Two photographs in as many days tell the story of the future of West Indies cricket. The first capture Floyd Reifer, West Indies interim cricket coach, in conversation with Jamaican Dr. Glen Mills, the world’s best-ever sprint coach/educator. The second is of Richard Pybus, terminated West Indies coach, commenting on the West Indies Test defeat against India at Sabina Park.
These images once again validate the theory that West Indian society finds itself at a crossroads, and cricket continues to serve as the mirror in which it views itself.
In the post-defeat narrative, Pybus treats us to what he describes as his ‘Philosophy of West Indies Cricket progress’. This we shall call the “PP” or Pybus Philosophy. On examining the assumptions and prescriptions of the PP, there is compelling proof of it as a ‘call me back’ self-serving objective, mixed in with inaccurate explanations for our performance results. Also, it promotes a sleight of hand attempt to cover up the most damaging vandalism ever imposed on West Indies cricket—his role in the abolition of the West Indies High-Performance Centre.
Stepping back and across in order to get behind the moving ball, we encountered evidence that is well known. Dr. Rudy Webster, Windies cricket visionary, pioneered the early development of the West Indies Cricket Academy at the beginning of the globalization phase of cricket. He did so at St George’s University in Grenada.
In the aftermath of this effective initiative, The UWI—in conjunction with Sagicor Financial Corporation and the West Indies Cricket Board under President Dr. Julian Hunte, building on the Webster legacy—established the High-Performance Centre (HPC) at The UWI’s 3Ws Oval, in Cave Hill, Barbados.
The HPC produced the young talent that has found its way into Windies international cricket. Then he entered Richard Pybus. In a short time, he unleashed a philosophy that resulted in its closure. His attitude to the HPC, The UWI that hosted it, and cricket educators in the region, was unwarranted.
PP came out of the Mark Nicholas anti-West Indies school in England. Nicholas, the primary philosopher stated explicitly that West Indians have no intellectual talent or capacity to pull themselves up from the performance valley into which they have fallen. According to Nicholas, the peak of their success during the 20-year Clive Lloyd-Viv Richards regimes was a ‘fluke’, rather than rooted in resolve and reasoning. It was, he said, an act of nature and, like “Halley’s comet”, ‘a thing of beauty’ when it lasted that will never be seen by us again.
The PP, like Nicholas’ Fluke theory, is an expression of English cricket racism in sport. Its first expression was the shutdown of the HPC because it was not needed and therefore irrelevant. In his thinking it was top-heavy in the mental dimension having produced top-class players like Jason Holder, Carlos Brathwaite, Shai Hope, and Shannon Gabriel. In the PP, these players do not have to think for themselves; all they need to do is follow him mindlessly and they will be fine. This was the thinking that saw to his rejection in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In giving a thumbs-down to the HPC at its prime, young West Indies players were fingered and thrown to the wolves. They became the only international cricket team without an academy; the only competitive cricket nation without a training and learning center; the only team of brilliant talent without a place to hone mental and technical skills. This act of visionless vandalism struck at the very heart of West Indian revival and resilience.
In the PP, the weakening of young players would have no negative performance impact because they were expected to leave the mental aspect to him. He was the mind, the thinker, the new authority. England arrived in the West Indies with a weakened side, showing contempt for the Windies, because they were focused on winning the World Cup.
It was the performance of former HPC players that got the better of them, not a Pybus vision. But it was Pybus who rolled out the strategy that the Windies World Cup squad could be assembled in England two weeks prior to the start and could be competitive.
Other teams, primarily his England, were in World Cup building sessions for months. As a result of his planning and thinking, Windies went in at 50 per cent tournament ready, at best. This was obvious to the critical cricket eye that saw a T20 rather than an ODI outfit. Discussions of the poor results that followed should ideally have focussed on a probe into the Pybus preparation plan rather than with players and coaches. It will take a while for the West Indies to overcome the damage caused by the PP since the closure of the HPC.
We should be aware too of the power of external events that rock internal development. There are rarely coincidences. This is the second time since the Lloyd-Richards regimes that Windies have been so undermined. South African cricket leaders, in order to undermine Windies’ excellence, strategically pulled out our replacement ‘A’ players as rebels in the 1980s and early 1990s. This depleted the bench. By the mid-1990s Windies stars were replaced by the ‘B’ bench. We fell steeply.
Furthermore, the PP is really an expression of the new-colonial mind at work. The colonizer, after conceding finally to the Independence demands of natives, smirks at each national failure, and, as if guided by the PP, says “Ok, you wanted change, Independence, and now you have it; you can’t manage your own affairs; you are not ready to compete on your own in the global space; now stop the pretence to independence and agree to my return”.
This is the racial ideology that drips from the core of the PP. It is followed by the social theory that West Indian failures are rooted in their cultural inability—the Nicholas “brainless West Indians” discourse. Conversely, West Indian success from Sir Frank Worrell, through Sir Gary Sobers, and on to Sir Viv Richards, 50 years of indigenous-inspired and led excellence, is described by Mark Nicholas as a fluke, never to be seen again.
The ‘gotcha game’ being played by Pybus and his local collaborators are not only infantile, but it is also very dangerous. It goes beyond the boundary of professional decency and connects to all the challenges that are currently facing West Indian people today. After the progress came to the recession. Did we fail or were we defeated? The subtlety is not without substance.
To promote a philosophy of self-reliance in search of a domestic solution, based on partnerships with true global friends, attracts hostility in some quarters. The spin experts have a field day turning out the narrative. But to submit to postcolonial subjugation—bring back the imperial mind to lead and determine domestic affairs—is to face the pace of academics and other civil society strategists.
In the presence of growing doubt and confidence, the collaborators—in search of benefit—would hand back the nation to the imperialists. Professional pirates of old beliefs that we West Indians are once again ripe for the pickings. But this is not so. The resistance is rising. It is inspired by the pantheon of Caribbean heroes from Nanny of the Maroons and Sam Sharpe, from Kofi and Toussaint to Bussa to Bogle, and onward to Marcus Garvey.
While we prepare to push back the PP that West Indians have no performance future without the imperial mind, and cannot build upon the excellence of prior indigenous success, we recognize that sincere foreign friends and global partners have always been a part of our emergence to excellence.
There is no rejection of the international in monopoly pursuit of the national. That has never been the West Indian way. At the height of our success, for example, was Dennis Waight, the Aussie fitness and mental toughness mentor. Pybus, sadly, is not within this international development tradition; he is imported from an imperial core that disposed of the local cricket school set up to free the minds of the youth.
Thinking and timing and not griping and groaning is everything in sport. This is why Floyd Reifer’s reaching out to Dr. Mills in Jamaica for guidance on how to train players in time management during an innings is so significant. Mills is the greatest time manager of all times. Less than 10 seconds in which to play is not magic; it is intellectual magnificence. This is what the HPC was set up to do. Manage moments in order to win.
The photo of Reifer and Mills, therefore, signals the onset of enlightenment, a giant step into the future. The Pybus picture, on the other hand, that seeks to sell the ‘I told you so tale’ constitutes, in the final instance, a loud call from a Caribbean cemetery.
Professor Sir Hilary Beckles is the director of the CLR James Cricket Research Centre at The University of the West Indies and a former director of the West Indies Cricket Board, now Cricket West Indies.