Retooling for success
With India due to tour the Caribbean in July, the consideration arises as to how the West Indies might effectively gear itself to contend with adversaries who have moved ahead of us for quite some time in the world cricket rankings. It has gone well past us when the Indians would be inclined to think in terms of their preparing to come up against hostile pace on past pitches. Our surfaces, alas, are now as slow as - perhaps slower than those served up on the sub-continent. In any case, Dhoni and his men are from the tactical point of view very likely to be equipped with better pacers than we have had in the last ten to fifteen years. If that is the position we are in, I think best for us to retool for the long run.
My outlook on this approach visualizes a systematic two months during which every effort is made to hone and fashion the type of players needed to render us competitive. To avoid being unduly theoretical I hasten to draw upon a reference to aid the business of clarity. The Australian team provides vivid examples of the type of material we seek. And since we don't seem to have them to order, we obviously need to work to produce them home grown! We are thinking of Test cricket.
Let's start with a focus on the pace bowling, Australia has Hazelwood, Starc, Siddle and Marsh, the latter being a batsman who can bowl, and does so very well indeed. Who do we have? Shannon Gabriel, Jerome Taylor, Kemar Roach, Jason Holder and Carlos Brathwaite. In all due seriousness Gabriel, Taylor and Roach rule themselves out as both injury prone and without cutting edge weaponry in their favor. We can work with Holder and Braithwaite but the glaring necessity is to develop three or four members of the Youth World Cup squad in the hope of getting two of them to fit the bill to spearhead the attack.
This is where I think the practicality of the idea of paying players a retainer fee can be drawn into due usefulness. We have paid these fees all along and players still arrive for international engagements looking both unfit and quite short of the skills that should define them at that level. Our pacers cannot hold a line suggesting menace and jeopardy to opposing batsmen. And if they remotely provide glimpses of penetration, they are unable to sustain a favorable hope in this direction. It would be utter madness to contemplate their retention of so farfetched a shape of this kind from one hour to the next – or one day to another, worse still from one match to the next!
Obviously, a prerequisite of the two months training programme should be to work up superlative fitness for all concerned - including our batsmen. As a prime approach to improved fast bowling, all candidates for the department must acquire the knack of bowling to an approved team plan. All garbage must be thoroughly weeded out and in the overall effort a bowler must be consistent with the required adaptability of shaping equally well against both left and right hand batsmen. How horribly disconcerting has it been of late to see our bowlers floundering to seek a decent adaptation in their direction.
A patent understanding in cricketing tactics is the value of bowling as a team effort rather than each man exercising a random approach. In this respect it is highly effective for the first change bowlers to continue and sustain an exertion of whatever pressure the opening battery has applied. Too often the absence of required pace backbone presents a soft touch allowing an opposing team to regroup into scoring as much as four hundred runs as against an initial projected demise of two hundred and fifty runs.
An appropriate sensibility demands that a team marks out the strengths and weaknesses of each component in the opposition. This to an extent of bringing on specific bowlers to counter individual batsmen, and accordingly special field placements devised to produce desired logical outcomes. Hence, the bowler with a potent bouncer is used as antidote to the happy-go-lucky hooker.
How does all this fit into a contemplated pattern of structuring the bowling? For my part, it would serve West Indies very well to engage at an advanced stage of its team preparation in playing two or three practice matches before embarking on a tour. This would help mitigate against not having the benefit of an approved schedule of warm-up matches – as occurred recently on tour to Australia. Such dress rehearsals would help in putting players under the microscope to assess how well they fit into related aspects of team strategy and tactics. All this must fit into a wholesome indoctrination that bowlers win matches.
Preparation is considered ninety percent of any war. Then, proper preparation can make an impressive difference in the cumulative growth of development from one tour to another, and one year to the next. As to our batting, the known quantities need to add dimensions of both quality and quantity to their comportment. As an opener Kraigg Braithwaite has shown progress in the two years since he got into the team. This should translate into his becoming a firm anchor of the innings. He can become more substantial by raising his bar, resulting in the team thriving into potency of bigger scores. He must see himself as the kind of anchor that was Conrad Hunte. He must cast each of his innings for the long haul.
Darren Bravo, too, must reflect on lifting himself above the sufficiency of one good innings in a tour. His capability is greater than this. If he lifts himself he will haul others along with him. Here, though, one detects an element of unfitness in his current make-up which can be corrected. Better for him to rate as an artisan, instead of an artist or an accountant tallying his runs with miserly concern for profit rather than loss.
The state of Marlon Samuels is much too embedded in the clutter of a confused mind, seemingly able to sort itself out only after prolonged and convoluted introspection. By now he should have a greater command of self determination which would pose him as less enigmatic and more positively assertive. He can be more influential than being an all or nothing crisis man. His maturity is deserving of an ability to embrace more in an expanse of usefulness. Marlon may not yet have found the psychologist he needs. His eminent physician may be unearthed from among the array of legends of West Indies cricket. Nothing he is going through could by any means be new to the venerable Everton Weekes, Gary Sobers, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Vivian Richards, Clive Lloyd or Brian Lara. But he, like the West Indies board must submit to the wisdom of resorting to open and candid meeting of minds with those comprising an obvious repository of irreplaceable knowledge.