West Indies take risk on gambler
The unsurprising news that Ramnaresh Sarwan will captain West Indies and lead the team to England has come out of a West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) meeting. If all goes as the WICB stated, Sarwan's first task will be to join the selectors on Tuesday to pick the team. It may be his easiest duty as the once coveted role has become so embroiled in intrigue and muck that its holder is now seen as a suicide cricketer.
The tour to England may seem to be on tenuous grounds given the fact that contract negotiations between the WICB and the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA) have again been placed in the hands of an arbitration panel, led by the chief justice of Barbados, Sir David Simmons. But for jaded onlookers, the situation is such a familiar one with such a familiar outcome that nobody seriously doubts the tour will be scrapped. Uncertainty prevails, however, about whether there will be a new coach or even a physical trainer in that time.
A major problem within the team has been its internal relations, its indiscipline and its unwillingness to train and maintain fitness programmes. Granted, it is not an easy problem to uproot, but it requires an intervention that explicitly communicates intent.
When Brian Lara announced his retirement, two names were immediately tossed out as his successor: Sarwan and Daren Ganga. Both have led their national teams with success, both are good cricketers, though one has a better record, and both have completely different approaches to the game.
Ganga's leadership has been about instilling discipline and nurturing a good work ethic. Sarwan considers himself a gambler who is willing to take risks. But Sarwan has become a senior member of this team of skylarkers, has been obviously part of the embedded culture, and despite his best intentions, cannot impose a new and unwelcome ethic. He may have the most attractive playing record at this stage, but Lara's was more impressive and that didn't do the trick.
In selecting the squad for the World Cup, the WICB omitted Ganga, despite his recent good form, and it struck me then as it does now. What a complete and utter rejection it was of all the qualities of leadership that Ganga represented. It was probably just as well that they left him out, because he might just have been seen as a party pooper.
Ganga, at 28, brings a decidedly more mature approach than Sarwan, who will turn 27 in June. Not that age is the decider, but their temperaments and experiences have been starkly different. Ganga has been bumped in and out of the West Indies team, sometimes inexplicably, but he has been stoic and resilient and has always tried to work out his problems, though it has affected his confidence.
Sarwan has breezed through his career based on his obvious talent. When he shines, he is dazzling, but he is belligerent towards criticism and stubbornly refuses to amend flaws in his technique. He is supercharged with confidence, which can be a good thing, and he will probably be a forthright captain (though that might be a contractual no-no).
In 2002, I interviewed him and one of the elements of the conversation that has returned to me several times during the intervening years was that he repeatedly insisted that nothing had changed in him since he was 15 or 16. "I've been the same way," he said, more than once, and watching him since I could see the truth of the statement.
I also asked him what he thought were the qualities of a good captain. His response was immediate, suggesting he'd already worked it out. "One, he should know how to speak," he said. "He should be cool in situations, he should know when to make a decision, and he must be a gambler. He should be a gambler. And he must have cricket knowledge as well."
They were all qualities he felt he had then, and if now, under these oppressive and complex circumstances he thinks he is up for the challenge, one hopes that he understands it takes other things as well.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad