Former outstanding Barbados cricketer Franklyn Stephenson has said Caribbean cricketers do not practise their craft enough, hence the reason that besides West Indies opener and batting icon Christopher Gayle, no other batsman in the region averages over 40 in either regional or Test cricket.
The outstanding fast-bowling allrounder said if regional cricketers wish to play the standard of cricket that West Indies was known for back in the 1970s and 1980s, then they need to work continuously at their game.
“I don’t think the guys practise enough and so it is like getting into something you don’t understand. When you get out there it is always pressure, every ball that is coming to you and basically, if you can get a start then basically you should be able to get runs because the start is what is difficult. Then when you are in you have to stay focused at the crease.
“It has to be something you dearly love and want to do because people are always assessing ways of playing against you and getting you out. They get better because they analyse and they are disciplined and I think we have lost a lot of that.”
He added: “The guys don’t work hard enough at their cricket. It is the discipline of the game that we are lacking and that is something you can’t hide behind closed doors. You gotta bring it out there in the open if they dearly love it.”
Head of the Franklyn Stephenson Academy located at Bennetts, St. Thomas, he shared his thoughts on what he believed the problem might be and the veteran did not mix matters. “We have lost that love for the game of cricket and I have my feelings on what is causing the majority of the problem. Here in Barbados, we are very thin-skinned and I have been accused by the BCA board of criticising the BCA. If you are going to open your mouth to say this is wrong and people consider that as criticism, I think that they have the wrong job to do.”
Many top regional cricketers are contracted annually by various leagues around the world such as the Indian Premier League and Australian Big Bash. But Stephenson, who starred with bat and ball on both the England and South African circuits, said while he understood the need for these guys to make money and earn a living, many of them were not playing meaningful cricket.
“The guys are not playing enough meaningful cricket, they are not testing themselves or being tested until they get on to the big stage. And so, you want them to get experience before they get on that stage. Barbados has lost a lot of sporting land, a lot of playing fields but they are still adequate areas that these guys can continuously play.
“We played league and county cricket and we did well. But before we stepped on to those stages we were players (talented cricketers). Yes, we had a lot of compatriots in the afternoon batting and bowling and it was always a challenge because it wasn’t a net session. If you got out the first ball you had to wait fifteen and twenty minutes before you could bat again. But the discipline was there and every person that batted again, they garnered experience because they knew the mistakes that they made and they worked on them.
“So, the focus was there and we need that focus back and with the current administration, I don’t think they understand that. I think it is too much about having the boys in glass cases and you expect to just send them on to the [big] stage. I understand the embarrassment and I feel it and I am sure the whole Caribbean feels it. But I believe that a lot of it can be remedied at home,” Stephenson said.
In addition to the need for the standard of play to improve, he also noted that regular match practice was needed since success would not be found with mediocre preparation.
Recognized as the one who pioneered the slower ball in cricket, Stephenson also criticised the fact that regional authorities were not sufficiently utilising the skills of West Indian cricketing stalwarts.
“In regional cricket you want the best players to play regularly and maybe then the sponsors can justify paying money out to sponsor the competition. But it is going to take money to get the guys together regularly. When you look at that it is not a one-year thing, it is an all-year-round commitment that you make.
“You got to get these guys regular match practice and that is only going to be against the top players that we got, the twenty-five and twenty-six averages players. When you give guys contracts, that means they need to keep on top of their game and these days guys have enough money on their own to say they are going to rent a pitch. But just the odd practice sessions on evenings is not going to help.
“Too many friends in coaching positions and all they have got to show for it are mediocre performances and failures and stuff. We haven’t included our past players enough, even if it is just for the expertise and even if they are not top quality coaches. Just being around to give somebody a bit of advice when they walk into the middle would be fantastic,” Stephenson said.