The West Indies cricket team seems to have finally turned the corner in 2012 with a Test series victory over New Zealand, the World T20 trophy in its hands and a Test series victory over Bangladesh. Some, including the West Indies cricket administration, are of the view that current captain, Darren Sammy, is to be credited for this turnaround, along with coach Otis Gibson. But does reality support this contention?
After ruling the roost during the eighties and the early nineties the West Indies team began to plummet as the stars retired en bloc over a short period of time. While there were still a few talented players around, including the incomparable Brian Lara, the fact is that the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) had never implemented a concerted programme to groom emerging cricketers to replace those stars, perhaps because they expected that talents the like of Richards, Lloyd, Greenidge, Holding, Croft et al, would be perennially mass produced by the West Indies cricketing mill. And when this did not happen, the replacements, talented though they were, could not measure up, not only because the rest of the world had learned from the West Indies champion team and closed the gap, but also because the level of dedication, pride and application could not be replicated by the succeeding crop of players. And so, a team of emerging players was thrown into the deep end with no leadership skills à la Lloyd or Richards to grab them by the scruff of the neck and instil endurance and self-correction. The result was that the West Indies gradually plummeted to the bottom of the rankings as fans became more and more frustrated.
But the problem was not only about team leadership and player endurance and application. The WICB somehow failed to realise that the situation demanded structural changes in, and an innovative approach to administration, and instead continued to operate as the elite old boys club that it had always been, a club that, in its own eyes, did no wrong. And so, even though monumental time and effort and a great deal of money was employed to come up with a plan of action, the result, the Patterson Report (authored by former Jamaican Prime Minister, P J Patterson) was more or less shelved as the WICB did not seem interested in changing itself and the way it did business. A lack of a player management plan also saw regular breakdown of the younger players, forcing selectors to bring in untested and raw talent that invariably failed.
Matters worsened, when a militant leader, former Test player, Dinanauth Ramnarine, took over the helm of the West Indies Players Associa-tion (WIPA) and fought for both respect for his members as well as just compensation for their efforts. Ramnarine was probably motivated, in part, by what he perceived was disrespect meted out to him as Test player; he felt that he had been given a raw deal by the selectors. The upshot has been years of wrangling which saw WIPA winning every case that was sent to arbitration and the WICB shelling out millions of dollars in lawyers’ fees, fines and compensation, as a result of losing the many cases. Yet, instead of recognising its own faults, WICB continued to place blame everywhere else, even as it is faced with a $20 million lawsuit by WIPA over the board’s withholding of no-objection certificates to players.
Things reached a low point when a captain, who did not merit a place in the Test team, Darren Sammy, was handed the reins and a coach who has an obvious disrespect for senior players, Otis Gibson, was appointed. Almost immediately the three top batsmen, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were sidelined, as was one of the best pace bowlers, Jerome Taylor. Also a puzzling selection policy ensured that talented players were not given consistent runs. Thus, Devendra Bishoo, the International Cricket Council Emerging Player of the Year 2011, was dropped after one bad performance and has since been in cricketing exile.
Gayle was reintegrated into team, after his case received the support of the Jamaican Prime Minster, Portia Simpson-Miller. So too was Chanderpaul, dubbed the rock for his consistency, and who has twice held the number one ranking in the world. In Chanderpaul’s case, threatened legal action did the trick. However, Sarwan is still out in the cold, although he played with devastating effect in the recently concluded English cricket season and has since been appointed captain of Leicestershire’s four-day team. Guyana’s Sports Minister, Dr Frank Antony, has indicated that Sarwan’s case is being discussed with the WICB in an attempt to seek a resolution, but to date no public pronouncement has been made about this issue. Even though he has resigned from the executive of WIPA, which apparently was the real reason for his sidelining, Sarwan had sued the WICB and won, and this, obviously, would not have endeared him to the administrators or the selectors.
Meanwhile, as new talent began to display greater pride and motivation and combined seamlessly with senior players, the team began to jell with the batting lead by Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels (who came back into the team after a two-year ban for match fixing) and Chanderpaul. New talent was unearthed in Darren Bravo, Kieran Powell and some others along with bowlers of the calibre of Kemar Roach, Sunil Narine and Verasammy Permaul, who were supported by senior players, Fidel Edwards and the erratic Tino Best, who can be devastating on his day, as Bangladesh recently found out. In short the team has been playing well in spite of coach Otis Gibson. Senior players have simply been stepping up while younger ones have self corrected and become more focused and disciplined, because of the efforts of the various regional teams for which they play, and in some cases international exposure with teams they’re contracted to. The reality is that had Gibson been merely a good coach Tino Best would not have been so erratic, Devendra Bishoo would still have been playing, Adrian Bharath would already have worked out the kinks in his armour, and Sarwan and Taylor would still have been playing Test cricket.
Additionally, the argument that Sammy brought discipline to the team does not hold water for the very simple reason that at the international level sports discipline is a self-regulated trait and no single individual can force another to be what he or she does not want to be except by use of fear. Indeed fear was the weapon employed by the WICB administrators, selectors and coach, so players either towed the line or were sidelined. And by going after the big guns – Gayle, Chanderpaul and Sarwan – they were able to make that fear potent. Thus, while it is debatable whether discipline was actually lacking in the first place, the current performance of the team would have been the result of individually greater efforts than any achievement on the part of Captain Sammy.
Besides, not only has Sammy made numerous, often basic captaincy mistakes, but he is considered to be a ‘yes’ man who kowtows to the whims and fancies of administrators and coach and was rewarded with the captaincy when more independent players were loath to play ball. While his playing record is still scratchy at best, Sammy has displayed no outstanding leadership skills, and his captaincy has been puzzling at times, while downright inexplicable at others. In fact, much of the team’s success has been credited to the charisma of Chris Gayle, the sobering influence of Marlon Samuels and the steadfastness of Shiv Chanderpaul, all senior players who were vastly criticized by Coach Gibson, not individually, but en bloc.
Thus Sammy has been a place filler during a transition phase whereby from rock bottom began the inevitable upward climb that all teams make regardless of who is at the helm. Now that batting and bowling are beginning to jell, Sammy’s place becomes more and more the sticking point. With the batting clicking, the potency of the team can be enhanced by another specialist position at number seven, and many are of the view that Sarwan best fills that spot. In effect it’s time for the captaincy to go to a player who merits a regular place in the team and for Sammy to compete for his place like everyone else. At the end of the day, however, whether the team makes regular strides in its upward climb would depend on whether the new CEO, Jamaican born Michael Muirhead, can shelve the ‘cricket as usual’ approach and implement changes that are necessary, especially with regard to the WICB’s relationship with WIPA; comprehensive player management; fair and standardized selection and transparent, open and incisive administration.