Clayton Murzello Column: Oh, for a West Indies revival

Board and players need to act if Windies are to make the comeback everybody is rooting for

In a bygone era, no team relished playing the West Indies. Now, given a choice, teams will queue up for an easily winnable contest.

Tuesday’s surrender of the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy at Melbourne was the 11th consecutive time that the West Indies have failed to beat the Australians in a Test series.

The West Indies’ inability to live up to the legacy of their greatness is frustrating. Although their decline began earlier, the Twenty20 game maimed West Indies cricket through a combination of poor administration and players being seduced by the monetary rewards offered by the shortest form of the game.

West Indies skipper Jason Holder walks off after being dismissed during the second Test against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Tuesday. The visitors lost the Test, but a semblance of a fight was spotted on Day Four. Pic/Getty Images
West Indies skipper Jason Holder walks off after being dismissed during the second Test against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Tuesday. The visitors lost the Test, but a semblance of a fight was spotted on Day Four. Pic/Getty Images

Ethically, the country versus franchise debate is a no-contest. A player must give the former priority, but in this case, the establishment itself does not give administration a good name.

Dr Rudi Webster, a former West Indies team manager in the Clive Lloyd era and a celebrated sports psychologist, wrote recently that the West Indies Cricket Board has been, “badly over-managed and dangerously under-led.”

It appears everybody wants to see West Indies cricket at the top again. There is a huge mountain to climb, but it can’t be accomplished by merely yearning for the good old days. Just like Australia won’t get players of the ilk of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist playing in one team, West Indies will never get the same quality of players who made them the best team in the world from 1976 to 1995.

West Indies teams belonging to the 1980 to 1995 era were truly invincible. Michael Holding summed up their dominance well towards the end of the film Fire in Babylon: “No other sporting team in any discipline… anywhere in the world… dominated their sport for 15 years.” Of course, those who played in champion Mumbai Ranji Trophy teams from 1958-59 to 1972-73 will point to their 15-year domination as well.

The West Indies can stage a revival with significant contributions. Their current coaching staff headed by Phil Simmons has the right credentials (although Simmons shouldn’t be using the media to slam selections and then hypocritically banning his players from talking to an established commentator like Fazeer Mohammed) and bowling consultant Curtly Ambrose. Straight-talking Ambrose won’t have any issues while getting his words of wisdom across to his bowlers, but the Board has to walk the talk as well.

Dr Webster insisted on a “harmonious and enabling environment in which the players can learn and get the best out of themselves. This should be the No 1 priority of everyone concerned.” He also reminded me what Sir Garfield Sobers said to him in his famous book Winning Ways. “Pressure from the opposition never worried me. I always responded to their challenges and invariably played better,” said Sobers, adding, “I found it almost impossible to handle the pressure that came from within my own team or from the administration. When there was dissension in the team (or administration) it used to upset me. Anything which threatened to disrupt the unity or performance of the team placed me under pressure.”

Mentoring becomes critical when the chips are down. The West Indies’ chief selector Clive Lloyd would probably have not become a great batsman and captain of his time had he walked away from the Bridgetown dressing room when he learnt he was not in the West Indies playing XI for the second Test against Australia in 1973.

Lloyd, despite playing for the Rest of the World the previous year, was not in the team for the first Test in Kingston as well, and when Bernard Julien got injured in the nets a day before the Barbados Test, it was a given that he would be in the XI. However, it was not to be, because Keith Boyce was summoned to take Julien’s place. Lloyd in his autobiography Living for Cricket, revealed that he got the news of his omission while having a pre-Test knock in the outfield. He then hit a ball that pierced through the dressing room window and when he came in, broke down, convinced that walking away from West Indies cricket was the best pill for him. But he was consoled, counselled and cajoled by two respected figures — Clyde Walcott and Wes Hall. Lloyd was picked for the next Test in Trinidad where he got 20 and 15, but in the fourth Test at Bourda in Georgetown, his home ground, he made 178 and was never dropped again.

Many from the current West Indies team may require special handling without being spoiled. While they are expected to dish out their best effort and, importantly, sustain that effort for the length of a Test match, they need to be assured of enough opportunities and a politics-free environment.

They lost the Melbourne Test, but a semblance of a fight was spotted on Day Four. One cannot give up on West Indies cricket, because it is too dear for cricket followers.

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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