By Orin Davidson
`Hard work’ must be the most used words in the West Indies team in the after-glow of their deserving 1-0 cricket series victory over England.
Now it seems, the players are finally getting the message about the primary requirement for success at the international level.
Ramnaresh Sarwan enjoyed one of his best batting performances and he has been credited by his coach for upping his work load. Fidel Edwards won praise from two noted ex-fast bowlers who have been ‘there and done that’. He too is said to be working harder than ever with physical trainers. Chris Gayle has undergone a transformation since the gruelling six-week camp with the Stanford All Stars. Denesh Ramdin was one of the few Test players not part of that camp, but the fitness effect must have rubbed off as he is a changed and more focussed player with the bat and behind the stumps.
As for Brendan Nash, he has brought his work ethic from that tough Queensland upbringing in Australia. And there is no need to reiterate `Shiv’ Chanderpaul’s commitment to the ‘grind’ that has made him an example of excellence to his teammates for some years now.
As a result, these players along with Jerome Taylor and Sulieman Benn and the rest of the team deserve all the kudos bestowed from all parts of the region, for regaining the Wisden Trophy, that will surely send England home with their tails between tails. Not to mention forcing the English media to eat lots of crow.
Yet there are lessons to be learnt from this series, none more important than the pros and cons of a defensive approach as opposed to a positive one.
Outside of Sarwan’s phenomenal batting, West Indies’ “play it safe approach’ for the last Test in Trinidad, is the biggest talking point making the rounds.
They barely made it over the finish line at the Queen’s Park Oval for the series clinching draw simply because they employed the wrong tactic which backfires more often than not in the world of sports.
Gayle could preach a thousand times that they went out there for a win, but the selection strategy of playing three specialist bowlers said otherwise.
It was even more significant on the final day when the ultra cautious batting approach almost led to yet another defeat.
There is a well worn expression in sport that behoves competitors to only ‘play what you know’.
West Indies are not adept at defending their wickets and that was clear to see on Tuesday afternoon.
Pushing and prodding to keep out the ball from the stumps has cost the team dearly in the past. They are better at playing their natural positive game.
West Indies survived against England, but would’ve surely perished against stronger opponents like Australia, South Africa or India.
Further, because it has never been the West Indian way of playing, it is a deep curiosity on why the team copied an approach that seems fashionable with some teams these days, and for which India caused the ire of observers in the last series against England.
Also, no one should need Michael Holding and Colin Croft to remind us that West Indies team is not about to return to the glory achievements of the Dream Team of the 1970s and 80s, as a result.
The narrow victory margin explained it all.
As was the case in past years, West Indies bowling attack faded as the series wore on. England were not bowled out in Antigua, Barbados and Trinidad, not only because the pitches were batting friendly.
The opposition attack lost it’s bite, and Gayle’s defensive tactics in the field did not help as were the numerous dropped catches in Barbados.
It should be an instant indication to the team’s decision makers that a deeper bowling lineup is required.
If Taylor was fully fit after his exploits in the first test, it might’ve been a different story.
Clearly Taylor is the team’s most effective bowler, but from all indications he is not the most durable and the team will have to live with the reality not to expect consistent long stints from him.
West Indies Cricket Board president Julian Hunte was seen drowning recent problems, celebrating with the team at the presentation function.
He later gushed about the joy the victory brought.
Yet he should’ve been telling fans about development plans for the players instead.
They are a number of young fast bowlers in the region who are showing the promise that needs honing to build the limited stock within the senior team.
There are Kemar Roach, Nelon Pascal, Kevin McLean, Brandon Bess and Jason Dawes among others, who all have the raw pace but whose rough edges need serious polishing.
This long talked about academy would do wonders for these young bowlers.
Ian Bishop said he learned vital fast bowling skills from camps conducted by ex great Andy Roberts clinic which was a regular exercise organized by the Board in the 1990s.
If the current executive is not ready to establish its academy, what is preventing it from announcing plans to organize a long term training clinic for these bowlers? It is the biggest weakness hindering the team from enjoying consistent success
The World Cup money has been available for two years now, so what is the problem?
For the records, England not only has a permanent fast bowling coach, it also has one for spin, in addition to others for batting and fielding. In contrast West Indies has one head coach and another who assists in no specific department.
One reason India is a heavyweight these days is because their bowling attack is several levels more potent. They are winning often because the team has a crop of good fast bowlers to chose from, which did not materialize by accident.
The Indian decision makers have been investing heavily for years in fast bowling schools and are reaping the rewards at the expense of teams like West Indies.
Also, Mitchell Johnson, the Aussie paceman that is destroying South Africa presently, has been singing the praises of the team’s bowling coach Troy Cooley for improving his technique.
Could you imagine the benefits that West Indies, which has a much richer pace bowling tradition than India, could accrue from similar exposure for its pacemen?
It boggles the mind why the WICB is yet to recognize this possibility.