June 15, 2012

West Indies need more action, less talk

The Ramdin affair has highlighted the need to nurture the right mindset in players

After all the recent "talk", the cricket field must have felt like a sanctuary to Denesh Ramdin. He did not get a chance to bat himself, but West Indies' one-day warm-up game against Middlesex was a chance for the wicketkeeper-batsman to turn his mind back to playing the game.

Had he been able to see past the time he got to three figures last Sunday at Edgbaston, Ramdin, one assumes, would have kept his hands out of his pocket, waved his bat to the crowd, pointed to his dressing room and moved on.

It became complicated because of four little words: "Yea Viv, talk nah." A fine from the ICC and condemnation from the pundits and sundry others in the Caribbean cricket fraternity will have turned the memories of that 107 not out somewhat sour. It need never have been so.

But what convinced this man who was touted by the same Viv as a future West Indies captain to scrawl those words - just in case he got the 40 runs he needed overnight to get to the hundred - and to believe that brandishing them was a good plan? What moved him to think it was an acceptable thing to do in front of the whole world?

Maybe he thought he would get support for hitting back at Sir Vivian Richards' on-air criticisms of his play during the second Test. On call-in programmes in his native Trinidad the morning after, not everyone was shamed by Ramdin's show and tell. The minority, but not necessarily an insignificant minority, thought the gesture the right response to Richards' criticisms of a man only recently reinstated to the side.

They didn't look at it as an immature and counter-productive way to handle criticism. That messaging Sir Viv simply lacked class; that it took away from Ramdin's own achievement on the day. The "do them back" mode of response is en vogue nowadays in the Caribbean. It is too old school, it seems, to let actions speak louder than words.

Remember, before Ramdin, there was Chris Gayle, who got his own back at his coach, Ottis Gibson, and the West Indies Cricket Board CEO, Ernest Hilaire, on public radio. He lost over a year in international cricket as a result.

Even Shivnarine Chanderpaul, renowned for letting his bat speak, got into verbals with the authorities in 2011 over perceived slights by the West Indies selectors and coach. He still has not won back a spot in limited-overs cricket. And in recent weeks and months, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Brendan Nash and Jerome Taylor have not been shy about saying what they think about how they have been treated. Their words have made for lively copy.

Is this growing verbal aggression really good for West Indies cricket? Or is it misdirected energy? For instance, what will the bad press now do for Ramdin, who must keep making runs so as not to eat his own words? Will there be any less pressure to perform in the next Test?

As Ramdin's coach both with Trinidad and Tobago and the Windies, David Williams found himself following Sunday's drama closely.

"I know in 2009, when he made that 166 [against England at Kensington Oval], he did pull a note out and it was thanking people for the support. When I saw it [piece of paper] come out of his pocket [at Edgbaston], I thought it was the same thing. But when I read it, I said: 'No Denesh, no.' That's taking it a little bit overboard.

In his four and a half years as assistant to first John Dyson and then Gibson, Williams has had occasion to shake his head at the choices players make. "While I was there at West Indies level, there was so much controversy going on with the strike [during Bangladesh's tour in 2009] and all those things. Every time you started to build something and it's looking like it's going forward, there is a strike, there is something happening, players problems. There are so many things that came in, that hampered that sort of growth."

The "do them back" mode of response is en vogue nowadays in the Caribbean. It is too old school, it seems, to let actions speak louder than words

As the newly appointed technical director for Trinidad and Tobago's cricket, Williams has the challenge of developing in some of West Indies cricket's future talents a different mindset. "Your backgound is very important," he says. "Your foundation is very important. If your foundation is weak, you're going to struggle at the top and it will take you a little bit longer to really be able to deal with things at the top level."

Williams has seen at close quarters how such shortcomings have held players back. "More often than not, when they come to that level, then we are just starting to deal with character-building and personalities," he says. "So if that's done beforehand then half our job is basically finished. The guys just need to concentrate on their cricket and they will be better players."

The Test series against England produced a few noteworthy West Indian highlights, but perhaps outside of the now seasoned Marlon Samuels, captain Darren Sammy, Kemar Roach, and arguably Ramdin, no one else can claim to have moved his career forward. Maturation is taking place ever so slowly.

"There is a momentum that's building at the moment... There is still a lot of room for improvement but at least you seeing something you can identify and work with," Williams reckons. He feels, though, that the pedestrian rate of individual progress could be quickened if West Indian players got more opportunities to broaden their horizons.

"Look at A team cricket, for example. We need to be playing more cricket, not one series a year or two series a year. To give the guys more exposure, we need to have A team guys going to Australia, spending a month and a half up there, getting used to different conditions… Get into the subcontinent, play cricket out there for a long period of time. And that's the only way we're going to improve basically, as well as putting proper structures in place in terms of development.

"The High Performance Centre is doing what they can, but I think the responsibility is on the various boards as well to come on board, just as the Trinidad and Tobago board is doing at the moment.

"There must be some sort of responsibility taken by the [West Indies] Board to ensure that the structure is run properly and the players are getting what they need or else we're not going to go anywhere."

West Indies cricket still needs much more action, much less talk.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express