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'All that we expect is commitment'
June 21, 2007
What ails West Indies cricket? Sanjay Manjrekar asks Michael Holding and David Lloyd
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There are a number of players, particularly Chris Gayle, who appear to be in a comfort zone and need to be challenged for their place © AFP

Sanjay Manjrekar: Winners of the World Cup in 1975 and '79, players of the calibre of the 3Ws, Sir Gary Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Vivian Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner... the list is endless. That was the power and aura of West Indian cricket, once the superpowers, the best team in world cricket. Things now have sadly changed. From being the number one side in the world, the West Indian cricket team finds itself languishing close to the bottom of the rankings table. And things don't seem to get any better. What seems to be the problem with West Indian cricket? Can they ever reclaim their glory days? To answer these questions and more I have with me former West Indies paceman Michael Holding, someone who was very much part of the glory days of West Indian cricket and David Lloyd, former coach of England.

Let me start with Michael first. Mikey, looking at the just concluded Test series between West Indies and England - West Indies lost 3-0. What was your reaction to that?

Michael Holding: I must be honest Sanjay, I don't think too many people expected anything different - in fact some people expected the West Indies to be defeated 4-0 but at the same time I think they stood up and performed much better than what a lot of people were expecting. Yes, they lost the Test series 3-0 but I think, at different stages during the series, this West Indian team showed a lot more character than we are accustomed to seeing in the recent past. For instance, in the first Test match at Lord's where England piled on more than 550 runs in the first innings and the West Indies were struggling, losing five wickets, I think most people would have thought that it was all over, it would be a three-day Test match. But in the end, on the last day when the West Indies had to chase more than 400 runs to win, they were 98 for no loss. They were fighting back - they got over 400 runs in the first innings - and though they didn't win the Test they ended up with an honourable draw. They might have lost the other three Tests, but I think it was only their performance at Leeds that was embarrassing. They lost the last Test at Durham only because of one session where the captain did certain things that were inexplicable and gifted the Test to England. Yes, England played the better cricket, but the West Indies didn't perform as badly as many would have expected.

SM: David, your thoughts?

David Lloyd: I thought West Indies had some good spells but not nearly enough. The team appears to lack energy and intensity. Ramnaresh Sarwan, the captain, was unfortunate, in that he had to leave - he would have been a tough captain, a good leader and it is unfortunate when your captain gets injured and has to leave. Daren Ganga, who took over, wasn't up to the task - I think he was out of his depth. They had good spells - Fidel Edwards coming into the team was a good move because he gives them some firepower He's got some pace and pace hurts people and he got his rewards. But the fielding was atrocious - that's really an area where West Indies have to improve tremendously - their fielding is unacceptable by Test match standards. It looked from a distance that they were totally uncaring - that it didn't matter much to them.

[Shivanarine] Chanderpaul was outstanding and he was quite rightly the Man of the Series. He showed the younger players how Test cricket is played. The younger players should draw on the experience of touring England and all the vagaries that it is accompanied by with all the different atmospheric conditions and the different pitches.

SM: Now looking at the larger picture Mikey, you said that you weren't really disappointed with the 3-0 series loss in that you really didn't expect any better. Does this in a way indicated that you have toned down your expectations a great deal over the last few years, when it comes to the West Indian team - you've stopped expecting that much? Is that a good sign?

MH: I haven't toned down my expectations Sanjay, but at the same time you have to be realistic about the team that you have got. West Indies, at the moment, haven't really got a good team. All that the people are expecting from the players who step on the field is for them to show commitment. You can't expect them to beat other good teams like Australia and South Africa because they don't have a good team - it's as simple as that. Chris Gayle makes runs sometimes, but no one can say that he is a consistent opening batsman - he hasn't made a century for more than three years. Daren Ganga made his way back into the team but no one can say that he has established himself at the Test level. There are only two batsmen in that team who have performed consistently at the Test level - Chanderpaul and Sarwan.

The bowling department is very weak. As David rightly pointed out it was only Edwards who displayed some firepower in the bowling department, but apart from Edwards there is really no one else who has established himself at the Test level. So we're not trying to say that this West Indies team is good and we expect a great deal from them. All that people are hoping and expecting from them is commitment and application and caring and I think we saw a little bit more of that in this Test series than we have seen in the recent past.

I totally agree with David that their fielding was atrocious and that there is a lot of work that has to be done in that regard. But West Indies cricket in general has a lot of work to do. The people who run cricket in the West Indies have got accustomed to sitting back, having their meetings, having a drink and then going back home without actually planning for the future of West Indies cricket. Now that they have to plan, they haven't got a clue about what needs to be done ... it's as simple as that.

SM: David, Mikey's being realistic here - with the sort of ability that West Indies has right now, you can only expect so much. My question to you David is that can we expect the talent and the ability in the team to get better and make West Indies one of the top cricketing nations? Mikey's spoken about the administration - is there any hope for West Indies cricket? I mean you really want West Indies to be among the top cricketing nations in the world again - where do you think the hard work needs to be put in?

DL: I think there's a lot of hope. Optimistically, if you look at the younger players from a coaching perspective, you can only hope that they improve and learn from the experiences that they have had in England. There are a number of players, particularly Chris Gayle, who appear to be in a comfort zone and need to be challenged for their place. If you don't score hundreds at the top of the innings for over three years, then there is a massive problem there. But I'd always be optimistic about younger players, to get hold of them a little bit and shake them up because there have been times in this series where they have tried hard but there have been other times when they have looked abysmal. But from a management point of view it's important that you identify the talent and stick with these younger players and mould them.

These younger players understandably got distracted by the England players who chirped away around the bat and got into the mind of some of them. It's important for these youngsters to draw on the experience of a [Viv] Richards, [Gordon] Greenidge or [Clive] Lloyd - nobody would speak to them at all, they would be frightened to chirp around them - you just have to disregard all the chatter. And from the bowling point of view, you shouldn't get hot under the collar about a batsman. Andy Roberts never said a word to the batsman but you knew damn well that he was gunning for you. I think the younger players got distracted from the task that was at hand - which is to play a day's Test cricket. Do not get involved with the opposition - just breathe a little bit of menace to let them know you are around.

Optimistically, I would suggest that it has got to be right at the very top at the administrative level and at the inter-island level because if it isn't right, right at the very top, then it will compound itself on the field. It's no fun playing for an organisation that is at loggerheads with each other. I've seen that happen with England in the 90s when the players were against the management and it compounded itself on the field.

We're not trying to say that this West Indies team is good and we expect a great deal from them. All people are hoping and expecting from them is commitment and application and caring and I think we saw a little bit more of that in this Test series than we have seen in the recent past

SM: Mikey, over the years, administration and infrastructure have always been the problem with countries like India and the West Indies but there was never any dearth of outstanding talent coming through. However, you don't see that sort of talent coming through in the West Indies any more. What seems to be the problem?

MH: You don't have that as many people playing the game in the Caribbean now, Sanjay, it's as simple as that. Years ago, you had a lot of people playing cricket. Football was also a very popular sport and is still a very popular sport as far as participation is concerned. But the amount of people who would play cricket 30-40 years ago is probably 3-4 times the number who play now.

It is important for the administrators to put in the infrastructure and the facilities so that the people who want to play the game can easily access all the required facilities. There are so many other games that are easily accessible; plus we are in the modern age of computers - kids just do what is easiest for them. There are basketball courts with lights all over the Caribbean. So the kids don't have to worry about playing just during the days - they can come home from school or work and start playing. They don't have to worry about preparing surfaces, making pitches, wearing special uniforms or buying any expensive equipment - it's all ready for them. What the cricket administrators need to do is make cricket just as readily available as the other sports and distractions.

The next thing that the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) needs to look at seriously is the tours that they so readily accept. Every tour is negotiated. The two boards agree on the schedule that is followed during the tour. The WICB needs to stop accepting these tours where you only have international cricket and a couple of other games because we certainly don't play enough domestic cricket in the West Indies to nurture our cricket full time. When we were touring we used to go for long tours. For example, other countries went to India for two and a half months; we went for four months because we knew the value of going for long tours. We didn't have a lot of cricket in the Caribbean, so we would take 16-17 players, a couple of whom who wouldn't play in any Test match, but would gain from the experience of playing in the other tour games. Similarly, when we toured England we would play all the counties, some of them even twice and the youngsters who we thought had potential were made to play these games. If the WICB is not going to do anything at home or on tour, we can never hope to develop the young cricketers.

SM: David, Mikey mentioned about the social and lifestyle changes; not enough planning when it comes to international tours; but also another problem that West Indies cricket and the young talent have is that there's no Michael Holding or a Malcolm Marshall who they have to compete with or look up to as heroes who they can emulate. There aren't too many cricketing heroes the for the youngsters coming in to look up to, so can we expect outstanding talent to come through or are we hoping against hope?

DL: I think you have to be radical. Infrastructure is always important, you need top administrators, it needs to be an attractive game, it needs to be accessible and yes, you certainly need icons for the youngsters to emulate. I am miles away from what goes on in West Indies cricket but I do know of a man who is passionate about West Indies cricket called Mr. [Allen] Stanford - and he has the money. I think if the administrators and the ex-players could put forward a plan from the WICB stating where they are looking to be in 5 or 10 years time and present that to Mr. Stanford and say, 'please, help us out,' he may just get involved; because from what I can see he is really passionate about West Indies cricket and if he can see himself providing a West Indies team that can compete with India, Pakistan, England and Australia in 5 or 10 years time, I think he would be interested. But he needs to be given a plan. I think the West Indies have all the facilities that they want, but they don't seem to have the wherewithal to put it together into a plan to encourage young players to play and give them the facilities and the infrastructure.

SM: Mickey, do you agree with that? Do you think there's some hope with Mr. Stanford?

MH: He certainly can, and I know this for a fact, Sanjay, that Mr. Stanford did go to the West Indian Cricket Board quite a few years ago and said, 'listen, I have some money with which I want to get involved in West Indies cricket, to help West Indies need to bring me a plan and show me where this money is going to be spent, show me the benefits,' but he got nothing, Sanjay. That is why he has now started his own Twenty20 tournament. That is the problem with the cricket administration in the West Indies -they were accustomed to not having to do anything because West Indian cricket just flowed and now that they have to do something to resurrect it, they haven't got a clue as to what needs to be done.

SM: And also the administration in the West Indies is a bit complex, isn't it? It is not just one cricket board, but different mindsets and approaches...

MH: Sanjay, you have a major body like the WICB that is made up of the minor bodies - the boards of the different islands. There are no foreigners - you have 2 representatives from the 6 different regions - they make up the WICB along with the president, the vice-president and so there are no foreigners there. They are all involved with West Indies cricket, so why should there be differences in the direction in which they want to go? That is the board that should be setting the policy for the rest of the Caribbean, made up by the people from the Caribbean. So what's the problem?

SM: Gentlemen, as a genuine West Indian cricket fan, I want to know from you if there's actually any hope for West Indies cricket - if the administration picks up their game, some great talent comes through the ranks and if there's some efficiency in the system... can we expect West Indies to be up there consistently at the top 3 over the next few years or is it too much to expect from West Indies?

DL: When I was involved with the England team, they had hit rock bottom. They decided that they couldn't go any lower - they got themselves together at the administrative level and put in place a good structure to ensure that the players that were coming through and being developed through academies and under-19 levels had the tools to work with. England went from seventh or eighth in the world to second in the world; they even won the Ashes. They obviously did slip back a bit after that but I do think that the England Cricket Board in the last three or four months, have put a lot of things in place to ensure that the England team are moving forward again. They have had a very poor winter, but they have been very quick to put into place a different system with a different coach, they have got Allan Donald and Andy Flower on board ... I think they have moved very quickly. The top-level administration has to put all the processes and systems in place to allow players to play to the best of their abilities. I don't see that in West Indian cricket, there doesn't seem to be any process in place beginning right at the very top.

SM: Mikey, do you think the West Indies can do what England did?

MH: There's no way we can say that the West Indies cannot make a comeback, Sanjay. When things started to go downhill in 1995 people thought that West Indies would be back at the top in ten years, but that didn't happen because there were too many de-stabilizing factors involved.

You have to make sure that the right systems are in place; the right people are in place, who can take cricket forward. And, at the moment, it is not there. It is as simple as that. We have a man who is the president of the West Indies cricket board but he does not know what he is doing - he thinks he is running his own shop - he does not know a thing about cricket. Yet he still wants to interfere with everything. He wanted Daren Ganga to be the captain - and I'll say that straight out. Now see what Ganga has brought to the team with his captaincy. He needs to let cricket be run by people who know cricket. It is as simple as that. Until we get people who know cricket involved in the cricketing matters, we are going to get nowhere.

We have a man who is the president of the West Indies cricket board but he does not know what he is doing - he thinks he is running his own shop - he does not know a thing about cricket. Yet he still wants to interfere with everything

SM: We keep talking about the cricketing system in our countries when something goes wrong with the cricket. Well, perhaps it's time we looked at the administrative system and the road that is adopted to make sure the administrative set-up is top notch.

Well, gentlemen, finally your thoughts on the recent series - England versus West Indies and the way forward now for West Indies.

DL: Well, I think England thoroughly deserved the 3-0 win, though I think they will certainly face a tougher test from India. They have had some players who have come through and done very well, notably Ryan Sidebottom and Matt Prior - we've been looking for a 'keeper and he has done a very good job. Alistair Cook continues to improve and Kevin Pietersen scored a double hundred, so they are on track - I would give them an 8 on 10 for their performance in this series.

West Indies have a long way to. I will be optimistic about the younger players learning from their experiences on this tour and their mistakes and from looking at the senior players - Shivnarine Chanderpaul batted beautifully throughout the series and showed what Test-match batting is all about. It's a hard slog ahead for the West Indies.

SM: Mikey, the West Indies have to keep looking forward ... especially with one particular individual showing interest in returning to the thick of things ...

MH: We have to keep looking forward and look at which way we can improve and we need to put some things in place right now. I don't think the existing coach has what is required to coach this West Indies team - he was previously the assistant coach of the side. They have to look at what and who else is available on the outside right now. Perhaps the constitution of the WICB needs to be changed in order to bring about the changes that we are talking about. We have to make sure that the cricketers who are actually playing have comfortable surroundings and also a good atmosphere within which they can work. Then perhaps things can start moving forward.

SM: Thank you gentlemen for being a part of this show and sharing your thoughts. Hope you enjoyed this episode of Cricinfo Roundtable. Don't forget to send me your feedback at Till next time, it's goodbye.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar

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