Overcoming the feeling of hopelessness
A feeling of hopelessness sits, apparently on West Indies cricket and not much seems contemplated in respect of tackling whatever problems besetting the situation. At latest count our players are in Sri Lanka where the first Test match, predictably in the view of many, was lost by an innings to the home side: Sri Lanka 484, West Indies 251 and 227. This reverse was ushered in on the heels of sad instance of newly appointed coach Phil Simmons being placed under suspension by the West Indies Board for statements made just prior to the tour to the effect that outside influences had affected the team selection. That Simmons was well out of place in making such an utterance cannot be disputed. He was part of the selection process. However, the fact that he behaved in such a manner reflects much that is palpably wrong with West Indies cricket – a lot of it falling squarely on the shoulders of the board of management itself.
There seems no concretely established protocol enshrined to indicate what officials appointed by the board may or may not do or say. This goes as well for players. The whole set-up, according to some of my older friends, is what they used to call a "Haitian army" – every man is a general and feels answerable to no one whatever. What seems to be disgustingly evident is the tendency for ridiculous and very clumsy reactions to erupt just when an international engagement is due to take place. This has increasingly pushed us nearer to the point where our status as first class on the international scene could well be jeopardized, and all because of our own folly. There is no need for us to solidify our right to be stupid!
Most times our aberrations erupt on the part of our players seeking greater remuneration. Even at one time a threatened strike action raised its ugly head while en route to South Africa, despite the players and the board having only recently then signed contracts covering pay agreement. Such madness may not be conceivable in the "real" world! But it is the West Indies with which one is dealing; to the extent that things were carried several stages further to the point of a tour to India thrown overboard after it had actually gotten underway! Full grimness of the rotten nature of things is pathetically exemplified in that our team is endemic in its almost total certainty of losing. This is to the extent that our relegation from five star status may become imminent to where we are mainly limited to single, two and three Test schedules.
For a very long time I have laid the full burden of the blame for all the monkeyness on the part of the West Indies board. As far as good sense goes, cricket is played on the field of play, and everything else should be tributary to the enactment there. How on earth should we expect our players to subsist on a diet of five first class matches per year and then expect them to viably compete with opposing sides comprised of players who thrive on highly competitive leagues where their staple is ten or more first class matches per season?
Scrutiny of the past in the Caribbean scheme of things has shown that there were just as few first class matches available in any one year. The fact though was offset by our top players availing themselves of opportunity to play in English county cricket and Australia's Sheffield Shield. Sobers, Holding, Richards, Roberts, Greenidge, Walsh, Ambrose, Kallicharran, Gomes, Hall and some others all at one time or another gravitated to that kind of goldmine shortly after making their names in the Caribbean. As eminent a performer as Clive Lloyd or, for that matter, Brian Lara made a living in England as professionals.
This last word here is of critical consideration. For some strange reason we have been treating as "professionals" a few players who are no more than half-baked. When we enlist and pay them excellent fees to contract themselves to remain in readiness to play for West Indies, if called upon so to do, we are enshrining mediocrity! Aren't we? All sanity would argue that a second round of matches in our four-day tournament would serve a better yardstick towards measuring readiness to play Test cricket. This is patently so in the absence of really decent quality in our domestic club leagues.
Restricting our research to just a handful of our past greats, I will point out Weekes made his debut for Barbados in 1945 at age of 20, scoring his first regional century the next year. Worrell's debut for Barbados in 1942 at age 18 (batting at No 11) was followed by his regional century in his 6th match in 1943. Walcott's progress paralleled that of Worrell. Sobers' 1st regional century came in his 2nd match in 1955. Nurse's own came in his 2nd regional match in 1958. Nearer home we can point to Irving Shillingford's 1st regional century coming at age 17 in 1961 in his 3rd regional match.
To all intents and purposes, either because of the food they ate, the water they drank (maybe the rum) or the essence of the social and educational situation our young cricketers of many years ago tended to mature as batsmen much earlier than appears to be the case with our current crop of youngsters. They all were blessed with far greater stamina. Accordingly they batted like people who knew what they were about and when coming up against foreign opposition they were not fazed by an inferiority complex. Incidentally, their Test match fees were small – miniscule by today's standards.
Asking for our players to acquit themselves as people with pride and for them to exhibit a decent outlook in the matter of individual preparation is in my view asking for a lot. The fact that the West Indies board has been horribly tardy in attempting to put in place infrastructure tuned to beefing up the technical development of our players has kept us well behind growth exhibited by England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka and even Pakistan (despite its own peculiar set of problems) and latterly Bangladesh. Do we wait for us to be kicked out of Test match status or do we take firm stands towards our development? Rohan Kanhai was successful as West Indies coach until he recommended disciplinary action against a player. He was fired by the board and the player in question retained. Phil Simmons has been suspended, not fired we are told, for attempting to censure the board. Unfortunat0ely our board has continually provided cause for censure.