July 1, 2011

Sriram Veera on India in West Indies, 2011

The man who made Garner run up a hill

Sriram Veera
Dennis Waight, the former West Indies physiotherapist, Bridgetown, July 1, 2011
Dennis Waight was drunk the first time he met Clive Lloyd  © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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Clive Lloyd is an angry man. It's 1983, soon after Lloyd's West Indies thrashed India in India to avenge their World Cup final loss, and the picture of the touring team at the Taj Mahal is yet to arrive. The Indian photographer had delayed the delivery. The pictures finally arrive. The players are framed by the beautiful white-marble monument but Lloyd is still angry. One man, an integral part of the whole set-up, is missing from the picture. "Sir, there was this one white man in all the pictures. I had to cut him out. Hence the delay," the photographer tells Lloyd.

Dennis Waight laughs loudly as he recounts the story. He was that white man. Waight was the famous Australian trainer and physiotherapist who worked with the West Indies team for 23 years, most of it during its glorious reign at the top of world cricket. He features in the documentary Fire in Babylon and has an entire chapter dedicated to him in Michael Holding's book.

His work with West Indies is something Waight is immensely proud of. Back then, Lloyd let Waight run the show and even used him to fire up his bowlers. Waight talks about one such instance. "At Adelaide, we needed to take six wickets and then chase on the last day. Lloydy said, 'Let's give it a go … it's only a short day, can you make these blokes fire? Make them angry.' At Adelaide, behind the nets there is a hill with a big statue on top of it. For half an hour before the start of play I made the players run up and down. They weren't happy; Croft, Holding, Roberts and Garner were hopping mad and they went out and bowled like fire. Bird [Joel Garner] was the worst, grunting and groaning. Lloyd told him, 'you are whinging the most, take the first ball'. He got four wickets in a short time, and we chased 236 in 61 overs."

Waight's association with West Indies dates back to Kerry Packer's World Series. Waight, who had a rugby league background, was asked by Packer to train the Rest of the World team but he insisted on working with West Indies. It was the beginning of an emotional ride to the top.The first day at work set the tone for the rest of the association.

Waight was in a bar with Jeff Thomson, Len Pascoe and Rod Marsh when the West Indies team arrived after a long trip. "I was drunk like a skank when I saw Lloyd and Co. in the lobby," Waight remembers. He wobbled across and introduced himself as their new trainer and told them they would meet at 6am the next morning. He then trudged off to drink more. "I heard Lloyd saying, 'we are not going to see him tomorrow'." They did of course. Waight got up early, sat in a tub of cold water for 20 minutes, went for a 12-mile run and returned, dripping in sweat, to the hotel. He heard Lloyd telling his team, "C'mon let's go; that joker ain't gonna show up."

Waight tapped Lloyd on the shoulder and told him he had been waiting for them. They went to the ground and Waight was appalled by their training methods. "I told Lloyd, 'this is a waste of time. I think I will go home. You are a professional side and this can't work.' Lloyd told me to come for a drink and we talked." Waight told Lloyd what he wanted from the team and Lloyd told him to give it a go. "There was a bit of whinging to start with but the whole team was with me soon."

It was running, rather than gym-work, that Waight believed was necessary for cricketers. "Cricket is a game played on grass. You run on grass. You don't run in the gym. Back then hotels didn't have big gyms. We used to work with a set of dumbbells. My main aim was to get them to do 500 sit-ups in a row every day. Croft, Garner, Holding and Roberts and the whole team had to do it."

Waight slowly became more than just a trainer. He became one of the boys. He played his part in keeping the spirit up too. "If you have had a bad day, and if you are going sit in your room then you are not going to get out of that slump. Michael Holding never used to drink. He was having a little bit of a problem and I told him he could have two drinks. He did, and just spending time with everyone helped him. His limit even now is still two drinks!

"On tours to Pakistan, I always used to travel with a wine cask. I had all these bowlers coming to my room complaining of a niggle but I knew actually they wanted a drink. While they were there I would tend to their niggles, have a drink with them and off they would go."

Waight is in Bridgetown for the second Test between West Indies and India, and hangs out with his friend Garner. Waight was with Garner and Richards when they played for Somerset. More stories roll out. "Bird used to like to have a good time. One day they were playing the NatWest semi-final. Ian Botham was on Test duty and Viv [Richards] was captain. Joel might have had too much of a good time the previous night and his first spell was terrible. Viv got angry and gave the ball to someone else. Yorkshire kept scoring runs. Joel kept asking Viv for a bowl.

"Then something happened between Joel and the crowd and the big fella came running to Viv saying, 'Give me the ball, I want to bowl. The bastards threw a banana at me.' When the bird is cranky he's like fire you know! And he destroyed them. We won. The captain of Yorkshire later said, 'We have got the worst supporters in the world. We have Big Bird bowling rubbish and they throw a banana at him. And he comes and destroys us! Why would you do that? Worst supporters!'"

As much as Waight tried to insist on a high-level of fitness, the West Indies cricketers were still prone to having a night out or two. "We were in a beautiful Melbourne hotel, and one morning people kept saying to me, 'You got these blokes very disciplined. You don't see the Aussies get up early and run like this.' I was confused. 'We saw a few guys but I don't know how they were running in normal shoes,' someone told me. I realised then what these guys were up to! They weren't running, they were just sneaking in after a long night!"

It wasn't all fun though. After the Lloyd and Richards era, troubles began for Waight. The team began to falter and Waight's own problems grew. He had a spat with Brian Lara and there were some players who thought Waight was pushing them too hard. "Lara got very big and it wasn't just him; the other players, too, wanted it easier. Nothing comes easy. I suppose Lara had backing from the board but I don't think he was the one who got me the chop. Things became harder for me to do the way I wanted to. A different board came in and I had to go. I was just getting to my end of my tether."

Waight, still very fit, says he has no regrets. He would have liked to stay with West Indies for two more years as the money was just beginning to come into the profession then. "No regrets but. As I always say, instead of drinking Johnnie Walker Black you drink Johnnie Walker Red."

What happened to that picture in front of the Taj Mahal? "We got lucky. We had a picture taken by one of us which had me in it as well. It holds a very special place in my home now."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Anthony on (January 16, 2012, 16:00 GMT)

Great story. These stories need to be told so that the basis behind success could be understood by everyone

Posted by Neil on (October 8, 2011, 10:32 GMT)

Dennis Waight you are a legend. I grew up watching the great Windies teams under Lloyd and Richards and to a lesser extent Richardson. You were a great fitness coach. Windies need you now more than ever but I think society in general here in England and the West Indies is now afraid of hard work. Such a shame but thank you so much for the memories and the great work you did.

Posted by CHARLIE HOLMS on (September 13, 2011, 13:40 GMT)

interesting to note ,that discipline and fitness was the key to the success of the team ;but todate the present management and coach are being criticised for attempting the implement same . We have some players who think they are too big for the game ,or who think that they shouldn't listen to those of their own ilk for whatevr reason . West Indies will be back where they belong ,just give ths administration some more time .

Posted by amar on (September 8, 2011, 19:00 GMT)

This was an excellent read Sriraam

Posted by "Shifty" on (August 16, 2011, 19:27 GMT)

Great article even if it was written about a bygone era. Great stuff in it and keep up the good work.

Posted by Jayesh Shah on (July 19, 2011, 13:27 GMT)

brilliant article. Cricket is one of the best (if not the best) sport for story telling. Thoroughly enjoyed the read.

Posted by Courtney Allen on (July 18, 2011, 12:30 GMT)

It is a nostalgic feeling as I was born in England and grew up in Guyana and followed West Indies on with great commentator like Henry Blofell who use to make one feel they were at the ground with his superlative adjectives. How times have changed but I think with some exposure and the WICB and officals getting people who are really interesting in getting back WI where they need to be we can see a resurgence and see WI dominate cricket again.

Posted by Brian Lawrence on (July 14, 2011, 19:44 GMT)

The banana story details make no sense. Somerset never played Yorkshire in a Nat-West semi final - not during Richards/Garner era anyway. They did play a 1985 2nd round game which Botham captained. It was at Leeds.

Maybe the memory is faulty.

Posted by Kool on (July 7, 2011, 2:55 GMT)

Super super!!!

Posted by Ian on (July 6, 2011, 13:30 GMT)

Sits in right! I just happened to watch 'Fire in Babylon' last night and Dennis Waight duly gets a mention as the man who instilled a sense of discipline and top level fitness in the 'rogue' West Indian team after a limp-wristed performance in their first World Series match. On a side note, its surprising that so many people making comments (mostly from the sub-continent) find the 'banana' incident amusing. In the western/developed world, offering/throwing a banana to a person of colour is considered a racial insult. No wonder big Bird was fired up. Recently, the Brazilian footballer Roberto Carlos was subjected to the same insult during a practice session for his Russian football club, raising serious questions about Russia's ability to provide an incident-free WC 2018.

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