January 22, 2001

Who should captain the West Indies?

Sherwin Campbell
Sherwin Campbell: a good motivator
Photo © AllSport

Somewhere in my past, I am sure that I have heard the saying: "Captain, the ship is sinking."

This particular ship, the West Indies cricket team, has, in many eyes around the cricketing world, already been sunk. It is now time for a salvaging operation, not unlike that proposed for the supposedly unsinkable "Titanic".

Without going into too much detail, the demise, of the West Indies cricket team has not been unlike that of the "Titanic". Unlike the "Titanic", though, which had its side ripped out by a massive iceberg (the size probably underestimated by the ship's crew), the reasons for the West Indies demise are not as simple or as singular, though under-estimation of the rest of the cricket world did play some part in the demise. What is more important now, is the need to devise a way of proceeding from Point "A", where the senior West Indies cricket team is now, to Point "B", where the team should and ought to be.

The theme which grabs the most headlines is the captaincy. Someone has to take the responsibility for this salvage operation, at least on the field of play. That should start with the captain.

I will not go back fully into the situation with Desmond Haynes and Richie Richardson, or indeed, the Carl Hooper, Brian Lara and Jimmy Adams saga of 1999. I prefer to attack the situation as it is, not as it was.

I will state, though, that the selectors may have put the West Indies cricket team in this mess. They have tried to please too many masters, using a bartering system to select their teams, without using runs, wickets and perhaps insight and foresight, (the standard question in Australia has been: "Why was Marlon Samuels not selected in the original tour squad, if he is this good?"), hence compromising the intent of the effort.

That has to change - immediately.

The team MUST, I say again, MUST, revert to the times when Rohan Kanhai and especially Clive Lloyd were captains. These were the learning, moulding and then explosive times of West Indies cricket. Firstly, eleven, or, for a touring team perhaps fifteen, players must be identified who "could play Test cricket," people who look, and perform, as if they belong in the highest arena.

The selectors must simply pick a team of players who can convince that they could play Test cricket, with perhaps some room for aspirants, ala Marlon Samuels or Ramnaresh Sarwan, and then pick a captain from that squad of men. The captain must be worth his place as a player, be it bowler, batsman or indeed, wicket-keeper, long before he can be considered to be the team's captain. That is one of the few ways that prescribed person would command the respect and efforts from his team's personnel. Indeed, that is one of the reasons that both Clive Lloyd's and Sir Vivian Richards' teams were so good. Those teams were led by example. All the rest of the players had to do was to try to emulate the leaders, in deed and thought.

This, of course, now brings us to the million-dollar question: who is qualified to captain the West Indies?

Firstly, there is Brian Lara.

Brian Lara
Brian Lara
Photo CricInfo

In an absolutely perfect world, to be very and frank, Brian Lara should have been the present, and continuing, captain of the West Indies cricket team. Of course, this world is not perfect, hence Lara is not the captain. My arguments for this "fantasy" are varied. Lara is, realistically, the ONLY player in the West Indies cricket team, despite his average series against Australia, who could command a place in the West Indies cricket team, if one was to use "real" cricketing qualities, not the average qualifications that have been used by the West Indian selectors.

While Lara made the most runs for the West Indies in the five Tests, 321, at an average of 32.10, most, including Lara himself, would agree that he has, like most others, underachieved on this tour. He, though, stands out, since he is much more talented than the others. However, he is experienced enough to know what is necessary at this level of sport and has performed with great credit, in most cases, as a batsman in this arena. Indeed, he has failed only when he was given the captaincy.

Lara, though, was undermined by both himself and perhaps more so, his minors and so-called backers. He became so "pampered" that he probably forgot that a team is exactly that, a set of men (or women) playing as one unit. He probably forgot that old saying, that "no man is an island."

I would even put Lara in the same ballpark of cricketing ability as both Sir Gary Sobers and Sir Viv Richards. None of these three cricketers has ever recognised how good, no, great, they actually were, or in the case of Lara, has been and could still be. The comparisons of the three, though, stop there.

Sir Viv was as determined as any to succeed, driving his team to excellence, and is still the only West Indies Test captain not to have lost a Test series. His belligerence, almost dictatorial manner, was exactly what was needed to whip the ageing team that Clive Lloyd had left to continued sensational performances. Viv carved his own successful niche with some cricketing brain, and some cricketing brawn too. In many ways, that is absolutely what the West Indies team needs.

Sir Gary, unfortunately, did not have similar personnel to those available to Sir Viv. Instead, Sir Gary tried to make up for these deficiencies by trying, sometimes succeeding, to be at least four cricketers in one. In most cases, the success was spectacular, but then, in many, some very notable cases, he failed badly.

Sir Gary, in my mind, failed in some instances because he - the greatest cricketer the world has seen - could not appreciate, that all humans were not, as George Orwell initially suggested in Animal farm, "created equal." As Orwell eventually acknowledged later in the prose: "some are MORE equal than some." So it was with Sir Gary.

Both Sir Gary and Sir Viv were from a very special part of the cricketing warehouse. Few exist in this environment. Lara, as a cricketer, probably does. However, his management of men, or lack thereof, and perhaps manipulation of situations, has removed him from the captaincy, even if he eventually committed cricketing hara-kiri himself; quitting after what he described as "less than outstanding returns as captain." That action in itself, from the perspective of many in the Caribbean, now disqualifies Lara as a candidate for the team's captaincy. What a tremendous pity that is.

Sherwin Campbell, the present West Indies vice-captain, comes into the fray here.

Though unfairly compared with both Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, Campbell has been a good, if not special performer for the West Indies, his horrid Test tour of Australia, where he scored 187 runs from 10 innings in the five Tests, at an average of only 18.70, notwithstanding. From his 51 Tests, Campbell has 2856 runs, with an average of 32.82 runs per innings. While not spectacular,

Campbell's returns have been steady as an opener, even though all agree that he certainly should have been better. He has been the best of a failing bunch since Greenidge and Haynes, and that, given his statistics, is saying something in itself.

What acts in his favour, however, is the not-too-distant past West Indian cricketing history and his own seeming ability to get more from his team, at least enthusiasm-wise. Most versed in the history of West Indies cricket will remember that in the early 90s, Desmond Haynes and his supporters, were rather cut up when he was not offered the captaincy permanently, the selectors and the West Indies Cricket Board preferring to appoint Richie Richardson. There are many still involved in the running of West Indies cricket today who would suggest that the present poor state, the state of discontent in West Indian cricket, probably started with this unique action.

More recently, of course, there has been the case of Carl Hooper, Brian Lara's deputy in South Africa in 1998, being "passed over" for the vice-captaincy against Australia in the Caribbean in 1999, that position going to the now captain, Jimmy Adams. Many of Hooper's supporters would point to this incident as being the catalyst for his quitting international cricket as a player soon afterwards.

Now he is back.

In the meantime, no-one in West Indies cricket would like a repeat of the situation where Sherwin Campbell is concerned.

In my mind, though, Campbell's greatest ally is the fact that he seems, when he is captain, to bring enthusiasm to a physically and psychologically jaded team. Every time he was made captain in Australia, the team seems to react differently, extremely positively, showing a spring in their step.

Yes, the team still lost when Campbell has captained on this tour of Australia, but at no time during those Campbell-captained games could one fault the West Indian players for effort and enthusiasm. The dynamics have certainly despite the result being the same. It seems that whenever he his captain, the team reacts differently.

It could simply be that Campbell has somehow removed himself from the morbidity that presently surrounds the West Indies cricket team, realising that the future could be fruitful for him personally. If he can get the West Indies to only be positive, even without the thought of winning, then he certainly has my vote. The West Indies cricket team needs life and enthusiasm from somewhere.

Jimmy Adams
Jimmy Adams
Photo CricInfo

The incumbent, Jimmy Adams, will, of course, also be in the pot for selection. Maybe that could be an idea. Why not put the names being bandied about for West Indies captaincy (Brian Lara, Sherwin Campbell, Jimmy Adams, Carl Hooper and Ridley Jacobs) into a deep hat, and then pull one name out, making that person captain. That might work, as nothing else has, especially on tours recently.

I fully admit that I was one who genuinely thought that Adams would change the fortunes of the West Indies cricket team, at least in effort, if not results. If anything, I expected his great intensity, as displayed when Australia were in the Caribbean in 1999, and many times before that, to permeate outwards, not unlike the common tea-bag does in hot water. Unfortunately, that intensity has not only dissipated but Adams has become more like his team than his team has become like him. The team are playing as negatively as he has been thinking.

These West Indian players, and even some of The Management team, walk around like undertakers, creating, from every point I can garner information from, a very dislikeable, unfriendly image. While no-one expects a truly happy team, especially after the beatings they have taken in Australia, these guys are turning off their most ardent supporters, despite what the hierarchy of the touring team might want to suggest.

I invite the Manager and Coaches of this team to "go in the trenches" - the crowds that attend the cricket. They should divorce themselves from those immediately around them, as I and many other journalists have done here in Australia, in the United Kingdom and in South Africa, and really find out what is being said about this team, from the ordinary folks who pay their money and have experienced West Indies cricket in the past. In most quarters, the comments are not complementary, and that has nothing to do with the cricket played, or in the present West Indies team's case, not played.

As for the cricket played, while Adams cannot be held fully responsible for his personnel's distinct lack of the ability, he can take some responsibility for their distinct lack of enterprise. A very good example of the former is the following.

Nixon McLean played in all five of the Test matches against Australia, yet managed only nine (9) wickets in them, less than two wickets per Test, at the astronomical average of 52.88 runs per wicket, yet his is still considered a "certainty" for selection. It is not that McLean has ever been good, since his overall returns have been similar; 17 Tests for 38 wickets at an average of 38.86; highly unsatisfactory. Normally, when approaching 20 Tests, a prominent fast bowler should be approaching 100 Test wickets. This, however, is the sort of mediocrity that Adams, and indeed West Indies cricket, has had to cope with, so Adams could not be fully blamed for the team's overall efforts.

However, Adams has been lacking in other aspects of his tenure. Both he and Roger Harper continually complain that, "the players are not performing as we know that they can." My simple question to that, if the statement is to be believed, is this: Is it not the responsibility of the coaches and the captain, to bring out the best of their players? If they cannot do this, by leadership, by inspiration or by personal performances, should these people then not be dropped from their exalted positions?

Or is it that these team leaders are deluding themselves. Can they be expecting efforts and results from people who simply cannot play any better? One way or the other, the captain should recognise where he is, and act accordingly; do something to effect changes, not just fill us all with rhetoric and false hopes.

Adams' captaincy has been variably described by all, including the Australian captain, Steven Waugh, as being either grossly unimaginative, varying to extremely negative, complemented with being rudderless, with no plan whatsoever.

I maintain that a captain's imagination has nothing to do with his personnel available. At least he should be willing to try things, despite the outcome. "He who dares, wins." At least, that happens most times. Adams simply seems not to be able to dare, so the thought of winning can even be alien, lost in the dense fog of self-delusions.

Like Sherwin Campbell, Adams has fared really badly against Australia. He averaged marginally better, 18.87 per innings to Campbell's 18.70, even though Adams made 36 runs less than Campbell: 151 to 187. However, unlike Campbell, who is grudgingly recognised as the best, if that word is apt in this situation, of the West Indian opening batsmen, Adams's batting does not necessarily describe him as the best, or indeed one of the best six, going on recent form, of the batsmen available for selection.

Therefore, Adams would struggle to make the team as a batsman, and that is where I think he falls down badly. Along with Sherwin Campbell, there are Wavell Hinds, Marlon Samuels, Brian Lara, Carl Hooper, a fit Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a re-emerging Ramnaresh Sarwan, a so far fully untried Ricardo Powell, not to mention Ridley Jacobs, all ahead of Adams, NOW, in the batting stakes.

Removing Jacobs from the equation, who must play as the wicket-keeper batsman, there remain at least seven batsmen, in my mind, who are PRESENTLY ahead of Adams. If he cannot get into the team as a batsman, how the hell will he get in as captain, using the criteria agreed upon beforehand? Adams is not that dynamic.

Ridley Jacobs is the next candidate.

Ridley Jacobs
Ridley Jacobs
Photo CricInfo

No-one could fault Jacobs' efforts. Those, especially from Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and even the Windward Islands, who abused me so vigorously and noisily for suggesting, way back in 1995-6, that he should have been made wicket-keeper then, have all been strangely silent now that he has matured after his eventual Test advent against South Africa.

Of course, with the insularity that has always ensued in the Caribbean, Courtney Browne, David Williams and Junior Murray were the flavours of the day, depending on one's nationalistic perspective. I now notice that even those people have now agreed with me that Jacobs is indeed special. Of course, I am enjoying the last laugh.

Jacobs has been the most steadying force of the entire team, doing what was necessary to enhance his own reputation and his team's position. Unfortunately, for him, Jacobs's example has not been followed at all, even by the likes of Lara and Campbell. At least, Marlon Samuels, and Ricardo Powell, in the one-day games, seem to have tried to follow Jacobs' example. On the same theme, while always competent, Jacob's wicket-keeping has not waned, so he will easily make the final team, under any criteria used.

If there is one slight query about Jacobs, is that he is too much an introvert. One absolutely necessary aspect of leadership of an international sports team is the ability to speak to the cricketing world. To date, on this tour of Australia, Jacobs has given two interviews, and these were so coerced that pulling teeth would have been easier. That is not Jacobs' fault altogether, though, as more than half of the West Indies cricket team cannot, through no real fault of theirs, give a proper interview anyway, a real requirement in international sport.

At least, as the captain of the Leeward Islands when he is back in the Caribbean, Jacobs seems to communicate well, so he, in my mind, is one of the leading candidates. He has done nothing, to change my ideas of him since 1995-6. If anything, he has enhanced my opinion of him ten-fold. If only the rest of the team could be like him.

Finally, for the captaincy, there is another prodigal son, Carl Hooper, as recommended by many in the Caribbean.

It is a very strange but true Caribbean phenomenon. Mention Carl Hooper and his cricketing prowess anywhere and one could guarantee a heated vocal row. Compare him to Brian Lara and one could be cut into small pieces. Perhaps the Caribbean's cricket fraternity should transfer their passion to the team's players. That passion is surely missing these days for those who play for the West Indies.

Hooper, by anyone's criteria, is probably the Caribbean greatest cricket underachiever. The game comes so naturally to him, that even his greatest admirers must be disappointed that he has only amassed 4153 runs from his 80 Test matches, at the very ordinary average, similar to that of Sherwin Campbell, of 33.76.

The obvious comparison would be with Brian Lara. Lara, to date, has played in five Test matches fewer that Hooper (75) and has made 6133 runs in them, nearly 2000 runs (1980 runs, to be exact), MORE than Hooper. In the meantime, the difference in averages of the two is astounding. Lara averages 48.29, up with the real "greats" of the game.

In my mind, when it comes to performances only, the two should not even be mentioned in the same breath.

But, Hooper has already been put forward as a candidate for the captaincy, and at least from his recent form for Guyana (he already has a century and a half-century in the present first-class Busta Cup series), qualifies him as a candidate.

Of course, the biggest question is this: What now happens to players like Marlon Samuels, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Wavell Hinds, Ricardo Powell, all youngsters, one of whom will lose his place of Hooper is selected? What happens to the continuing fantasy about West Indies cricket rebuilding?

If this is going to be ongoing, then Hooper, at 33 years old, favourite that he is, cannot feature. What would be the use of exchanging Adams for Hooper? Indeed, what has been the point, of exchanging Ramnaresh Sarwan for Sylvester Joseph, a young batsman for a young batsman, or Cameron Cuffy for Kerry Jeremy, an ageing fast bowler for a younger one, on this tour, for the present one-day series in Australia?

While perhaps Hooper will eventually make more runs than Adams, what is the eventual point of the exercise? Yet, knowing the Caribbean as I do, removing all of the frills, I would be extremely surprised if Carl Hooper is not selected for the Test series against the South Africans.

Indeed, I already have a bet with another former West Indian fast bowler, Michael Holding, that Carl Hooper will be selected. Holding suggests the contrary. He has even jokingly suggested that he would be forced to take physical action if that happened.

I think that I know the Caribbean more than most of the people living there, and I am so sure that Hooper will play against the South Africans that I have gone into my meagre coffers and bet US$100 - a large sum. If my 11-year-old daughter knew of this bet, she might take serious physical means to me. She should be pleased, though, when I win the bet.

While I am not sure about the captaincy thing, I am so sure that Hooper will play against the South Africans for only one reason. The people who select the team normally react to the populace, especially when one is as favoured as Hooper. For some reason, despite his continued failings, Hooper conjures up so much emotion in the Caribbean that it really cannot be explained.

An appendage to this is that, over the last 15 years or so, West Indies cricket has moved away from the idea of proper representation and has fully endorsed insularity, in its varied forms. Few seem to care about results. Most only care about appearances. Hooper LOOKS good, but has so far achieved little.

So, after all of this, my favourites for the captaincy are Sherwin Campbell and Ridley Jacobs, in that order. Jimmy Adams has to retool his batting, while Brian Lara has defaulted, maybe through no fault of his. Carl Hooper will play Test cricket again, soon, but I am not so sure that he will be brought back as captain. That could be taking fantasy just too far!