By Bryan Davis, former West Indies, Test cricketer
West Indies (WI) cricket in the 21st century is judged solely on the heights it achieved in the late 20th century. Because of its dominance and the small populations of a group of island nations that, combined together, formed one cricket nation that, when worldwide acclamation was received, it made us all proud and worthy of our talents.
However, the downside of this monumental climb to the top was our cricket going into a freefall. Although many solutions have been tried over the years, nothing worked. Many ‘experts’ put forward their ideas and the reasons why such failure came about, still, WI teams find it rather difficult to climb out of the abyss.
After their first series loss in 15 years, against Australia in 1995, WI performances started to slip downhill. And as it deteriorated, the slightest glimpse of playing an improved game had the fans thinking WI were back on stream.
The lofty heights achieved between 1980 and 1995 turned the natives of this archipelago into arrogant, overconfident, boastful followers of WI cricket.
In the meantime, infants born into this period of immense and unparalleled success from 1980 onwards, with expectations to represent their now most famous Caribbean islands, anticipated that theirs was a guarantee of success once they were chosen to play for the team.
The truth hit hard on the Caribbean cricket nation on the tour to South Africa (SA) in 1998/99. The haughtiness, conceit and supercilious attitude developed previously, brought officials, players, and fans to their knees.
For years, many were striving for positions of importance, as their egos were pushing them to belong to such a successful institution, almost as if there was never a chance of WI ever losing again.
Well, what happened in late 1998, before embarking on the tour to SA, was a stand-off by the players in a hotel in London, informing the president of the West Indies Cricket Board that they were not prepared to proceed on the tour unless their demands for a higher pay packet was accepted. The tour eventually came off and the team from the Caribbean lost the series five games to nil! The first time ever!
That was when, fan and foe, player and administrator, realised that WI cricket, as they knew it, was no more. It was the first time an official WI team went to SA for a Test match tour and they were being revered because WI was the team the South African black and coloured population always supported during the dark days of apartheid. Unfortunately, they were not even provided with a close contest.
WI tumble in just four years was a shock to their supporters! And West Indians, year after year, have been trying to reclaim some sort of dignity to embellish past performances and regain some pride. Twenty-one years onward and there is no sign of a resurgence.
This low time for WI cricket gave birth to a number of well-meaning souls plus those that jumped on the bandwagon with ideas for new training techniques, producing a better cricketer, developing coaches, more cricket schools, cricket equipment to assist coaches plus a number of academic ideas, all with the purpose of improving the cricket ability of the West Indian team to win series!
The other concentration is on fast bowling as if that were the only reason why the WI won in the halcyon days! That is a wrong assumption, for apart from it being a very positive tool, the batsmen played an equally decisive role in having the almost perfect team.
For the total fear of the opposition relies on a complete team effort since neither the batsmen nor the bowlers, as fearsome as they were, could do it by themselves. A matter really that if the bowlers don’t get you, the batsmen will.
And that is where WI drifted away from the top of their game. It came through an overconfidence that believed the region would always produce great players, just by being born in the Caribbean, not recognising the deeper and more intricate policies that mature talent into ability, desire and attitude, which elements the successful cricketer requires and how to obtain same.
Over the past 25 years administrations have been changed, coaches have been replaced, past Test cricket greats have been used, new structures have been introduced, high-performance centres have been built, overseas personnel have been invited to assist; all this and more and yet no improvement.
The academics have been at it recently with high-sounding words of advice that mean nothing. And everyone admits that we have talent.
Nevertheless, they don’t understand that talent on its own doesn’t grow but has to be fed through motivation and enthusiasm, by people who know what they are doing. And that’s where the problem lies: in finding the right persons to do the job!