By Dr Dhanpaul Narine
Ricky Skerritt was like a schoolmaster, waving a frustrated finger. His boys had done badly, yet again. But this time he was not having it. People are disappointed, he says. He wants to assure everyone that there would be a ‘thorough postmortem’ on all aspects of the team’s preparation for the T20 World Cup in Australia. He promises solutions in keeping with ‘strategy to improve the quality of West Indies cricket.’ Ricky Skerritt is the President of the West Indies Cricket Board. He should be reminded that a postmortem is usually conducted on the dead. The once powerful West Indies cricket team, the pride of the region, has reached minnow status. There is enough blame to fill a stadium.
Why is there need for a postmortem? West Indies cricket died a long time ago. The few mourners that are left are not interested. Skerritt will talk and talk but won’t say a thing that we already don’t know.
The pride is no longer there. The heart is gone too and without heart there is no passion. The Test and One Day formats are played to empty stadiums, and the T20’s is awash with so much money, that one tournament is like any other. The aim is to hit every ball for six that the coaching manual means little. In June 2017, Darren Sammy said, “The way we structure our cricket, we’re not going anywhere. I’m very scared we will be relegated to be playing against Ireland and Scotland.” Never a truer word was said!
In October 2022, Ireland knocked West Indies out of the T20 World Cup, a championship that West Indies won twice. Cricket West Indies (CWI) responded by saying that it “remains focused on its role to facilitate player development through its competitions and other support services.” Sammy went on to say that he couldn’t tell players not to play in a league when “it could make them financially stable to look after their families.”
The debacle facing West Indies lies somewhere in those statements. There has been a steady deterioration in standards after the heady days of the eighties and nineties. There was talk of failure to replenish the stocks, racism, favoritism in selection policies, poor salaries, and disrespect from the Board, among others. There is also the view that inflated player egos, the ability to pick and choose their games and tournaments, and the flow of money have made players believe they are bigger than the game.
If you think it could get no worse consider the latest responses. Ricky Pointing calls West Indies’ exit from the World Cup a ‘disgrace.’ This could well be the view of the majority of cricket fans in the Caribbean. But Kieron Pollard has a different take. He agrees that it was a ‘sad day’ when West Indies were booted out of the World Cup. But Pollard takes a view that is contrary to the coaching manuals. He said that the players were not to be blamed for the catastrophe. It was not the fault of the players that batted, bowled, and fielded badly. The fault lies in the system, he says. He wants the stakeholders by which he means ‘everybody to sit down and decide where we want to take West Indies cricket in the Caribbean.’
The fact of the matter is that ‘everybody’ doesn’t have time for this nonsense. How about Pollard drilling into the players that they need to play with pride and passion? How about Pollard reminding the players that they must show patriotism. Take a leaf from the page of Virat Kohli. He underwent an extended bad patch, but when it was crunch time, he put India above all else and produced the goods. Take a page from Sir Frank Worrell who instilled in his players that they were playing for the West Indies and that this came first.
Phil Simmons, the current manager, has resigned. He says that the players should take a long and hard look at themselves. The fact of the matter is that the players are paid big sums of money to be professional, among other things. Whose fault is it if they don’t show up? Whose fault is it that the players go to the wicket and play airy fairy shots without a care in the world? In the meantime, Sir Andy Roberts has criticized the policy of cricket director Jimmy Adams. He said that Adams has not focused on the basics, and has instead adopted the big hit-for-six approach.
There is much to be said for the basics. Sachin Tendulkar seldom went for the big sixes when he played for the Mumbai Indians. He pierced the field with effortless stroke play that could only have happened from someone that mastered the basics. Tendulkar is only one of many in this regard.
But the problem is much deeper than learning the fundamentals of cricket. It has to do with how cricket is perceived as part of the national culture. Back in the days, a budding cricketer had his heart set on playing for West Indies. Roy Fredericks and Rohan Kanhai have told stories of how much West Indies cricket meant to them. They were prepared to make great sacrifices to wear that West Indies cap. Recently, a function was held in New York to honor Joe Solomon. He is the oldest West Indies Test cricketer alive. Joe pointed out that West Indies cricket will always remain in his heart. Unfortunately, today’s young cricketers are more interested in playing in the T20’s than in Test Matches.
Where do we go from here? There are numerous suggestions as to what can be done to make changes for the better. They include coaching in schools to spot talent, an Under-Sixteen Competition in the region, and the restructure of local cricket boards to ensure transparency, among others.
Keiran Pollard has called for all stakeholders to discuss the way forward. This is impractical; setting up a system for ‘all stakeholders’ would take months, if not years. Darren Sammy was again spot on when he said that love for West Indies cricket was one thing, but it does not take one to the supermarket.
Money will always be a factor. Players will gravitate to the highest bidder. There must be incentives to keep them at home. Apart from the CPL, attendance at matches is poor. But these are not excuses for the lack of pride and passion. If proof is needed, one only has to look at the way Zimbabwe, the Netherlands, and some of the other nations played in the recent World T20. The pride shone like a beacon.
Finally, there is the suggestion that Shivnarine Chanderpaul should replace Phil Simmons as West Indies head coach. That would be a mistake. Who would want to coach players with million-dollar egos? Where does one start? Phil Simmons describes some of his team’s performances as ‘unprofessional.’
The website for Cricket West Indies does not have a link to connect with the fans to listen to their ideas and suggestions. The impression is that the Board is aloof and can’t be bothered.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.