April 19, 2011

Why are West Indies dropping their old guard?

Building and rebuilding the team has been the tired mantra for two decades, but the logic in this latest instance has been missing

When the West Indies squads for the single Twenty20 and the two ODIs against Pakistan were announced, the usual arguments began about the wisdom of the choices. This time around, the omission of former captains Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan has raised questions about whether they have been dropped for good.

The West Indies Cricket Board, through its CEO, Ernest Hilaire, has responded by proclaiming its adherence to a selection policy wedded to the goal of "building a new team for the future". The future, as Hilaire defined it, extends as far as winning the 2015 World Cup, although chairman of selectors Clyde Butts indicated that his goal is to gather "a mix of players who will take us through the next five to 10 years".

The "fair and transparent manner" in which the selection process is to be conducted, as the West Indies Players' Association indignantly reminded in its obligatory objection to the omissions (citing Article VII [e] of its MOU with the WICB) has been perhaps the most notable absence.

Building and rebuilding the West Indies team has been the tired mantra for two decades. The intelligence behind this endeavour has scarcely been apparent, because it has been too rare to find either cricketing or developmental logic behind the choices.

Take the simple idea of building a team based on a combination of experience and promising new blood. Surely that would be a significant factor? Even Australia are struggling without the experienced core that carried them so triumphantly. No honest appraisal of the named West Indies squad can find a mentoring presence: no anchor, no wisdom, no experience to navigate pressure periods. Darren Sammy is a captain now learning the ropes, and he has certainly not yet developed the confidence that will comfort the newbies. Dwayne Bravo might have all the confidence in the world, yet he is but a transient figure: in the West Indies squad today, but off to the IPL during the two Tests. What is the point of his vice-captaincy? Nothing long-term in that gesture, except for the WICB's declaration that he and Keiron Pollard (also off to the IPL) remain "committed to West Indies cricket and will be available for future selection to the West Indies in all formats".

Marlon Samuels, executor of the infamous run-out, recipient of the two-year ICC suspension, and maker of runs, has been brought into the squad to build what? Character? Hadn't he recently turned down Dwayne Bravo's World Cup spot saying he wasn't ready yet? Was the offer not good enough at that point?

No matter how repeatedly the WICB has referred to its selection policy to defend its choices (in the interests of fairness and transparency, wouldn't it be wonderful to find such a policy, say, on its website?) it has not convinced anyone that decisions were made solely to develop West Indies cricket, either to win the 2015 World Cup - such a politician's goal and time frame! - or to have a solid team in five to 10 years.

If the exclusion of Chanderpaul, Gayle and Sarwan, is "consistent with the policy to expose young players", then the WICB has obviously decided to let them go, despite the attempts to leave the public guessing

One is left to speculate, despite Hilaire's articulations that nobody has been axed, and that even if they were, it is not necessarily forever. History has a way of curdling such statements. Men have been dropped and picked up, it is true, but when you examine the manner of the droppings, it tells its own story. Remember how the Kerry Packer boys got squeezed? Remember Jimmy Adams and Carl Hooper?

So Gayle, the saga boy, is so out of favour that he had not even been "invited to do a fitness test". Is it because there were no "fruitful discussions" about retainer contracts between him and the WICB, as there were with Pollard and Bravo? Is Sarwan's omission based on his World Cup performance or the recent rumours of ICC investigation? Has the rock called Chanderpaul been cast like a pebble into the ocean because of the World Cup? Wouldn't his experience have been a vital bridge in this new order?

"The selectors will speak to each of the players to explain what the plans are and how they fit into the plan," said Hilaire, which means that the players were not even privileged to have this discussion before it entered the public domain. But Hilaire made sure to talk about the confidentiality of these discussions whenever they will take place. What can we ever know about the rationales?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with searching for new talent. There are young men on those squads with definite potential, but it has to be nurtured. Therein lies an area of great complexity.

This generation is remarkably out of touch with its predecessors, knowing little or next to nothing of its antecedents. And truth be told, most of them are tired of hearing about the great teams under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. For many other young players around the world, such ancestral tales are magical and inspiring. West Indian boys look away when those praise songs are sung. Why? Those stories have been administered as hard slaps, reminders of how pathetic they stand in comparison, and so the heroes invoke shame, not pride.

There has to be a different journey towards their history, and in the meantime, mentoring presences within the team cannot be completely removed.

Inexperience is not a disqualifier; it is a phase of a journey. Maturity takes time and comes with support. Look at the Combined Campuses and Colleges team, a genuine newbie in the regional cricket community. The team dashed their way confidently through the recent WICB four-day tournament and arrived at the finals, only to be trounced by defending champions Jamaica - a team they had already beaten during the earlier stages of the competition. That was a team crashing under the weight of their inexperience, but given their approach to the tournament - confident, intelligent and positive - their competencies can only improve with maturity, providing they have strategically sound leadership.

If the exclusion of Chanderpaul, Gayle and Sarwan, is "consistent with the policy to expose young players", then the WICB has obviously decided to let them go, despite the attempts to leave the public guessing. At least that would be the logical conclusion. The problem would be that in completely excising the old guard (as it did in the exodus of the Desmond Haynes-Viv Richards group), it leaves too many lambs and too many slaughters.

Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad