December 15, 2009

'I'm hoping we've hit rock bottom'

Interview by George Dobell
Garry Sobers, Wes Hall, Viv Richards and Richie Richardson discuss the plight of West Indies cricket, Stanford's legacy, hosting the World Twenty20, and more

West Indies endured a turbulent year in 2009. Four greats of Caribbean cricket give their views on the current state of West Indian cricket to Spin magazine

After all the years of success West Indies cricket enjoyed, is it hard to see the side so low in the rankings and being beaten by Bangladesh?

Viv Richards That is tough [chuckles, but is suddenly serious]. Let us forget the rubbish about the depleted team: when you put a team out, that is your country's team. Don't give me no excuses. Bangladesh must be given credit, and I am not quite sure that the first-choice guys would have been able to do any better.

Wes Hall I'm not sure that was the West Indies side that was beaten by Bangladesh. You might remember that the best 35 players weren't available.

Garry Sobers I don't agree. They were the best side available. They were the West Indies. In 30 years, when you look in the record books, it won't say, "Oh, the best 35 players weren't available." Besides, why are you so sure that the first-choice team wouldn't have been beaten by Bangladesh? I'm not.

Richie Richardson It is hard, but my tears dried up long before we lost to Bangladesh. When I was playing, I was getting frustrated because I saw the way we were heading. The players at the time were very concerned but we weren't listened to. It's still sad, but sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can bounce back, and I am hoping we have hit rock bottom.

How do you view the players' strike?

Hall The latest players' strike, you mean? They are always on strike. Look, I was president of the WICB and experienced a couple of their strikes. Sometimes the reasons would make you sick. Some of these guys are striking for money before they have scored a run or taken a wicket! Of course there are times when the players have legitimate concerns, but the solution is to be found by communicating. Making demands and going on strike is not the way. I don't think they understand the pain they cause to all those people around the world who care about West Indies' cricket.

Sobers I wonder why they play the game now. What's their motive? We never thought about money when I played - and we never made any - but now it seems that's all it's about. Look, I'm delighted that players are making money from cricket. But what is their priority? It should be the honour of representing West Indies. But I ask you, is it? It's difficult for us to talk about it. Whatever we say, we'll be told we're bitter or jealous because they're making more money than we ever did.

Richardson The whole thing is very sad for me. We all want our best players to be out there for us, playing hard and giving everything for their country. I don't know all the ins and outs. I think the West Indies Cricket Board is responsible for cricket in the Caribbean and responsible for dealing with whatever problems we have. The players also have a responsibility but based on the little I've heard, the players have had enough. They believe they have been maltreated by the board for a very long time, that they have been let down and that the board will only listen to them if they take the actions they did. We had a lot of problems with the board during my time as a player, but nobody knew and we were winning, and many times we would put our differences aside and go and play.

[…] I don't know who they [the WICB] answer to, I would love to know. Is it the government? I believe that West Indies cricket belongs to the people. I would love the governments, if they have the authority, to take control of the board, disassemble the board and put five or six very serious and successful businessmen in control. I have nothing personal against the individuals on the board; it's the system that has to be changed.

"I know that some are pretending they never trusted Stanford, but I couldn't do that. I did and I still do"
Garry Sobers

Should Chris Gayle be captain?

Richards Maybe some of the things he said are rather unfortunate, but there are folks that do take things out of context sometimes and maybe Chris Gayle is one of those hard guys to understand at times [laughs]. Let's hope that what he said about Test cricket was taken out of context because he would have learnt his cricket playing first-class and Test cricket before he got into one-day and Twenty20 cricket.

Sobers I'm sorry, I'm not such a diplomat. I read in the papers that he didn't want to be captain. And he said he didn't care much for Test cricket. Are those the qualities of a leader?

Richardson I don't have any problem with Chris Gayle as captain. I get the impression that the players respect him and want him to be captain, and that is the key. He's very laidback, but I think he is the best man for the job.

A year ago we were all in Antigua watching the Stanford Super Series. None of us could have known what was about to happen to Allen Stanford or his empire. What will Stanford's legacy be?

Sobers I don't know what his legacy as a man will be, but his legacy for West Indies cricket is very positive. He was the first man to put the money into West Indies cricket that it needs. The Stanford Super Series was a good event and it captured the imagination of the people. I know that some are pretending they never trusted him, but I couldn't do that. I did and I still do. I've seen pictures of him in chains, which they don't seem to do to other people accused of crimes, and I hope that he is cleared. People were always looking for ulterior motives with him. I didn't see any. I believe he would have been very good for West Indies cricket. It's very sad.

Hall I don't recognise the description of the man I hear people talking about. I trusted him and believed in him and I still do. He's a good man. We're not experts on high finance, so we can't comment on what may have happened in that respect. But his aim was to get hundreds of people in the Caribbean playing professional cricket. Training every day. Living right and thinking about cricket. He had started to do that and we were beginning to see the results. He chose the right people to do the job and he paid for it. I still believe his passion for cricket - and for West Indies cricket - was genuine and it's a terrible shame things have worked out this way. We were called all sorts of names for being involved. We did it because we believed in him and what he was trying to achieve.

Richards It's disappointing to see him in the position he's in. I'm not going to be judge and jury. You're innocent until you're proven guilty. But what I do know is that what he did for us in Antigua and what he tried to get done in the cricketing world was a great period for us.

Richardson I was very excited about the Stanford 20/20 because I believed you had already started to see positive results - young kids had started to play cricket again. Families were coming out to watch cricket and the whole world was focused on Antigua. I was a member of the [Stanford] board and we had one island playing fully professionally. Since that time, the Antiguan team cannot lose a match.

There's some talk of Trinidad going it alone as a Test nation. What do you think?

Richardson It would not be good for the region. But Trinidad has shown if we work collectively and organise properly, we can be successful. We need to use Trinidad as an example.

Sobers It's rubbish. It will never happen. I know they say we, in Barbados, already did it because we played a couple of matches against a Rest of the World team to celebrate independence. But it was just a one-off. Can you imagine England travelling all the way just to play Trinidad?

Richards I don't think they should. It would be totally ludicrous and selfish. They did represent West Indies cricket in the Champions League and [reaching the final] was a remarkable effort. What they showed with those performances was that with the right environment West Indies cricket is still relatively healthy.

Hall The idea has no merit whatsoever. It won't happen. Some have said they could play in a second division of Test cricket, but I don't think that's a good idea, either.

It's becoming much harder for West Indies - and other non-English - players to participate in county or even league cricket in the UK. What are your thoughts?

GS The English have very short memories. County cricket was only being watched by one man with a white stick and his dog when they asked us to play. I didn't do it for my benefit; I did it because they needed help. And they'll need help again. I remember Enoch Powell's speech in 1968. Some people have wanted to get rid of us for years.

Richardson Everybody is responsible for their own development. England is trying to do what they think is best for English cricket and there is nothing wrong with that. What we need to do in the Caribbean is start looking at our cricket. We need to make sure we have a good enough structure that is going to propel our cricket way into the future. We shouldn't be dependent on English cricket.

Hall People used to moan that we learned from playing in English conditions and against their players. And it's true, we did. After one season playing league cricket in England, I had bowled more there than I had in the West Indies. But surely they could learn just as much from us? Surely if you play with and against the best players, you learn? Besides, people should ask those watching what they want, too.

Modern players seem to be injured more frequently than you were. They say that because today's cricket is more "intense". What do you think?

Sobers [looking remarkably scornful] There were some quite good players around when we played, you know. There were Test players in the leagues in those days. When I played in domestic cricket in Australia, some of the teams had nine or 10 Test players in their sides. We played without helmets, on uncovered wickets, and we played all the time. I was never injured. I know some modern players dismiss what we did as they say the game has changed. But it hasn't.

Hall I played for 10 summers and winters in succession. Ten. I'm not sure modern players are as fit as we were. What you put in your mouth is very important. And even now I swim in the sea six times a week. You have to push yourself, but sometimes poverty encourages success and wealth prevents it. Maybe wealth has come a little easy for some.

Sobers Some of these people retiring from Test cricket wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't for the IPL. I don't blame them; they have to look after themselves and their families. But the money in the game now from Twenty20 is in danger of damaging Test cricket.

Richardson It's hard to say. There's a lot more cricket. But I'm probably not the best person to make that judgement because I was always a workaholic and never shied from playing and if wasn't playing I was training. But your mind is powerful thing and if you start thinking, "I'm playing too much" then you can get an injury. A lot of it has to do with the mind.

Is there still the raw talent for cricket in the Caribbean?

Hall We do have the talent. Look at the results of our teams at Under-13, U-15 or U-17 level. They're as good as anyone's. The problem comes between the ages of 19 and 23, when they might go astray. It's more about hard work and discipline.

Richards Yes, it's rubbish when people say it's not there or people are going to basketball. We've still got a lot of talent, but people get disillusioned. Say you were a young player aspiring to play for the West Indies and you were reading all this stuff. You start to wonder: is this the right kind of environment?

Sobers I've said for years that we have the talent, but I don't know what's happened with it. I don't know any more. There is still talent, but where does it go? When I was young, I used to travel around the island watching as many of the great players as I could. I used to operate the scoreboard and just watch how the players moved their feet. I saw cricket as my way to see the world and do something with my life.

"I would love the governments, if they have the authority, to take control of the board, disassemble the board and put five or six very serious and successful businessmen in control"
Richie Richardson

Richardson I have always believed that. I think we will always have that. I believe cricket is embedded in our genes and will always be there. But that has been taken for granted - that we will produce these players and they will go out and beat everyone. The game has moved on and other countries have analysed the game and done what it takes. We have regressed.

Hall One of the good things about Stanford was that he asked us to talk to the current players. There's a man like Sir Garry - the greatest cricketer who ever lived - available to help and not enough players seek his opinions or listen to his views. They say, "Oh, it was different in your day'. [shakes his head].

Sobers If a players phones me and asks for help, that's good. I can't just go and give them my opinion if they haven't asked.

The 2007 Caribbean World Cup was not a great success anywhere but Barbados. Will the 2010 World Twenty 20 be better?

Hall Yes. Lessons have been learned. The WICB deserve some credit for that. Ticket prices will be lower to encourage locals and there won't be the restrictions on bringing in food or musical instruments.

Richards We'll have to be better. We gave a lot of opportunities to individuals from the ICC to come and tell us how we run a Caribbean party. I hope that's not the case next time.

Richardson I hope so. The 2007 World Cup was a disaster. We were promised a lot of things. We were given the impression that this was the greatest thing on earth that was going to happen to the region, that it was an opportunity to make money and develop our infrastructure, and that then we would be sailing. But for that to happen you have to do this and do that and suddenly the World Cup became not a Caribbean show. There was nothing West Indian about it; everything was taken away. That was sad.

The Caribbean fans became disenfranchised and even the fans from overseas, who had come for a great West Indian time - they didn't see that. It was like it was held in another country. It kept the fans away. A lot of the governments spent lots of money and we have some massive structures that are hardly used. It was like money down the drain. Hopefully the authorities will have learned their lessons and next year's World Cup will be different.

This interview was first pubished in Spin magazine

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