Is it the end for West Indies cricket?”

It could very well be, if W.I cricket officials, journalists and fans do not “Think Well on It”.
Sir Garfield Sobers is acknowledged by all and sundry to be the greatest cricketer to have ever played the game. Only Jacques Kallis`s name is even mentioned in the same breath. And what is more, even though he did not went to University, Sir Garfield is clearly an intelligent, thoughtful gentleman, who, if given more opportunities could have done so much more for West Indies cricket.

When he speaks about cricketing skills he speaks with authority, like the Pope to Catholics, on faith and morals. Once he is out of his area of expertise, even if the subject is cricket, I have no reservations about disagreeing with him.
Sir Gary has been quoted as saying (I concede the possibility of inaccuracy) the following:

“I have never made a run for me. I have always played for the West Indies team, and it was such a pleasure and joy to be able to do what I did. I don’t think we have that kind of person today. We might have them in different countries, but I don’t think we have them in the West Indies. I think we are going to be struggling for a long time”.

This is really an expression of pain and sadness that emanate from the turmoil, and long history of defeats West Indian cricket has endured in the last two decades. It is a common refrain, and understandable, coming from a people who have made their mark in modern history primarily from music, literature and cricket.

But it is unhelpful. The focus is entirely on the character of the players, who are seen as somehow different from those of the victorious years, and are peculiarly malevolent. It is noteworthy that when West Indian teams were literally humiliating Australian and English teams in the seventies and eighties, the reaction in those countries was somewhat different.

That reaction could be summarized as follows:

“Those islanders are incredible. We must study how they play the game. We must encourage them to come and play among us; and wherever possible we must make rule changes to make it more difficult for them to win”.

Those foreigners did many things to improve their game. They did not demonise their players, but invested heavily in player development.

If any person believe that the pain the current West Indian cricketer feels in defeat is not real, he is sadly mistaken. The oft-repeated allegation that the current West Indian cricketer has neither pride nor patriotism, but play only for money is, on its face, ridiculous. Frankly, if that were the case, the greedier they are, the harder they would play.

It is not useful and usually unwise to compare sportsmen from different generations. That said, a young Sir Gary and many of his illustrious team mates were not boy scouts; and Fire in Babylon notwithstanding, they were not particularly politically sensitive, although Sir Viv was properly recognized as a black nationalist. Most of them were, as today’s players are, principled young men, PERHAPS with better public school education, and more settled home lives.

The politics of Apartheid and the Packer revolution brought them to maturity abruptly, with scars that last to today. That most of them played county cricket regularly in England is a circumstance that is often conveniently forgotten.

History and weather help to make cricket popular in the region, but West Indians must not believe that they have some unique ability to play the game that will lead to international success without careful planning and investment. It is not unreasonable to believe that a region that was either a leader or a dominant force in the game for almost the entire second half of the twentieth century can again become competitive.

It is less reasonable to say that such a region must necessarily again become dominant.

Things will not turn out well for such a region if its leaders and moulders of opinion place the responsibility for resurgence primarily on the players. The two latest fiascos in West Indian cricket speak volumes. In the latest, a recently hired head coach was suspended on the eve of a tour, and replaced by a selector, who, by his vote, was partly responsible for the impugned reaction of the head coach, the dispute having arisen because the majority of selectors denied the Chairman of selectors, the head coach, and the captain their choice of including two players whom they reasonably believed could contribute, in a fifteen man squad.

The penultimate one, which is not unrelated to the last, arose because the team was sent on tour without a contract, with most of its members coming to realise during the tour that they were being paid some 70% less than they thought. That the team was expected to perform even modestly well in those circumstances surely means that those responsible for the suspension did not believe that a head coach was truly important in the scheme of things.
For West Indies cricket to become competitive again some common sense policies must be put in place, both for the short and the long term. I do not know enough to speak about the long run other than to say I hold in high regard those responsible for recommendations made in the Patterson and Wilkins report that deal mainly with governance issues.

For the short run the following need to be implemented immediately by the W.I.B.C.:

*In general the administrators must accept that the players need help, and that players are immeasurably more important to the region than are the administrators

*Institute an innovative policy of improving communications between the coaching staff and players during games to provide more control of the coaching staff over the team during games than generally obtain in the game internationally.

*Stop the practice of changing captains and coaches as punitive measures.

*Do not limit the supply of available talent for international encounters by having too many exclusionary rules

*Encourage those who have demonstrated talent, even if inconsistently, to join the ranks.

*Improve the communications and relationships between administrators and cricketers.

*Hire a support staff at least as well-qualified as that of the best team, and make a Sports Psychologist a priority.

*Pay a great deal of attention to the facilities which the players must use – from the pitch to the toilet facilities.

*Demonstrate clearly to the players that their interests and their views are valued.

*Recognise that the administration has neither the power to, nor the interest in, limiting economic opportunities for cricketers.

*Make peace with all sectors of the media.

*Stop acting as if the W.I.C.B is a secret society.

Romain Pitt

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