December 15, 2013

Wake up, West Indies

The biggest difference between them and New Zealand has been the force they radiate on the field

When the once-mighty West Indies went down limply to a frisky and impetuous New Zealand, I began looking for the underlying reason why. Beaten easily, with the conditions all in their favour, after a gallant batting fightback by Darren Bravo only days earlier in Dunedin, West Indies defied logic this time.

After returning from Adelaide and concluding that Australia had superior hunger and conviction, I realised that the two Test matches revolved around one simple thing - the force of energy; of vigorous activity and exertion of such power. Australia and New Zealand, the hosts, each ranked below their opponent, had significant tension that needed to be expressed.

They both had built up substantial torque in their bones and sinew, which needed to be returned, rotated for positive effect. They had to see a return for their pain in recent times. This was their present status: wound up, coiled like a spring, bursting for air. They leaped into action.

More than anything, what both these winning sides displayed so organically in their respective Tests was the collective art of fielding. They were simply flawless. It was as if the white line, the boundary rope, was the trigger. The moment they all bounded on to the field together was the start of the release. No doubt, too, their preparation was building to this crescendo.

Energy emerged in all shapes and forms - chatter, facial expression, speed of foot, the zing of the throw, the acrobatic dives, and the stunning catches. Superlative fielding wins Test matches. This was proved again in these recent Tests, as it has been for decades. The inseparable team aspect of cricket was epitomised splendidly in these two teams' togetherness. They won because they cared enough for each other and for their nations' pining.

Fielding is often underestimated. It too frequently takes second place to bowling and batting. Well, it has to, by order, yet without its energetic presence the bowler may not feel a propulsion from the combined force around him, supporting him, and the batsman may not feel the squeeze of being alone as all opposing eyes are upon him.

The fielding collective is massively important. It's fair to say there hasn't been a successful side without it. From my memory, growing up, I remember the Chappell era, and that mighty slips cordon plucking thunderbolts from the energy force of Lilleenthomson.

The calypso genius at the 1975 World Cup final was a young fireball called Viv Richards, who stole the show from Ian Chappell himself. Breathtaking energy, low to the ground, deathly zinging throws of incredible accuracy finding a tiny target at a stunning velocity. Run-outs won that final for West Indies that day. From that moment they became an irresistible force for the next 15 long years. Fielding propelled them into a different sphere. Energy became their antidote and no one could stop them once addicted.

Fast forward to Wellington this week. The same cricket nation, selected from glorious idyllic islands in the Caribbean, came with no collective force, no hunger, and definitely no energy. Their fielding was the worst I have seen in all my time. Not just the catches that went down, or the misfields, no, it was the total abject failure to represent what we are on this planet to do - simply breathe in and breathe out. They looked as if they didn't even try.

Get the fielding right and the bowler starts the day with a whoop in his stride, a lift in his delivery, a snap in his wrist

Denesh Ramdin has a job to do as the keeper of the faith. He has to demand an energetic call to action to his troops and to lead by example in delivering his all-important directive. Instead he said nothing, he coughed up an appalling amount of byes, and within an hour of the Test, West Indies were a weak, meek mouse of a team. All of this with conditions in their favour.

It says a lot for New Zealand that they smashed the team ranked two places above them comprehensively in three days. New Zealand played the perfect game, with universal energy as their drive. They thoroughly deserved their win, especially after much recent soul-searching and rehab. However, to win inside three days by such a margin was also testimony to a lazy, careless opponent.

England have dropped their standards alarmingly in their fielding too. Yes, they are ageing, that won't help a jot. They need an injection of something, and youth will help. Probably a bloody good fielding coach, like Jonty Rhodes, would too. Get the fielding right and the bowler starts the day with a whoop in his stride, a lift in his delivery, a snap in his wrist. At present they are playing with dough in their bellies. Get the fielding right and the batsman feels entrapped, surrounded and suffocated.

Playing West Indies in the 1980s was fraught with danger for obvious reasons: Roberts, Croft, Holding, Garner, Clarke, Daniel, Walsh, and the greatest of all, Marshall. That dealt with the first half-dozen pair of undies you carried. Then, for good measure, came Greenidge, Haynes, Richardson, Richards, and the leader of the pack, Lloyd. That wore out the 25 pairs of woollen socks the bowlers packed.

What lurked with vicious intent as you somehow survived all that talent and muscle was not only the smell of those fine batsmen in the field, but more so of Harper, Logie and Dujon, orchestrating it all. This was not only the finest bowling and batting combo the world has seen, it was also the finest collection of outcricketers the world has seen collectively on the field.

That the present side has reduced that legacy to nothing is not only sad, it's a sporting crime. Maybe one day when they sit in an office and earn half the amount they do now, reminiscing about what could have been, they will realise clearly what a waste of an opportunity it has been.

For heaven's sake, wake up. You are fine, athletic specimens, yet you are throwing away the very thing you were given - energy to burn. Use it to field for your Caribbean. From there your batting and bowling desires will have a better chance of coming to fruition, of rising to the ranks where your predecessors once were.

Alas, the game has changed. Test cricket, for some, like West Indies, is not as important as the tiny titivating runaround in T20. Or the quick buck. Guess what, when you are old and slow, play 20-over cricket all you want. That's what it's good for.

In the meantime, think for a minute about what you are doing. Cricket offers much. It provides the team dynamic, the individual stage, and a universal energy to express. To be truly you.

Seize the day.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Android on February 10, 2014, 13:19 GMT

    I really on my heart of hearts that the team needs stability. Team members need to understand their role and play to that role.Let me put in a plug for the living legend Sir the right honorable Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Why on the name off God cricket isn't he playing one day cricket.If the others don't match up why are they even selected. Lastly I do believe that there needs to be a shrink to work with these guys some off whom quite frankly ate dizzy headed.

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2013, 2:08 GMT

    Well written MC! I grew in the times of this legends! The reality is that is the end result of poor leadership at multiple levels, at the WICB, selectors, captains and senior players. The pride has been absent for more than 15 years. The importance of West Indies cricket is no longer in the DNA of the current WI players. While I am sure they hold ambition to play for team, the work ethics and commitment is totally absent. From the selectors perspective, why not select rampaul or holder. The latter a young man with pace, bounce and movement off the wicket. Rampaul gets swing as well. Gabriel is one dimensional and so is Tino. I have heard that the bowlers are not taking the advice from the Coach, well then drop them...its simple. The fielding is abysmal. I have seen domestic teams in the caribbean fielding of a higher standard. Its so disturbing. What ever more sadistic is that I get up off my bed so damn early in the morning to support these guys that seem to lack pride and heart.

  • Hemant on December 17, 2013, 0:30 GMT

    Beautifully said .. fielding .. the most obvious is the most overlooked.

  • David on December 16, 2013, 21:11 GMT

    Recall as a kid watching in awe the likes of Marshall, Ambrose, Walsh knocking over the Aussies and intimidating anyone in their path Then I think of the likes of Lara, Richards, Sobers and all the other absolutely amazing cricketers the Windies have produced and think what on earth as happened? I support NZ and am always happy when we win but the current Windies are nothing short of pathetic on this tour. Forget the fact they are touring in foreign conditions and are minus some key players but when you contrast what they had and the current crop ya got to feel sorry for the Windies supporter because these guys make NZ look very very good and that is saying something!!! Cricket is all the better when the Windies are playing well so very disappointed.

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2013, 7:47 GMT

    With due respect to Martin Crowe, most of these West Indies players are t20 contractees all over the world.They may not need to work in offices ever.

  • Android on December 16, 2013, 3:37 GMT

    I think j taylor, f edward and sarwan should be brought bAck and we need a new selection panel not want need!!!!! fast

  • ESPN on December 16, 2013, 2:47 GMT

    That was Cricket in the 80's but today it's only Sponsorship Cricket for short term success.

  • gino on December 16, 2013, 2:30 GMT

    cricket doesn't offer much as a stage to truly express oneself. the author contradicts himself from his earlier article "the masks we wear"

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2013, 2:26 GMT

    Well written article. I agree with every word.

  • Nick on December 16, 2013, 1:59 GMT

    Another well written article MDC. I as a New Zealander I can unashamedly say as a kid I grew up wanting to be the next Malcolm Marshall (not Hadlee) and intimidate and scare batsman to get their wicket.

    My advice to the Windies is never give up, you have the physical skills and attributes to beat anyone, what you need is to apply yourselves, work together and hunt for runs/wickets as a team. Maybe you need to get some of the former legends of the game together and fire them up.

    Martin, let's not forget New Zealand has it's fair share of issues too, with the exception of the England series at home they have underperformed all too often recently.

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