­Lessons from the past

Dr Rudi Webster

Many people in the Caribbean will say that there is good natural cricket talent in the region, particularly at the junior levels. Why then have multiple board presidents, CEOs, coaches and players failed to develop and utilize that ability effectively? For some time, West Indies cricket has been trapped in an ever-increasing failure spiral and one wonders if the leaders have been taking the players down the wrong path and focusing on the wrong performance priorities. 

 Ability is necessary for good performance. However, it is just an indicator of potential. It only shows what a player is capable of doing but it does not guarantee that he will do it. Motivation, on the other hand, indicates why the player will do it and how likely he is to do it. In fact the depth of his motivation and self-discipline often determines the level of his performance. 

Indian cricketer Rahul Dravid once said, “When we look at talent in cricket we often see it as the ability to hit a ball or bowl a ball. Many so-called talented players are deficient in other areas, particularly in the mental areas and hardly ever make it to the top. They don’t understand how the mind works and don’t work hard enough to get to know and understand themselves.”

In the last decade a multiplicity of scientific and new performance enhancing methods have crept into cricket. There are now so many of them that the players sometimes get confused by them and often don’t know which way to turn. We must embrace the new methods but we must not discard the old and the proven in favour of the new. Old methods and conventional wisdom still have value today. The wise coach and the good player learn from the past, are drawn towards the future by their vision and act in the present to make that vision a reality.  MS Dhoni once told me that the difference between the good player and the others is the interval between mistakes. The good player makes a mistake learns from it and never repeats it. The other players keep repeating their mistakes.  Let’s go back to the old days.  Just after the remarkable 1960/61 West Indies tour of Australia, Keith Miller the great Australian all-rounder wrote: “Bright, exciting cricket comes from the minds of the players and since time began, the players who have made the biggest impact did so because of their mental make-up rather than their technical skill. Cricket is as much a test of a man’s character and mental strength as it is about his range of strokes or bowling accuracy.    “Of all the nations who play cricket, the West Indians show a bigger desire to play cricket joyfully than any other race. It is in their minds. They also possess a natural ability to relax which is one of the foundations of good batting. They do not get all knotted and twisted mentally, and they are never beaten by reputations of opposing players. They play with dancing feet because they come from a region where the feet are always moving, where people are given to dancing.”

What has happened to these wonderful assets? Have modern day coaches and structured teaching suppressed them? It is worth investigating.

It requires at least 10.000 hours of practice and learning to master the fundamentals of your game and to acquire the expertise of a top player. That works out to three hours practice every day for ten years. Even then you must practise regularly to maintain that expertise.

Over fifty years ago, Frank Worrell said: “I was playing cricket six hours a day and we would practise in the mornings before school in the far corner of the Fourth Eleven field and invariably in the afternoons we would go to the graveyard at St. Michael’s Cathedral and we would play on the concrete in front of a vault. We played there for hours. And if we weren’t there we were on the beach and it seemed as though our lives revolved around the game of cricket that we loved so much.”

Worrell claimed that the high standard of club and school cricket contributed greatly to the development of inter-colonial and international players. “By the time a young player is about to leave school at the age of 19, he may have had four years experience in local senior club competition which enables him to walk into any senior club sides and without any readjustment or necessity for a transition period, continue to hold his own.”

Of Lancashire League Cricket, Frank Worrell said, “One can learn more in three years of League cricket than in twelve years of cricket outside the United Kingdom, even at the international level. One learns to cope with the swerving ball, the turning ball, the cutter, and the stopping ball. One has to be brave enough to ignore the cold, dark and blustery weather, the running noses, cold hands and cold feet, faulty umpiring decisions, dropped catches and traditional needle matches. League cricket is a must for any youngster who hopes to make the grade. One of the greatest assets one gets from league cricket is a tremendous sense of responsibility and awareness.”

Playing better is often more about unlearning bad habits, bad attitudes, old fears and outmoded techniques than about learning new ones.  A willingness to learn is a key factor in development and performance. Research at the University of Virginia Business School showed that “learning managers” viewed challenges as an opportunity to learn. They found that only 10% of their executives had this learning mindset and that this group had the highest performance ratings of the group. I suspect that the same figures might be found in developing cricketers.  Coaches should understand that there is a big difference between teaching and learning.

Frank Worrell was one of our best leaders in cricket. What he achieved in Australia in 1960/61 with his young team was truly remarkable. Few on his team had any kind of reputation before they arrived in Australia but when they left they were all superstars. The team was a happy unit, team spirit was high, team unity was strong, and the team played with purpose and confidence.  Under Worrell’s leadership the team became a highly disciplined and tightly knit unit with powerful self-belief and a strong will to win, strengths that are missing in today’s West Indies teams.  Surely, there must be lessons that West Indies coaches, players, boards and administrators can learn from the past. The Worrell and Lloyd teams dominated world cricket for twenty years. Our present team has been at the bottom of the ICC rankings for about ten years. The dominance of those champion teams was not a fluke or coincidence.“

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