Only as strong as the weakest link
Phil Simmons, newly installed coach of the West Indies cricket team underlined something which has been well known for a long time when he told reporters several days ago that the standard of play currently being seen in the West Indies Professional Cricket League does nothing to prepare young cricketers for life on the international circuit. Simmons was speaking to reporters at Kensington Oval after a West Indies training session ahead of the third and final Test against England. He noted that the type of loose shots being played and the bad balls being bowled by the West Indies players were prevalent in the Four Day regional tournament. He pointed out that while the players would be able to get away with that type of play in the regional tournament, they couldn't on the international scene.
Simmons picked upon the bowling of leg spinner Davindra Bishoo saying: "you watch the scores, for instance, if Bishoo had bowled those 50 odd overs in a four-day game (in the regional tournament) he would have had 20 wickets. So that is one of the things that we need to address. I think the biggest thing for the young players because of the level of our first class cricket, when they come up here (in Test matches) is to understand the situation and how they have to play in this situation is determined by what the team needs and the scoreboard. These are things that you have to keep trying to teach them before it sinks in", said Simmons.
The West Indies coach was forthright in stressing he thought the West Indies batsmen had all got out playing recklessly on the final day of the second Test match in Antigua, failing to heed the requirement for them to bat for much longer periods of time in order to put the game out of the reach of an England win.
Very well said Phil Simmons. The old saying remains applicable: "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration". How true this is! Let me recall seeing Joe Solomon, one of West Indies most dependable middle order batsmen of the sixties displaying his unwavering focus while practicing in the nets. Joe had difficulty getting into the Test team despite scoring centuries in the regional matches. The little Guyanese was in the nets as a no hoper ahead of West Indies coming up against England at Barbados. There was simply no place for him. Yet, I watched him put in a two hours stint, playing each and every ball on its merits. Not one ball did he hit in the air. Not a single ball beat him and not once did I notice a lowering of intensity in his concentration.
Joe Solomon did not make the Test side that year in 1959, but he did a year later and was an integral part of the West Indies batting machine under Sir Frank Worrell. He had the distinction, among other things, of producing the run out by hitting the stumps down from square leg to provide the first ever tied Test match against Australia.
The remarks by Phil Simmons speak to the value of elevated concentration required of truly professional cricketers. They seemed to treat every innings like a full scale exhibition of their greatness. That's what we as boys thought of the legend Sir Everton de Courcy Weekes when he gave an exhibition at Botanic Gardens in Roseau to a packed crowd. Weekes played all the shots for almost three hours, and only once did a bowler get him out: He was none other than the late Ashley Roberts who incidentally bowled the same slow stuff that Weekes himself bowled when a wicket was needed.
Some few years after the Weekes display, we were treated to Sir Conrad Hunte's impeccable exhibition at the same ground. The late West Indies opener took the matter very seriously and, unlike his predecessor who demonstrated a fondness for losing the ball to all parts of the Gardens, he kept every shot strictly on the carpet. No one of the nearly thirty bowlers ever looked close to getting him out!
When we consider the need for consistency in quality batting one must pay tribute to Shivnarine Chanderpaul who is within sight of Brian Lara's Test career record aggregate for West Indies. No batsman has displayed greater focus while at the crease, and for so long a period of time – succeeding while so many others have failed around him. That he somehow was discomfited against England in the recent three match Test series should be taken as an anomaly and nothing else. In any case, he should be granted the privilege of being allowed fullest rein to go after Lara's landmark, moreso Shiv has so far demonstrated love for Windsor Park by compiling centuries here.
Come the third of June it should give me no greater pleasure than seeing the forty year old forever young in his appetite for Test match runs – giving us a possible active phase to his farewell which has extended over a protracted period.
We may never see his like again. The almost square on stance, revised always at the last instant as the bowler delivers, and the bat coming down with a relentless regularity of straightness – not compatible with his suggested initial approach – vividly conjures up a phenomenon he, Shivnarine Chanderpaul alone possesses the blueprint. And when the bad ball comes along, as it inevitably must, it is delectably put away for the boundary that is strongly the evidence of a great artist forcing bowlers to operate on his terms. Our own terms of profitable spectatorship are to be availed of Chanderpaul on exhibition as long as we can have him. His essential uniqueness can have the enduring quality effect Phil Simmons wishes for the young West Indies batsmen. Long live the genuine article!