July 30, 2009

Lay off the legends

Rudi Webster
Lloyd and Holding are entitled to criticise the West Indies players - they've been in those shoes

A few days ago Clive Lloyd and Michael Holding expressed a few of their feelings and views about the attitude, behaviour and performance of some of the West Indies players and their representative body, the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA). WIPA did not take too kindly to those remarks and counterattacked Lloyd and Holding. But WIPA was not the only body that received criticism from those two cricket icons; over the past months they have been equally firm in their criticism of the structure, modus operandi and performance of the West Indies Cricket Board.

Records show that Lloyd built and captained one of the best, most successful teams in the history of sport, and that Michael Holding, a truly outstanding fast bowler, made a significant contribution to the triumph of that team.

As manager of that side during the Kerry Packer era, I got a first-hand view of the way those two players, along with Deryck Murray and others, transformed the West Indies team into the most professional, disciplined, courageous, motivated and mentally tough unit ever to grace a cricket field. Members of that team were not overpaid, and they did not expect or demand rewards for non-performance or poor performance. They were not overrated. And they certainly were not petty, pampered or spoilt - Kerry Packer saw to that.

It is difficult to overestimate how much the players in that team were admired and idolised on the cricket field. And off the field they were loved and respected for the manner in which they conducted themselves and for the role they played as outstanding ambassadors. Two decades have passed since those players left the scene but people around the cricket world still talk about them.

Surely Lloyd and Holding have earned the right to express their views freely and openly. And we should be grateful to them for sharing their rich experience and wisdom with us - important attributes that are missing in most of our players and in some of the administrators of WIPA and the WICB.

WIPA must understand that criticism in sport is par for the course. In fact, I don't know of many other professions where criticism is so vitriolic. And the criticism that WIPA and the players are now getting pales into insignificance against that which the players in World Series Cricket endured. Not only were they criticised, despised and abused by all the cricket boards and by critics around the world but also by former players. In some cases they were denied the use of traditional cricket grounds and had to play on football fields, on wickets that were prepared in greenhouses and then transported to the field.

As far as I can remember, those West Indian sportsmen did not bear any great animosity for or show any disrespect to their board, critics or former players. They answered them in the best possible way, the only way that really matters - winning performance on the field. The World Series was the catalyst that propelled West Indies cricket to world dominance.

I think I can say without contradiction that greed was never an important factor in the minds or the motivations of the players back then. Most of them had contracts that ranged from US$20,000 to 25,000. Compare that with the US$ 1 million that each West Indian player received last year for winning a Twenty20 game in Antigua.

Money attracted the players to World Series Cricket because what they were getting as Test players for their country was a pittance - more like an allowance than a salary. But once the cricket started, money plunged to the bottom of their list of priorities. They understood that if they performed well, money would come to them; and that if money became their most important priority, their concentration and thinking would be incorrectly focused and their performance would suffer badly.

Consequently, they used other things to motivate themselves - pride in being part of the West Indies team, pride in performance, pride in being the most professional and disciplined unit, the competition itself, enjoyment of the challenge and the battle, becoming the champions of the world. It would be interesting to find out if the current players and WIPA share those driving forces.

During World Series most of the players offered their services to their countries, but their cricket boards rejected them. The players did not abandon their countries. Eventually the courts ruled in favour of the players and ordered the various boards to reinstate them.

WIPA must understand that criticism in sport is par for the course. In fact, I don't know of many other professions where criticism is so vitriolic. And the criticism that WIPA and the players are now getting pales into insignificance against that which the players in World Series Cricket endured

West Indies cricket is now in the worst shape it has ever been. Along with Bangladesh, West Indies are at the bottom of the Test and one-day ratings. The players' bowling averages are like good batting averages, and some of their batting averages are like good bowling averages.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article in which I asked if there was cancer in West Indies cricket. I stated that if the epitome of good teamwork is found in the human body its antithesis, arrogance, selfishness (and greed), is found in cancer. It is now time for the players, WIPA and the WICB to become painfully honest with themselves and do a thorough self-examination to discover if there is, in fact, a cancer within. They should also be aware that the only treatment for cancer is radical surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

The adversarial thinking that has dominated and prolonged the current conflict is the preferred style of lawyers and operatives of the union. That method must now be abandoned completely. A different approach is urgently needed. This will require two things. First is the formulation of a bright and successful future for West Indies cricket and second is the fitting of resources and strategies to bring about that future.

If the current mediation is viewed just as an exercise to resolve the long-standing contracts conflict, it will result in a palliative outcome, but the genesis of the conflict will linger. It would be more sensible for each participant to treat the situation as an exploratory exercise to design the best possible outcome for West Indies cricket. That subtle difference in approach could lead to a dramatic change in intent, thinking and behaviour.

It is now imperative that the WICB and WIPA restructure themselves, readjust their attitude and priorities and work together to create an environment that will help bring out the best in the players. This is the only way the two bodies will improve their performance.

A plant that grows in a bottle will always take on the shape of the bottle and be confined to it. No matter what seeds are planted in the bottle the result will always be the same. The plant will only grow freely, flourish and take on a different shape when the bottle is broken.

Rudi Webster is a sports psychologist. He managed the West Indies team in World Series Cricket