Cricketers do not train hard enough
One of Jamaica's top track and field coaches also happens to be a real cricket fan. I remember having a conversation with him after another disappointing day of watching the West Indies at Sabina Park. He made a statement that has stayed with me for years.
He said that cricket was the only sport he knew of where actual competition was harder than training. He said that until we fixed that, West Indies cricket was going to be lagging behind. He didn't watch cricket, or cricket training, outside of the Caribbean, so his utterance must be taken in a West Indian context.
The more I watch and cover cricket in the region, the more I agree with him. In track and field, an athlete preparing for the Olympics in the summer starts his background training in November of the previous year. Footballers regularly play two or more hours on the training field in preparation for a 90-minute game. The top schoolboy teams will start intense training at least two months before competition. In cricket, the average batsman needs to bat two sessions to score a first-class hundred. That is approximately four hours batting.
I have watched cricket training at all levels in the region, and I cannot recall a training session where batsmen are asked to bat four hours. Sometimes a half-hour in the nets is all they do. And then we wonder why regional batsmen struggle to bat for long periods.
Training should be, by and large, to create competition conditions and then to learn the skill sets to cope. Take the "rough", for example. Bowlers' footmarks in their follow-through cause a natural rough area outside of the stumps that can cause nightmares to batsmen in the final stages of a four-day game. The "rough" then is a natural part of every first-class game. I have never seen batsmen being asked to bat balls from the rough as a form of practice. The practice pitches are usually fairly well rolled out and often do not mimic what a fifth-day pitch would look like.
The age-old complaint from spectators and commentators alike is that batsmen in the region don't rotate strike well. It is true, but I can't remember too many training sessions in the West Indies where the aim of the session is to give batsmen practice in taking singles. The outstanding National Football League (NFL) coach Vince Lombardi once made the statement that it is not just practice, but perfect practice that makes perfect.
We in the region generally practise without the intensity and match specificity that cricket requires. We are not practising "perfectly."
During the Jamaica Scorpions game against the Windward Islands Volcanoes at Sabina Park, I'm seeing it all over again. I am not blaming the coaches. They are mere products of their time. The training before games lacks the intensity that you would see at, say, a national track and field training session.
"Train hard, play easy" says the motto. Too many of our cricketers simply do not train hard and specific enough. Until we fix that, West Indies cricket will continue to struggle.