough.

The batsmen of recent vintage, barring a few, look good while batting for a short while and making a stroke or two, and they probably believe that they are, what is loosely called 'talented' or that they are gifted players and, therefore, they do not have to train as much or as hard as those who are not.

One stroke, however, or one shot, regardless of the handclaps that follow, and whether it is an exquisite four or a thundering six, do not a batsmen make.

Good batting, a good innings, calls for many fine strokes, defensively and aggressively according to the situation, for quite some time, most times on good pitches, and sometimes on poor pitches.

 

REASON FOR PROBLEMS

 

Clyde Walcott, the West Indies batsman who scored five centuries in the series against the 1955 Australians, once suggested to me that the reason for the West Indies batting problems may be because they probably believe that they are better than they really are; George Headley, the West Indies batsman who registered two centuries in one Test match on two occasions, once said, in my presence as a coach, that he will accept a mistake once, but not twice, especially twice in succession; and some Jamaican batsmen once complained to me that Rohan Kanhai, coach of Jamaica and, previously, a West Indies captain who scored many Test centuries, was preventing them from hooking.

Kanhai, a good hooker himself, really wanted to prevent them from constantly hooking until they learned to hook.

On Sunday night, all of that came back to me, and when I remembered how some of the Jamaica and West Indies batsmen, the vast majority of them, have got out recently, I realised that they really believe they are better than they are, that they make too many mistakes, and that they attempt to play strokes, which they cannot really play, or play properly, or should not have been played at the time they were attempted.