By Tony McWatt
Test Captain Kraigg Brathwaite has called for whoever is appointed as the West Indies team’s new Coach to be someone who “understands our culture!” Brathwaite’s suggestion was made during a post-match interview following the conclusion of the Adelaide-hosted Australia-West Indies Second Test. The Aussies won by 419 runs thereby subjecting the West Indies to their worst-ever margin of defeat in its 96-year history of playing at cricket’s highest level.
Brathwaite was, of course, referring to the soon-to-be-announced Head Coach replacement for the outgoing Phil Simmons who resigned in disgrace as a result of the West Indies’ embarrassingly poor showing at the ICC T20 World Cup which had preceded the Australian Tour.
For the first time ever in the tournament’s now 15-year history, the two-time former champions West Indies failed to qualify for its Super12 stage of group play.
Brathwaite’s comment was made as a not-so-subtle suggestion that the new coach should be someone of Caribbean heritage.
Someone who has a complete understanding and appreciation of all the numerous cultural nuances that characterize the peoples of the region from which the cricketers who go on to represent the West Indies at each of international cricket’s three existing formats, Tests, ODIs and T20Is are drawn.
Accidentally, his comment has, however, now drawn stark attention to the vast difference that exists in the current culture of Caribbean cricket, particularly at the Test and ODI levels, by comparison to that which prevailed during the now almost three decades past halcyon days of West Indies’ supremacy as the sport’s unequalled champions.
Any such comparison of the then and now in terms of the West Indies team’s culture would indicate that the very first challenge the incoming coach will have to undertake must be the utter abandonment and replacement of that which currently exists in deference to what used to be there before.
For it is the sad prevalence of that existing very inferior, acceptance and embracement of mediocrity characterized culture that has been the root cause of the West Indies’ continuing demise from being attractively at the very top of international cricket to its status as an inferior cellar-dwelling team that many top-ranked countries are now evidently reluctant to even bother hosting!
The modus operandi of West Indies cricketers of the current era can be summed up in a simple recurring pattern – do what it takes to become a big fish among those swimming alongside you in the river-sized waters of Caribbean cricket.
Once there, completely abandon all the disciplines and practices that allowed you to get such a level in favour of an immersion in the readily available glitz and glamour of made-it-to-the-top symbols, including the mandatory thick gold chains and acquired BMWs.
Venture into the ocean-sized waters of international cricket only to discover that the whale sharks that exist at the sport’s highest level will very quickly identify and fully exploit even your most minute weaknesses, causing you to be noticeably much less successful than you were at the regional level.
It is a pattern that has been characterised by batsmen becoming reluctant to spend time in the nets honing and refining their craft, further developing their strengths while identifying and correcting their weaknesses.
Of fast bowlers refusing to engage in the running routines that as the acknowledged Godfather of the indisputably world-class great line of former fast bowlers – such as himself, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall, Sylvester Clarke, Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop and Curtly Ambrose which the West Indies produced during the late 70s and into the early 90s – Sir Andy Roberts has said puts “miles in your legs” and provides you with the stamina necessary to become consistently successful in Tests.
It is also a pattern of spinners routinely serving up the same easily dispatched diet of predictable deliveries that are so utterly lacking in variations of flight or spin; not to mention use of the crease to create subtle changes of lines and lengths that can deceive batsmen into the types of incorrect shot selection that will result in the peril of the loss of their wicket.
Even more astonishingly – mind-boggling actually – West Indies cricket’s current culture has become characterised by far too many of its practitioners failing to maintain even the basic standards of personal fitness that are required for them to consistently perform to the very best of their abilities at the highest levels.
Almost every tour or Series the West Indies has been engaged in over the past two-and-a-half decades has been punctuated by players suffering from fitness-related injuries and having to be replaced.
Some have even failed to pass Cricket West Indies (CWI) established fitness Tests which by comparison to those of other countries are somewhat inadequate.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul and the now Sir Curtly Ambrose, the former a batsman whilst the latter was of the fast-bowling variety, are arguably the most recent truly world-class cricketers the West Indies has produced.
Their respective careers, however, ended a long time ago – Chanderpaul’s in 2015 and Ambrose’s even earlier as far back as 2000.
Since then, only a handful of players the likes of Shai Hope, Shimon Hetmeyer, Jason Holder, more recently Alzarri Joseph and perhaps also Jayden Seales, have shown glimpses of their respective possessions of the talents required to subsequently become acknowledged greats of the game.
Holder at one point was even ranked as the world’s best all-rounder, but just as Hope and Hetmeyer have similarly failed to do his performances of late have not been of the very best.
In the 24 Tests he has now played, the still relatively young 26-year-old Alzarri Joseph is yet to register a five-wicket haul in an innings.
His best single-innings bowling performance to date has been 3/33. He also has figures of 6/88 as his best for a completed Test. Joseph, however, has all the necessary attributes, particularly his raw pace, which can allow him with the right supportive coaching guidance and if he personally dedicates the required time and effort to further develop his skills, to become the next great West Indies fast bowler!
In order for the likes of Joseph, Seales, Hetmeyer and Hope to transform their obvious talents into becoming world-class players and for Holder to recapture his seeming lost skills however, whoever CWI engages as its new coach will have to be someone capable of motivating his players to want to consistently give of their very best.
The new coach will have to establish a culture that encourages batsmen to spend hours in the nets all year round, perfecting their techniques. And likewise for the bowlers to engage in similar practices that will create the habit of bowling wicket-taking lines and lengths.
All players must also be made to take full responsibility for their personal fitness, as well as the further development of their cricket. Team members should also be encouraged to seek out and acquire suitably knowledgeable mentors who can identify their recurring faults and suggest ways to correct them.
Even the great Brian Lara often went to Sir Gary Sobers for advice, whenever he was experiencing a loss of form for any worrying length of time.
The Ricky Skerritt-Dr Kishore Shallow (S&S) CWI presidential administration has been a major disappointment and a colossal failure, so much so as to be considered the worst ever. An opportunity has now, however, been presented for S&S to redeem themselves somewhat by appointing a Coaching cadre that can establish the correct cultural environment that will allow West Indies players in all three formats to consistently give of their very best, both on and off the field.
Once that immediate, short-term, objective of having our absolute best players being selected and motivated to perform at maximum possible efficiency has been achieved, attention can then be turned towards the administration and management of West Indies cricket with the same goal in mind.
That of the complete replacement of all the square peg administrators with far more competent and suitable personnel to efficiently fill every one of the now far too many existing gaping round holes in the way our cricket has been managed, administered and non-developed for the past two-plus decades!
Out with the old, in with the new is an advocation commonly associated with the advent of any New Year. At this time, however, and with West Indies cricket’s very best interests in mind, the approach must instead definitely be, at least in terms of creating the most conducive cultural environment for the team to perform under, out with the new, back in with the old.
Guyana-born, Toronto-based, Tony McWatt is the Publisher of both the WI Wickets and Wickets/monthly online cricket magazines that are respectively targeted toward Caribbean and Canadian readers. He is also the only son of the former Guyana and West Indies wicket-keeper batsman the late Clifford “Baby Boy” McWatt.