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Woes, blows, more sorrow for our cricket

As the West Indies cricketers slip out of New Zealand from their Australasian nightmare, not only Cricket West Indies (CWI) but mainly the players themselves have to do much soul-searching. Coach of the beleaguered side Stuart Law has already made that call for great introspection. For CWI it might also be time to take a number of serious remedial measures.

 That the New Zealand tour has been an on-field embarrassment and a complete disaster is irrefutable. There will be some who will blame CWI for the team’s poor showing but the players must ultimately answer the pertinent questions related to what occurred on the cricket field. Of course, there are administrative issues which CWI must pay closer attention to but the buck for the debacle in New Zealand stops at the players – those selected and some “unavailable”.

 What will be particularly galling to passionate West Indian supporters is that despite the presence of one or two quality players, the New Zealand teams in the three formats were not of the intimidating nature to cause any loss of sleep. Yet the West Indies team will return to the Caribbean having been saved by rain from a complete tour whitewash having lost two of two Tests, three of three ODIs and two of three T20s.

 With the exception of vice-captain Kraigg Brathwaite, the batting unit in the Test matches failed miserably. The bowling unit was collectively disappointing. The fielding was equally abysmal with the likes of Shane Dowrich being a particular letdown behind the stumps. The captaincy of Jason Holder continued to show a degree of naivete in on-field decision-making. In the ODI arena, it was a case of a general meltdown and the team appeared more world chumps than champs in their supposedly best-performing format, the T20s.

 It was painfully obvious that the Test team required strong assertive leadership. Holder from this distance appears to be a Mr Nice Guy, a very decent, charming, well-spoken individual who is willing to be supportive of his failing players. And the team members seemingly adore him. But aggressive, consistent performances win games, not platitudes, not excuses, not being simply a nice guy. And assertiveness and tact are even more important when leading an average side. Holder presents the same challenge to the selectors that Darren Sammy presented. Is he good enough or producing enough to be guaranteed a place as captain, or should he be competing with others to maintain a place by dint of his performances? This is a decision that CWI will have to make in 2018.

 The West Indies cricket authorities after a long period of taking a hard line with players, in recent times attempted to take a different and less confrontational approach with the players. The amnesty offered to them with respect to linking domestic tournament availability to West Indies team selection was a welcome sign of CWI trying a different approach in getting the best players on to the international field while not disadvantaging their attempts to utilize their skills to the fullest financial capacity.

 But there has been a noticeable development over the past few months, even in the new atmosphere of reconciliation, that has to be addressed. Some of the region’s best white-ball players – Sunil Narine in particular, Kieron Pollard, and a few others, have taken to making themselves unavailable for “personal reasons” after being selected. If these were one-off situations there would hardly be a reason to question them, but such instances have been occurring with noticeable frequency and originating principally from one specific Caribbean country.

 Of course, several of these players are not under contract with the board and are within their rights to make themselves unavailable. But surely some form of communication between non-contracted players and CWI before the selection process is undertaken would solve this problem, especially as it relates to preparation for tours. In any event, if specific players are continuously making themselves unavailable or simply cherry-picking tours, it is time that the selectors permanently look beyond them.

 The sight of West Indies players unable to cope with medium-pacers bowling short-pitched deliveries has been one of the saddest spectacles on the New Zealand tour. This is a region that has been blessed with fast bowling greats who obviously exposed our batsmen to quality pace bowling. Now, with pitches that are no longer conducive to that type of bowling and spin being the dominant factor on flat tracks across the region, our batsmen are not being exposed consistently to express bowling on lively wickets. We saw the domino effect in New Zealand. There has been much talk by CWI of improving the quality of our wickets but regional curators seem at a loss as to what to do.

 But at the end of the day, it is up to the players to take stock of their performances and steel themselves mentally, technically and physically for the good of West Indies cricket. Despite suggestions to the contrary, our players are handsomely rewarded, even when failing. To compare their pay cheques to Indian or Australian internationals, for example, misses the point. It is instructive that cricketers of other countries always put their national teams ahead of Twenty20 global domestic tournaments. But this is a quality foreign to many West Indian cricketers. Perhaps, there might be an answer in that to explain our current woes.

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