The Net Session

Wayne “The Diamond” Daniel in full flight

In this week’s edition of In Search of West Indies Cricket, Roger Seymour looks at a routine event that occurred before a Test match.

As sports evolve into fulltime professions, the actual contests are just the products of layers of preparation that involve input from several other professionals, coaches for every facet of the discipline, doctors, therapists, nutritionists, publicists, personal trainers, sports psychologists, to mention a few. Despite all the planning and preparation, the mind game is difficult to anticipate; more so, when an unexpected event occurs and it appears to be just another minor incident.

Bobby Fischer, the chess genius, was the ultimate master of preparation. As the world waited patiently for his 1972 title match with defending world champion Boris Spassky to begin, Fischer was memorising  every move Spassky had played at international level (all 14,000), coupled with an intense exercise regimen of swimming, skipping, walking and ping pong. He even spent time with a professional poker player from Las Vegas, a master showman and subtle mind bender.

Prior to the start of the match, Fischer made all kinds of demands, and objected to various terms and conditions. Once, he arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland, the shenanigans persisted until the start of the match and the distracting antics continued throughout the encounter. Despite the players’ moves being limited by time clocks, he often arrived with several vital minutes ticked away on his clock, and only once ever did he arrive on time.

Wayne “The Diamond” Daniel in full flight

After losing the first game, he never bothered to show up for the second game, protesting about the cameras. Spassky conceded at the last minute and agreed to play the third game away from the cameras, and Fischer beat him for the first time ever. When Fischer won game six, described by a close friend of his as a “Symphony of Placid Beauty,” to take a 3½ to 2½ points lead, Spassky rose to join the audience in applauding the magical performance of perfect chess. The match was as good as over.

Super Bowl

Colin Cowherd is an American sports media personality with a syndicated radio talk show. The audience can expect to hear his diverse views on anything from a review of Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller book Tipping Point, the benefits LeBron James accrued by never having played college basketball, the plight of guys married to divas, or the trap of a holding pattern in one’s life. Like his famous trailblazing predecessor, the late Howard Cosell, he is not afraid to go against the grain.

In the 2007/2008 American football season, the New England Patriots of the National Football League were on their way to perfection. Under the guidance of their savvy coach Bill Belichick, the team racked up a 16-0 regular season record. How good were they? Halfway through the season, the bookmakers in Las Vegas had taken the team off the board, refusing to accept wagers involving the Patriots. They won their first two playoff games to become the first professional team in America since 1884 to start a season with 18 straight wins. The bookmakers had New England at 4/6 to win the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona on February 3.

It was probably the Thursday or Friday before the Super Bowl, it was just after 10 am, ‘The Herd with Colin Cowherd’ show had just started and it was bitterly cold, as Colin waded into his opening rant. The previous day, he had been in the hotel were the New York Giants, the Patriots’ Super Bowl opponents, were staying.  His spiel went along these lines;

“Do you know about the eyeball test? You know when you check out your opponents just before the start of the game. You size them up, trying to get a feel for what they are made of, see where their heads are at. Well, I saw the New York FOOTBALL GIANTS [sounding like Cosell, while giving the team’s correct title] yesterday, and I’m telling you, if I were Bill Belichick, I don’t want my players seeing the Giants until the last possible minute before the start of the game. I don’t want them doing the eyeball test today.

“Man, oh man, those guys are big. I’m telling you, they are incredibly huge. It’s one thing to see them on TV, it’s another thing to see them live. I was in their hotel lobby yesterday when they passed through, they are ENORMOUS. If I’m Belichick, I don’t want them getting in my players’ heads too long before the game. I’m taking the Giants to win…”

The big guns

March 11 or 12, 1981, Kensington Oval, Barbados. It’s the net session before the start of the Third Test match between the West Indies and England. The West Indies won the First Test and the Second was cancelled due to the Robin Jackman affair (Sunday Stabroek, June 5 and 12, 2016). For whatever reason, both teams were having nets simultaneously at the same venue.

Geoff Miller, the Derbyshire off-spinner and a member of the touring party, was an eyewitness and recants the occasion. The West Indies big guns were first up, on their side of the field. Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd took batting practice against the fabled quartet of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner – the Best versus the Best.

The English players had been joined by their wives as per schedule on the island, in the aftermath of the Jackman affair. England had encountered rain in every territory on the tour and suffered from the lack of match practice, and now they were subjected to watching Richards and company battling with the pacers in the sunshine. The octet completed their session and retired to the Pickwick pavilion.

Larry Gomes was up next to face the local bowlers brought in to assist with the workout.  The Bajans trundled out of the dressing room. Wayne Daniel, Malcolm Marshall, Sylvester Clarke and Erza Moseley. At that point in time, this quartet could have competed with any other Test team’s quartet. The English players had just faced the former three in the territorial match against Barbados – Ezra couldn’t even make the local side – and were very familiar with them from county cricket. An embarrassment of riches to say the least, reduced to bowling to the second tier at a net session.

Backup singers sometimes become stars, or like the majority they just stay in the background. Whitney Houston sang with Chaka Khan and Lou Rawls, Sheryl Crow toured with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and Phil Collins took over as Genesis’ lead singer when Peter Gabriel departed. And this supporting cast?

Ezra Moseley made his first class debut in 1980 for Glamorgan in the English county championship whilst finding it difficult to secure a place in the Barbados side. Following an operation for a serious back injury, he later joined the rebel tour of South Africa in 1982/83, and received a lifetime ban from playing in the West Indies. With the ban lifted in 1989, Moseley was the only outcast ever selected for the West Indies and played two Test matches against England in the Caribbean in 1990. In the Third Test in Trinidad, with England chasing 151 to win, he broke England’s captain and best batsman Graham Gooch’s hand as the home side managed to hang on for a draw.

Wayne Daniel was a tearaway 20-year-old fast bowler who rose to prominence on the 1976 tour of England, and formed what is arguably the first quartet of the modern West Indian era in the Fourth and Fifth Tests, with Roberts, Holding and Vanburn Holder. He fell out of favour when he joined Packer’s World Series Cricket in 1977, but was recalled for the 1983 tour of India, and played the last of his ten tests against Australia at home in 1984.

It was playing for Middlesex in the county championship that he left his mark on the game. Under the guidance of Mike Brearley, he anchored the county’s attack for 12 seasons as they won eight trophies, capturing 685 wickets at 22.02.  Mike Smith, the county’s opening batsman gave him the nickname “The Diamond” soon after he arrived, correctly predicting that he would become the backbone of a very good side. Fierce, intimidating, fast and furious; that was Wayne Daniel.

Sylvester Clarke – Sir Garfield Sobers said he was the meanest fast bowler to come out of the West Indies. Sir Viv Richards recalls that Clarke was the only bowler he felt “uncomfortable” facing, Gooch’s helmet was split down the middle and Zaheer Abbas was struck so hard that his own had an indentation as half as deep as the ball. Steve Waugh’s (during his sojourn at Somerset) testimony should suffice, “the most awkward and nastiest spell of my career and something you can’t prepare for. It is an assault both physically and mentally and the moment you weaken and think about what might happen, you are either out or injured.”

‘Silvers’ plied his trade mainly for Surrey for nine seasons, after opting to go on the rebel tour of South Africa and curtailing his West Indian Test career at 11 matches. Did any other fast bowler drive as much fear into batsmen?  What if he hadn’t gone on that rebel tour?

Malcolm Marshall – 376 Test wickets, world record holder at one time. It’s a coin flip between the two Hampshire bowlers, Roberts or Marshall, who was better. They were both wicket takers, pensive strategists who would figure out batsmen or drive fear into them with a lethal spell of intimidating bowling or just pure raw speed.

Maco passed away at the relatively tender age of 41, three weeks before Silvers, in 1999.

…………..

* The chess match was scheduled for 24 games, but only lasted for 21 games, with Bobby Fischer taking the crown by 12½ to 8½ points.

* The New York Giants beat the New England Patriots 17 – 14, in Super Bowl XLII, on February 3, 2008.

* The West Indies beat England in the Third Test in Barbados, with the next two drawn in Antigua and Jamaica. In 1984 in England, and in 1986 in the Caribbean, the West Indies won all ten Test matches.

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