Sarwan prepares to fight down the odds
As he left the Caribbean for his first tour as West Indies captain, Ramnaresh Sarwan preached the benefits of compromise. Remarking on protracted disputes over contracts, fees and endorsements, he said the team "should start to play better" if these issues were sorted out before tours. "I just think everyone has to compromise," he said. Once that happened, "I think everything will be solved."
On the subject of team discipline - an area targeted for stringent measures by the West Indies Cricket Board - Sarwan seemed vague. "...I just think that in everything you have got to draw the line. We are just hoping that nothing gets out of hand, and everyone looks in the same direction."
By the time he got off the plane in England, he had managed to gather his thoughts and they reflected a compromise. There had been speculation "about guys being indisciplined, and those rumours were unfortunate," he said, but he conceded that: "Discipline plays a major part in sport, and sometimes you have to clamp down on that. We never had a curfew before, and that is in place now. I don't think any of us will have a problem with that."
He was a off the mark there as Chris Gayle, though acknowledging that "the curfew will keep the guys more on their toes and try and get the best out of the players even more," made it clear that "I wouldn't agree with curfew but it is the team policy so you have to go along with it. If it was in my hands I would let the guys be more free to do want they want to do leading into the first match." Gayle may have been speaking in the spirit of compromise, but it seemed odd that he should admit to its value and still resist the curfew.
As a senior player, Gayle said there was always responsibility on his shoulders too, but his take on criticism was that "it's nothing new to us but we don't study that, we're here to play cricket."
Gayle's comments seemed to contradict each other, as if there was no internal logic defining his approach to cricket, and this will be one of the major challenges facing the new captain as he takes his turn at leaving an imprint on West Indies cricket, for it reflects the absence of an underpinning philosophy within players.
He will have to lead a team that has elements of newness that invite remoulding - new coach, new captain, new manager - but it has had such a dysfunctional recent past that the burden may have left an indelible impression that defies remaking.
|He will have to lead a team that has elements of newness that invite remoulding, but it has had such a dysfunctional recent past that the burden may have left an indelible impression|
The team has hardly won matches in the last decade or so, and in that period it has been caught between contract disputes, has changed captains several times, and has faced considerable public opprobrium. It could not manage even a creditable World Cup performance to lift spirits before this England series. Instead the relentless upheavals continued to the brink, starting with Brian Lara's resignation as captain, then coach Bennett King's.
Sarwan, to his credit, was ready to grab the captaincy with "two hands" even under the circumstances, and has identified what he thinks are keys to success. He has acknowledged that it is a process which will take time and which will not be easy, and that it will need the full "support of the guys." Achieving consistency is his goal, but that might be harder to attain than he imagines without rigorous attention to discipline, training and fitness.
There are young players on board who have little or no experience of English conditions and without any match practice to help them acclimatise (another weakness in packed itineraries), they will be at a disadvantage, and Sarwan was right to see it as "the biggest challenge" facing the team on this tour.
During the World Cup, he thought some members of the team were not able to handle the pressure to perform, and building confidence and introducing strategic thinking may help them to improve in this area.
There will be several others facing him as captain (already the team has chalked up three injuries), but his temperament is one that allows him to rise to challenges; he enjoys taking risks and has remarkable self-confidence, qualities he will need fully in these desperate times.
He has every intention of making his mark and instituting his brand of cricket during his tenure. "I prefer to be an attacking type of captain," he said. "It is part of my nature. You could see this from the way I play as well." He will have to have to apply his new spirit of compromise deeply to this and learn to temper his attacking nature with the requirements of the game, as his single-minded approach has often been his undoing.
Yet, there is something infectious about his optimism and buoyancy, if one remembers the palpable boost of energy in the team when he acted as captain against Australia during the Champions Trophy. With a team so deeply bogged in the culture of losing, it would make a world of difference to have a leader who believes in fighting down the odds.
He has chosen to approach this series by reminding all that both teams had not done well in the World Cup and would be under equal pressure to perform. It means that there will be some measure of playing for pride involved in these matches - an element the West Indies has been accused of lacking. However, Sarwan will not be easily fazed. "Of course we think we can win this series - that's why we're here," he said, asking his team to "be positive" in their attitude.
It is a worthy approach, as long as he maintains the spirit of compromise and tempers it by remembering two things: never underestimate your opponent, and everyone thinks they can win.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad