Fri | Oct 19, 2018

Tony Becca | The truth, and nothing but the truth

Published:Sunday | December 31, 2017 | 12:00 AM
West Indies captain Jason Holder (left) celebrates after taking the wicket of England's Tom Westley at Headingley, Leeds during last summer's Test series.

For some 22 years now, West Indies cricket, or rather, Windies Cricket, has been at the bottom of world cricket.

In fact, since around 2000, the Windies has been at rock bottom, in the company of Bangladesh, a little above Zimbabwe, now almost holding hands with newcomers Ireland and Afghanistan, and the surprising thing is that the fall was so sudden and has lasted for so long.

From world champions in 1995 to losing 5-0 to South Africa in 1998, to being dismissed for 51 by Australia in 1999, to being dismissed for 56 and 61 while losing inside two days to England in 2000, to being dismissed for 47 by England in 2004, to dropping to nine for five against New Zealand in an ODI match on Boxing Day, and to failing to beat any but Bangladesh and Zimbabwe away from home since the turn of the century, it has been one embarrassment after the other.

In all of this, from producing world beaters and world champions in numbers, the West Indies do not have one in the company of the world's best, or even close to it.

No team, obviously, could stay at the top for ever, but the problem appears to be, as Michael Findlay, a former West Indies wicketkeeper, said recently, West Indians have been "burying their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich".

Speaking in England before the first Test match against England recently, Andy Roberts, a former West Indies fast bowler, the man who turned up in my hotel room on the morning of a Test match in England once with a dumb-bell in his right-hand, and once a coach of the West Indies team, said, "You cannot bowl fast by sitting in the stands and relaxing. You have to practise. You have to train. You have to do it regularly."

Apart from all the other problems, West Indian cricketers in general do not train as often, or as meaningfully, as they should.

Talk to any coach, past or present, or to any administrator, past or present, and they will lean over and tell you that, quietly.

They will whisper to you that the players believe that they are good, or as Clyde Walcott, the former West Indies batsman, West Indies president, and ICC chairman, said to me one evening in South Africa, "the players believe that they are better than they really are."

What probably has really stifled the development of West Indies cricket, however, is the folly of those who should know better not doing better, especially the coaches and the managers, and those who hire them, who should be helping the players but are really not helping them.

And you can lump many of the cricket writers with the coaches and managers.

Although the coaches and the managers may see the need to be tactful in dealing with the players, or talking about their performances, because of the players' inflated egos, the writers do not have this problem.

Whenever the West Indies batsmen score runs in a "first-class" match, or their bowlers take some wickets, no one stops and checks the quality of the opposition to see that the opposition probably really played a second X1 team with teenagers in the eleven before they heap praise on their performances.

In those times, the coaches, the managers, and the writers heap high praise on them, glorifying their performances while saying that they played wonderfully, sometimes brilliantly, and that there is nothing to worry about.

Sometimes, like during the failure of the West Indies women in the recent women's World Cup, the coaches even say, "there is no need for panic, however. West Indians are naturally talented".

Generally, the coaches, the managers, the writers, and the selectors sometimes apparently also forget about standards and the difference between club cricket, first-class cricket, and Test cricket.

It is either that or it is that the coaches and the managers, and some of the writers and commentators, are afraid of calling "a spade a spade".




A few days ago, however, current coach Stuart Law called a spade a spade when he said in New Zealand that "talk is cheap", referring to the soft, kind words spoken after the defeats, and while referring to the feeble and brainless batting, and their attitude in trying to get 300 off 25 overs, that "the batting of the team rivals lunacy".

Law may also have meant that the failure to understand when to step on the gas, to appreciate the difference between low-risk strokes and high-risk strokes, when to bowl at the wicket and when not to, is also lunacy.

The continued decision not to include the leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo in the starting 11 of the Test, ODI, or T20 teams despite the fact that he is the best bowler, or near to it, in the squad and that every other team is playing or searching for a leg-spinner, especially in limited-overs cricket, is also lunacy.

The above are not entirely the reasons for the West Indies' failure to win Test matches, however.

The presence of the "T20 brigade" players, or any one or two of them, or all those now out of the West Indies team, most of them for "personal reasons", could not have made the West Indies team a winning team, even though the West Indies may not have lost so much, or lost so easily, or looked so out of place despite a few glittering performances from Kraigg Brathwaite, Roston Chase, and Shai Hope.

The West Indies cricketers of today were robbed of the growing-up process, of rubbing shoulders with the seniors while developing their skills in domestic cricket. It is true that they are learning on the job, but that should not really be so, or rather, that is no excuse.

Every international outfit, every professional team, should be prepared properly and ready for the job. Regardless of the situation, or the setbacks, they should at least achieve a level of competence that they can compete.

The West Indies have to face the facts and stop thinking, and worrying, and always talking about the lost players. What is gone is regretfully gone.

The Caribbean is a relatively poor region, it is a society built on migration, it is a small society, and money will always be the attraction to some.

Jamaica's nurses, teachers, and others are leaving Jamaica in droves for "greener pastures", and in another three or five years, if Jamaica is not careful, the country will be in a state similar to West Indies cricket.

My New Year wish for West Indies cricket is that somehow, West Indies cricket finds a way to solve the problems of the board, to solve the problems between the board and the players, to try and rekindle the patriotism of the players, to try and get the current players more dedicated, committed, and cricket-wise, and most importantly, to find a way, providing that playing cricket, and good cricket, is the board's business, to spend some money towards the development of the game in the schools and clubs.

A lot is wrong with West Indies cricket once so excitingly great.