Cozier On Sunday

The new coach for the West Indies team, the ninth in the 15 years since the post was first established in 1992, was to have been chosen by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) at its meeting at the Turtle Beach Hotel here yesterday. A new assistant was also expected, like the coach himself, on the recommendation of the cricket committee.

On the irrefutable evidence of history, neither will make the slightest difference to the prolonged plight of the team they will direct.

Whoever is named – and the informed word is that Phil Simmons, the former Trinidad and Tobago and West Indies opener, has drawn the short straw – takes over a position from which none of his predecessors managed to stimulate any improvement, individual or collective.

The upshot is that the West Indies remain rooted to the bottom rungs of the international ladder just a dozen years after their lengthy reign as undisputed, respected world champions.

The new coach, and his support staff, will find players not properly prepared for the technical, physical and mental demands of international sport and too set in their ways to significantly change.

The work of those who have previously taken on the challenge was encumbered by a board devoid of money and ideas and by an inadequate, unprofessional domestic structure now further diluted by the meaningless inclusion of the boys of the under-19 squad and an imprecise assortment of players under the banner of the Combined Campuses and Colleges.

The report of the governance committee, commissioned by the WICB and headed by the former Jamaica Prime Minister P.J.Patterson, was also to be formally laid at yesterday’s meeting. It is likely to lead to several changes in the way the game is run.

Coaching is one area, more than most, that requires urgent attention.

It is clear that the emphasis should now be on the coming generation – in the clubs, in the schools and, yes, in the colleges and campuses – through a concerted and coordinated drive.

If the coming group of cricketers is allowed to emerge with an indifferent work ethic and an unprofessional attitude, as is so prevalent at every level at present, the West Indies will continue to falter against opponents who once cringed in the face of their might but before recognising what was needed to reach their standards.

The precise planning and concerted coaching that brought Australia out of their trough during the 1980s to their present position of world dominance contrast directly with the complacency that created the West Indies decline. While every other Test country has moved forward, the West Indies have been stuck in reverse.

Yet there have been efforts by the WICB to tackle the problem. Why they should have been abandoned is unclear but they need to be revived.

Ten years ago, Reg Scarlett, the Jamaica and West Indies off-spinner of the 1960s, who had established a considerable reputation in England, was appointed the WICB’s first director of coaching. At the same time, the late Malcolm Marshall was confirmed as coach of the Test team, Roger Harper of the ‘A’ team and Gus Logie of the youth team while Willie Bourne and Theo Cuffy were made senior coaches.

Scarlett’s concentration was on a cadre of coaches at the junior level who, he said, would be equipped with video cameras and recorders, bowling machines, “demo” balls, films and the like. They would be supervised by cricket development officers in eight territories and supported by former eminent players.

The regional development officers’ responsibilities would extend beyond monitoring the quality of coaching at all levels to “supporting and encouraging grass roots participation, organising competitions, courses and seminars and identifying potential players from an early age.”

Scarlett has long since gone into retirement. Marshall has passed to the great beyond and Harper and Logie have risen to experience the frustration of all Test team coaches before moving on to other assignments overseas. Bourne has sought other avenues and Cuffy has settled in the Cayman Islands where the game benefits from his enthusiasm and dedication.

Regional development officers are still in place but what direction and support they receive from the WICB is unclear. Full-time coaches for ‘A’ and youth teams no longer exist, neither do the posts of senior coaches. Tony Howard, once team manager, is the only one manning the cricket fort in St.John’s as the chief cricket operations manager.

With a Centre of Excellence at the UWI’s Cave Hill campus, along with feeder academies, planned and the Stanford 20/20 organisation creating professional teams under assigned coaches in six islands, an arrangement to be eventually extended to all the participants in the annual tournament, there is an ideal opportunity for the WICB to restore Scarlett’s post and focus on the proper preparation of the players of the future.

The reality is that the present generation is basically beyond recovery. It has come through a period of weak administration that allowed a culture of indiscipline to develop and individualism to prosper.

A host of players have worn the maroon and silver during these desperate years, several with as much natural ability of those of their eminent redecessors. That much was evident from the early promise almost all showed on their entry into Test cricket – but not one has progressed. Indeed, the majority have gone backwards.

Indeed, now that the incomparable Brian Lara has played his last innings for the West Indies, the only remaining batsman with a Test average better than 40 is the reliable Shivnarine Chanderpaul (46.63) and he is now 33. There is no contemporary bowler whose wickets cost less than Corey Collymore’s 30.68 each.

A batting collapse always seems an over or two away, the bowling can be so wayward that it concedes 23 wides in a Twenty20 match and the fielding, well, better not to go there.

And all this under a succession of worthy West Indians coaches, Andy Roberts, Clive Lloyd, Marshall, Sir Viv Richards, Harper and Logie, all members of the formidable teams of their generation, and the much touted Bennett King, the former head of Australia’s Centre of Excellence.

David Williams, the Test ‘keeper of the early ’90s who joined the support staff for the first time on its recent tours of England and South Africa, was simply the latest coach to comment on the key problem.

“I don’t think the attitude of some of the players was right,” he told the Trinidad Express last week. “It opened up my eyes to a lot of things, the lack of consistency and attitude.”

The WICB needs to open its eyes to a lot of things.

Coaching that fosters consistency and proper attitude from an early age is high on the list.

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