Sammy's West Indies 'fear winning'
The West Indies team led by Darren Sammy have a fear of winning. That analysis was made quite recently by Rudi Webster, who has worked with some of the great West Indies teams as a mental skills coach over the last three decades.
According to Webster, each time Sammy's team have found themselves with controls in hand, they have retreated. That is because they found themselves in unfamiliar territory and did not know how to seize the opportunity.
"I don't think deep down the fellas believe that they can win," Webster said. "Consciously, they will tell you 'of course, we can win.' But when you question them and you get below the surface, belief is not there."
It is that lack of belief, he contends, that is negating all the other positives Sammy and the coach, Ottis Gibson, are steadily constructing in the background; the magic card that the likes of Frank Worrell and Clive Lloyd used to inspire their teams is missing.
"At this level performance revolves more around self-belief than around talent or potential," Webster said. "Worrell and Lloyd did one thing that lifted West Indies cricket to greater heights: they were able to get the players to change their self-image and to start believing in themselves. Their self-belief was so firm and strong that nobody could beat them."
Webster presented a ready example to justify his claim. "If you look back at West Indies they were in a similar position in the late 90s. Remember we went to South Africa and got beaten very badly. And then played Australia at home and almost won the series. Everybody said we were improving. And then see what happened subsequently. So, although we have performed better in the last two Test series, it does not mean that we have turned the corner."
The figures support him. In 1998 West Indies travelled to South Africa under Brian Lara's captaincy. They were mauled 5-0 in the Tests and then drubbed 6-1 in the ODI series. But Lara and the West Indies bounced back triumphantly when they fought hard against Australia to share the Frank Worrell Trophy 2-2. The ODI series was also shared, 3-3 with a tied game. Lara scored three scintillating centuries including a memorable 153 at Bridgetown when West Indies chased down 308 to lead 2-1 in the series. But just like a birthday candle, any hopes of a West Indies revival were blown away quickly as the slide over the last decade indicates.
Back in the present, the same sort of optimism has been present in the past 12 months. Late last year, West Indies lost the three-Test series in India 2-0, but on two occasions they relinquished a firm grip on the match. In the first Test in Delhi, West Indies had a 95-run lead but squandered it as they were bowled out for 180 in the second innings. India successfully chased the target of 276.
Then in the final Test in Mumbai, the West Indies batting bonded well to raise a formidable 590 and then took a 108-run lead as their bowlers responded strongly, too. But once again, as their hopes started soaring, they plunged equally fast as they were bundled out for 134. If there was any consolation, the match finished as a draw.
Then at home this April, Sammy's side initially dominated the first Test against Australia in Barbados. West Indies had made 449 after electing to bat and when Australia were struggling at 250-7, West Indies dared. But the bowlers suddenly lost the plot as the Australian tail wagged. Incredibly, Australia took the lead in the series with a three-wicket victory. In the third Test, chasing 374 with enough time in hand, West Indies lost the match by 74 runs and the series.
So here they are in England, where in the last ten Tests spread over three series, West Indies have lost nine. In these 10 matches they have scored six centuries, while England have scored 20 hundreds. Shivnarine Chanderpaul (3), Ramnaresh Sarwan (2) and Chris Gayle (1) are the only ones to score a Test century in England during this period. England's bowlers have taken a wicket every 46 balls in these 10 Tests; West Indies' have taken a wicket every 78 balls.
Much of the English media has been blunt in giving a thumbs down to Sammy and his team, even going to the extent of asking how Sammy could hold his place in the team when he has failed miserably as a batsman. At every given opportunity, the West Indies players have been reminded that their top order has a spine weaker than a straw, their bowlers seem to be unfit and how the best players are plying their trade in the IPL.
To their credit, Sammy and Gibson have so far successfully ducked all such arrows, while keeping their heads still. Both have been modest in suggesting the main challenge will be to last five days against the No. 1 team. Hence you can understand Sammy when he says that it is not as frustrating to lose players to the IPL as it is to hang the pendant of belief on the remaining players each time they take the field.
"It's about getting victories under our belt and that is something that will come when we play more together and believe even more in ourselves," he said on the eve of the first Test. "I'm not really frustrated by who's here and who's not."
In Sammy's 16 Tests as captain, West Indies have won 2, lost 6, and drawn 8. That compares favourably with the 17 Tests before Sammy took over the captaincy when they won 1, lost 8 and drew 8.
The major improvement has been in bowling. From a bowling average of 44.18 runs per wicket in those 17 Tests, West Indies' bowling average has improved to 33.61 runs per wicket during Sammy's time and you can definitely predict a strong hand of Gibson here. Although any batting improvement has remained insignificant (30.63 before Sammy, 28.96 during Sammy), there is more than a whiff of promise.
Sammy did not discount Webster's analysis. "We keep finding ourselves in winning positions and some way we keep letting it go," he said. "When you are playing against a champion team, they find a way to win so we need to have that way when we are on top not to collapse and stuff.
"That's been happening to us: in India, India in the Caribbean and Australia recently. We've been competing and pushing teams down to the wire, if you look at the last series, the 2-0 scoreline doesn't reflect the way we played. Hopefully we can eliminate these things in this series here."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo