Archer: Windies’ loss, England’s gain
In 2014, Barbados- born England pacer Jofra Archer was a 19-year-old who could not get into a quite ordinary West Indies Under 19 team. He immediately jetted off to England in disappointment. Within a year and a half, Archer was taking quality wickets in county cricket, and within another two years, he was fast-tracked into the England team. He is now one of the fastest-rising stars and quickest bowlers in the international game. This all unfolded within a three-to four-year span, during which the bowlers who were selected ahead of Archer in that 2014 team all disappeared into obscure cricketing normalcy.
There is, in principle, a common thread that runs through the Archer case and that of former national director of football at the Jamaica Football Federation Vin Blaine, who looked at a then 16-year-old Leon Bailey in a Jamaican age-group training session and summarily pronounced him an ordinary player, only to have Bailey, within two years, break into one of the top clubs in one of the top leagues in Europe and emerge as one of the best young players in the world.
Both scenarios highlight a critical and specific weakness in our sports-development structures and in the personnel charged with managing those structures. Even if Archer was a late bloomer, it is still difficult to fathom or excuse away a group of West Indies selectors looking at Archer at 19 and opting for three or four other bowlers ahead of him. Three years later, none of those preferred by the selectors are anywhere to be found, while Archer is already one of the hottest properties in the game.
There are absolutely no guarantees in sport, and it is indeed the significant minority of promising young talent who will make the transition into senior success, but surely, there are conspicuous and instructive signs of innate quality and genuine potential that no director of football or panel of cricket selectors should miss without copping some admonishment. The glaring incapacity of individuals and systems to identify, select, and develop talent is alarming. Somehow, these supposedly trained eyes seem to be looking in the wrong direction – and for the wrong things.
My educated guess is that our search for talent is focused too much on the individual’s attitude and work ethic instead of the potential associated with raw talent. Good attitudes and positive work ethic can be taught and learnt, while innate talent has to be spotted, nurtured, and encouraged.
Back in 2014, Clyde Butts and other members of the West Indies selection panel woefully missed the crucial signs with Jofra Archer. It is quite conceivable that, at the time, Marquino Mindley, Ray Jordan, and Preston McSween all had better work ethic and, possibly, better attitudes than Archer, but as subsequent events have proven, Archer obviously had far better potential and innate skill, which so positively came to the fore so quickly after he left the Caribbean.
The same could be assumed about Vin Blaine when he pronounced Leon Bailey an average player. Logically, in his mind, Blaine might have concluded that Bailey dribbled too much or did not do enough without the ball conclusions that would likely have blurred his eyeline’s path to spotting the innate talent and unique qualities in Bailey that were begging for the faith and vision that were subsequently found in Europe.
As Proverbs 28:19 flashes to mind: “Where there is no vision, a people perish.” It is then no wonder that so many areas of our sport today seem to be on the verge of perishing.