Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Tony Becca | Wanted: pace like fire

Published:Sunday | October 29, 2017 | 12:00 AM
West Indies pace bowler Shannon Gabriel.

By now, everyone who reads this column knows that I am against any foreigner being appointed coach of the West Indies team, especially in this day and age.

It has nothing to do with race, colour, or creed. The world is made up of different cultures, and it is simply a matter of culture, or national pride.

Cricket is part of the culture of West Indians, and cricket mirrors, in large part, the personality of the West Indian people.

To import coaches, especially after 89 years of Test experience and after being the best in playing cricket, is really, whether you believe it or not, an attempt to change the way West Indians play the game and is also an attempt to change the natural course of things.

It is also an indication that West Indians have no confidence in the ability of their own to manage things despite their achievements in cricket, despite the education process, and despite their accomplishments in numerous other fields.

It is an acknowledgment that we are not good enough.

The people of the West Indies are grateful for the help of others in the early years, but they have come a long way since. I am proud of that, and they can now train themselves to achieve even more.

As Learie Constantine is reported to have said after the Lord's Test match in 1950 when he was asked if the West Indians of that year were not the same West Indians who toured in 1939, he answered, "yes, but this time we come to teach".

The people of the West Indies are bubbly. The cricketers, for instance, and for want of a better description for obvious reasons, are touched by the vibrant rhythm of the calypso and the beat of the reggae, which runs through the West Indies.

Places like England, Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and New Zealand have all produced great players. The West Indian greats, however, probably because of their presence, their style, and their enjoyment, whether they are batting, bowling, of fielding, are a special breed and a special attraction.

And despite the strikes against him as head coach of the West Indies, against Graeme West as coach of the "A" and the Under-19 teams, against Johnny Grave as chief executive officer, against Christopher 'C. J.' Clarke as physiotherapist, the newly appointed Dominic Warne as the director of commercial, marketing, and communications, and despite all the advancement of the West Indian people over the years, to his everlasting credit, Stuart Law, an Aussie, apparently realises the challenge that faces him and understands how to go about meeting it, at least one of the ways of meeting it.

Law, in a recent article in the Cricket Monthly magazine, said that as the Windies coach, he is looking for good, fast pitches, for spin bowlers who can bowl on them, and for fast, really fast bowlers who bowl fast, really fast, on them.

 

MAJOR PROBLEM

 

"The major problem we have in the Caribbean is the standard of facilities, the standard of pitches, which can be below average. I don't want to go out to domestic cricket where you see a fast bowler bowl five overs from one end, another bowl five overs from the other end, and the rest of the overs are spin. That is not West Indian cricket to me. West Indies cricket is bang, smash, bumpers, 90mph hair-raising cricket for six hours a day."

That is a man of my own heart, and along with some fine batsmen and fielders, a good spinner or two, that is the way out for West Indies cricket.

Franchise cricket, as it is attempted in the West Indies, is simply shifting the average players around, keeping them happy and handing them some money.

Except for a few moments of brilliance, from the days of Joe Gregory and Ted McDonald to those of Roy Gilchrist, Wes Hall, and Charlie Griffith, Denis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, and Patrick Patterson, pace, real pace, has been the order of the day.

Law's words reminded me not only of "flying stumps and scattered bails", but of the damage that Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller eked out against the West Indians of 1951-52, not only of Frank Tyson against the Australians of 1954-55, and not only of Hall, Gilchrist, and later, Roberts against the Indians in 1958-59 and in 1974.

As a West Indian, they also reminded me, as a spectator with a front-row seat, of the carnage of Lillee and Thompson against the West Indies in 1975-76; of Holding against India at Sabina Park in 1976; of Roberts and Holding against England at Old Trafford in 1976; of Holding against England at The Oval in 1976; of Roberts against the Australians of 1977, and especially so Peter Toohey; and of Holding against Geoff Boycott at Kensington Oval in 1981.

They also reminded me of Marshall against Mike Gatting at Sabina Park on 1986; of Marshall and Ambrose against England in England on the tours of 1984 and 1988 when the England batsmen, especially Andy Lloyd and Paul Terry, were battered and bruised; and also of Courtney Walsh in India in 1994 when he flattened Manoj Prabhakar in Chandigarh to hand the West Indies a surprising victory.

At other times, the West Indies pacers have run riot, such as Ambrose's blast of eight wickets for 45 against England at Kensington Oval in 1990, Ambrose and Walsh burst when South Africa lost eight wickets for 25 runs at Kensington Oval in 1991-92 and Ambrose's magical spell of seven wickets for one run against Australia at Perth 1992-93.

And as a Jamaican, I also remember Patterson's pace when Guyana and the Leeward Islands with Viv Richards, Richie Richardson, and company were smashed for 41 and 77, respectively, and spectacularly, at Sabina Park in 1986.

 

PACE IS PACE

 

Law is right, however, pace is pace, and there is nothing like pace, real pace.

Swing is important, and so, too, is control of line and length, but pace, real pace, is the thing. It is what comes naturally.

According to Greig Chappell, Ian Chappell, and Viv Richards, "Thommo was so quick, nobody wanted to bat against him."

Ian Chappell also once said of Thomson, "I don't care if Thommo hasn't a clue where they're going. He'll frighten the blokes out. They'll be desperate to get to the other end. They'll even run themselves out."

I remember also having dinner with Walcott and Gerry Alexander in St Lucia one night in 1988. We ended up talking about the pace of Lillee and Thomson and how they blew away the West Indies in 1975-76, and Alexander queried the willingness of the West Indians to fight.

Walcott's response was: "You can say anything. You batted down the order. You never had to face fast bowlers, real fast bowlers, in the morning when they were fresh and storming in, when the pitch was new and responding, and when the ball was flying past your throat."