There is perhaps no other endeavour that Caribbean people now appear to accept more readily than cricketing mediocrity. Regional politicians frequently challenge our cricketers to sit at the head of that particular table but at least we tend to expect that quality from many, if not most of them.
Despite the silence from the previous naysayers, it has been quite noticeable that West Indies’ performances have dipped in recent times. It is also quite noticeable that new Cricket West Indies (CWI) president Ricky Skerritt is seemingly still wearing his politician’s hat when it comes to assessing and making decisions on West Indies cricket and some of its components.
Following the ICC World Cup debacle, Mr Skerritt had this to say about a game that at last sighting is still being played on the cricket field, and where successful performances are still guided by ability, intelligence, determination and a measure of luck.
“The good work by Dr [Kishore] Shallow (CWI vice-president) and myself and others have begun — it began just on the cusp of the World Cup but none of it was geared towards realistically expecting West Indies to win the World Cup . . .We expect to win the 2023 World Cup and that’s the work that we’ve started now. I think the team did the best under the circumstances.
“This was a team that was strung together by so many mixes and matches, and so many changes and tops and turns, and ups and downs over the last five, six years. It was just not possible for that team to go to England and win a World Cup.”
Those were the utterances of Mr Skerritt – the politician, using hindsight to deflect blame away from an administration – young though it might be – that all and sundry had previously expected to accept blame for every infelicity on and off the field. Mr Skerritt’s words might have sounded less hollow had he made them before the team departed to England.
But to echo Mr Skerritt, there have been many “mixes and matches”, “changes and tops and turns” in our cricket. And many will argue that this is so because global Twenty20 cricket has so empowered and enriched some of our so-called top players that West Indies cricket has taken a backseat on their priority list. Those who were previously in charge of our cricket found themselves having a choice: either pander to players who turned up late for camps, if at all; who cherry-picked the tournaments for which they were available; who declined or were annually unavailable to play for their regional side in first-class cricket; or move away from those type of cricketers and provide others with opportunities. In essence, the choice was to cede control to the new cricketing gentry or try to manage without them. The result of that is now history.
What seems to apply today with the new dispensation is the perfection of rhetoric, public relations, excuses and an ability to numb oneself against the pain of failure. Mediocrity has become tolerable if swallowed quickly, it seems. Following the West Indies being whitewashed by India in the just-concluded Twenty20 series interim coach Floyd Reifer made a few points. He didn’t use words or phrases such as “horrendous”, “lack of discipline” or “greater commitment needed”. Mr Reifer said that though the results had not gone the West Indies way he was “impressed with the overall approach”. Good Lord! How can you be impressed with the overall approach of anything that ends in dismal failure? Mr Reifer waxed lyrically with the usual catch phrases, “building for the future” and creating “a positive culture”. Grating, gratuitous gobbledygook!
And if one wanted confirmation that our present administrators are not conscious enough about the job entrusted to them, the ongoing saga with Andre Russell provides ample evidence. In 1994 the great Brazilian footballer Romario not only led his team to World Cup glory, he also won the Golden Ball as player of the tournament. Four years later at the age of 32, he was left out of the squad because of a muscle injury that rendered him less than 100 per cent fit for the prestigious World Cup. Compare that lucidity to the muddled CWI sending an unfit Russell to a World Cup and subsequently selecting him for a home series just weeks after a knee operation, and then allowing him to miss the series to rehab in a Twenty20 tournament in Canada. Perhaps this is what Mr Skerritt unwittingly meant when he spoke about “mixes and matches”, “changes and tops and turns.”
CWI will do well to focus mainly on the regional four-day game as the springboard to honing skills for white-ball cricket. It is not by accident that West Indies’ most dynamic white-ball cricketer, Chris Gayle, has had an outstanding red-ball career. The same applies for the likes of AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis of South Africa, David Warner and Steve Smith of Australia, Shakib Al Hasan of Bangladesh, among others. Cricket skill is honed in arduous first-class cricket.
But here we are in the Caribbean changing course once again, pandering to mediocrity, and not accepting how awful and disgusting defeat tastes.