Much more than match play needed
His recent utterings have made me respectful of the extent to which young Jason Holder gives thought to the development needs of West Indies cricket. Speaking at the close of the Tri-Nations one-day tournament which included Australia and South Africa, the West Indies captain said after his team emerged runners-up to Australia: "If you look back on our calendar year last year, we didn't have that much one-day cricket at all. I just think we need more cricket". Holder continued, "there's no secret about it, the way the ICC structure their cricket now, you have to qualify to enter ICC events and its just important we get as much cricket as possible, particularly one-day cricket, to keep ourselves moving up the ranking". West Indies poor ranking occasioned their missing out on next year's Champions Trophy for the first time in the tournament's history. At the cutoff date last September West Indies were ninth in the rankings, just outside the eligible eight.
It is a plausible case made by the West Indies captain, but there is even more to the matter when it comes to the essential development of our cricket. That's where I must agree wholeheartedly with Emanuel Loblack's analysis of the situation. Loblack cities a lack of fitness as a grim sticking point in West Indies progress. Everyone should say amen! It's plain and simple, if you are aware of the implications of a limiting factor. A hole in a barrel makes it impossible to fill it above the hole, try as you may!
At international level a team can best endeavor to reach and maintain optimum playing standards only if it acquires and sustains a highly authentic player base. Of the eleven who represented West Indies in the final against Australia I would rate eight as not attaining required physical fitness. Only Ramdin, Carlos Braithwaite and Holder seem to match a decent standard in this regard! Isn't this alarming?
Starting with the opening batsmen, Johnson Charles and Andre Fletcher on the whole perform well below their assessed capability. The two have all the shots to both blunt and punish the opposing pace attack but generally have difficulty in thinking out their role at the apex of the team plan. To make it worse, Fletcher has now become prone to hamstring issues. With this impediment you can't run really fast – a strong requirement in limited overs cricket. This is not to deny the fact that as a pair they have performed with credit. What one is looking at is the attainment of their potential.
If we can find fault with our openers, then Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels find themselves in lower places in the line of deficiency. And this is a very weak link at the top of the middle order. Your men at No 3 and No 4 must be consistently able to engage the opposition for a good twenty to thirty overs to establish sizable command in a variety of situations. Such a merit is obviously not forthcoming and the two can only be considered to be firing on two out of four cylinders – sometimes only on half a cylinder!
There is no witch-hunt in stretching the stethoscope to catch Kieron Pollard! The big guy has seen fitter days. Even he, one feels would give himself only a fifty percent mark compared to his past fitness report cards. The count stands now at five of our batsmen struggling just to make do – not to be brimming with fitness! Can't we see why our team can only fare well in one match at a time! Given the circumstances, Holder may be inclined to think we did very well in the Tri-Nation series and on exposure to more ODI cricket would help in making us more competitive.
This can only be so up to a point. A team, having acquired a rating of 6 on a scale of 1 to 10, if it is drastically unfit it can only manage to perform at just about between 3 and 6 at most times on that reckoning. If the very same team raises its fitness appreciably, it can muster a higher proportion of its performances to remain at the 6 mark. It is not just the skill level. There must be stamina to sustain whatever skills that are a part of the makeup in the acquired development process.
A look at the bowling tells us Shannon Gabriel, Sunil Narine, Suleiman Benn and Pollard would win no contests in a bid for opportunity to be given the job to save the lives of any one of us! That is, if fitness is a serious precondition!
Gabriel as a key spearhead has to be a lot better than that. He is strong. However, the opposition takes consolation in his brittleness. A lack of flexibility hinders him in going all out – wondering, no doubt, that an effort to burst the opposition apart could well leave him busted for months. This is absolutely no good for a fast bowler. His should be both a physical and psychological advantage. In the Tri-Nations final, with Australia on 173 for 6 there was the worry that asking him to pull out the choke against the lower half of the batting might have been injurious to himself and he did not quite expend his full quota of overs!
Inevitably, if West Indies is to express itself to greatest advantage on the international front, there has to be an uncompromising approach to player fitness. The time has gone when players may call the shots in the matter of fitness training. Worse still, we cannot afford to have certain prima donnas lowering the bar in recognition of a privileged or hierarchical status exempting them from fulfilling the full gladiatorial grind. An appreciably fitter West Indies team would have easily expressed itself well above the ninth place ranking which has seen Bangladesh getting in at No 8 – above us who are left out looking in at the Champions Trophy. We have only ourselves to blame. It is a game of survival where the fittest have the advantage.