June 14, 2014

Gibson on thin ice

West Indies' coach has proved to be quite the survivor, but he may be running out of rope

Of all the national head coaches in place when he was appointed by West Indies in October 2010, Ottis Gibson is the only one still standing.

Australia have gone from Tim Nielsen to Mickey Arthur to Darren Lehmann. Jamie Siddons has moved on from Bangladesh, as have Mark Greatbatch from New Zealand, Corrie van Zyl from South Africa, Waqar Younis from and back to Pakistan, Gary Kirsten from India.

Alan Butcher ended his stint with Zimbabwe after the West Indies tour last year. England shifted Andy Flower from his role of team coach, where he was highly rated, to technical director of elite coaching after their recent Ashes drubbing in Australia.

So Gibson remains the exception to the global trend of a regular turnover of coaches. The well-travelled 45-year-old Barbadian allrounder had been England's bowling guru when West Indies signed him up; according to his contract, renewed last year, he is now scheduled to carry on to October 2016.

It is an astonishing permanence, given West Indies' record of 13 defeats, three victories and nine draws in 25 Tests under his watch against opponents ranked above them on the ICC's Test table; major successes (five wins, no losses and a draw) have been achieved against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

It is difficult to think of a chief coach in any major sport who would have continued for so long with such a damning CV. But Gibson is the great survivor.

He has been the butt of regular criticism (Michael Holding said he needed to "learn how to man-manage"; others have been more strident). He was at the core of heated, divisive controversies involving senior players. The most prominent was Gayle's standoff with the West Indies Cricket Board over harsh words exchanged at long range between the two, leading to Gayle's exclusion from the team for a year and a half until a couple of prime ministers intervened to sort it out.

Ramnaresh Sarwan accused Gibson of telling him "some negative stuff that hurt me mentally and emotionally [and] took a toll on my confidence and the way I play".

In contrast, Gibson has had the full support of the WICB, both under Sir Julian Hunte's presidency and the new dispensation of Dave Cameron. There was, as well, his close, like-minded, discipline-first relationship with captain Darren Sammy, with whom he shared the team's first 30 Tests at the helm until Sammy's recent replacement.

"Ottis has added significant value to the development of the West Indies team during his tenure," the WICB chief executive Michael Muirhead said in extending his contract. "Most notably is that he led the implementation of a system of professionalism within the team unit, and curbed the negative results which we were experiencing with some frequency".

Muirhead spoke after 2-0 series wins over Bangladesh and New Zealand and West Indies' joyous triumph in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka; the 2-0 pasting of Zimbabwe in the Caribbean a year ago carried the winning streak to six Tests, a sequence not achieved since the heady days of the 1980s.

The subsequent meltdown in back-to-back contests late last year in India, hastily arranged as a backdrop to Sachin Tendulkar's emotional goodbye, and in New Zealand abruptly undermined Gibson's position.

None was more devastating than the debacle at Sabina Park in Kingston last week, in Gayle's much-hyped 100th Test, on his home ground. Events in India and New Zealand were Sammy's undoing; Sabina could be the final straw for Gibson.

Still, Gibson is the great survivor and, apart from its enduring faith in him, the WICB might see a couple of pertinent factors to justify his retention. They lie in the voluminous report by the director of cricket, Richard Pybus. It recommends fundamental changes as to how regional cricket is organised. It is likely the WICB would want Gibson involved from the start.

Pybus calls for a "West Indies First" selection policy that ties contracted players to availability for domestic tournaments, the first-class version of which is to be expanded from one to two rounds.

The WICB has already confirmed that it means business on this one, with Sunil Narine's exclusion from the current New Zealand series because of his late arrival from the IPL (by a couple of days) for the pre-series training camp.

One of the points in the proposal is that the time allowed for playing, training and recovery by West Indies selectees would be controlled by the head coach and the chief selector.

Another envisages an overall manager "to oversee and implement coaching programmes regionally". There has previously been no such coordination, leading to players raised on assorted coaching methods joining West Indies teams, causing confusion for the head coach.

Close attention to the quality of the pitches that produce substandard cricket and, as a consequence, substandard cricketers, is also a Pybus requirement. Gibson and others before him have repeatedly found themselves trying to make silk purses from sow's ears.

In the circumstances, Gibson's frustration has been increasingly evident. After the innings loss in three days last December in Wellington, he revealed to the media that harsh words, like "embarrassed" and "lack of fight", were spoken in the dressing room; he famously called on his players to "man up". He later chastised reserve players for not taking the opportunities offerd by the absence of some of the main players.

After Sabina he again went public, this time with his censure of the batting. It was, he redundantly noted, "bitterly disappointing". He presented as an example to his charges the way New Zealand went about it, "making runs, starts, getting yourself in first, assessing the conditions, assessing the bowlers, scoring areas".

These are forthright comments, justified as they are, that belong in the dressing room, not in front of microphones and before television cameras.

In the end, the decision on Gibson's future is likely to hang on nothing more complicated than the direction of the last two Tests of the current contest.

The words of Sammy during the bad times in New Zealand - "we cannot continue like this" - keep repeating themselves. He prophetically listed himself among those whose careers were on the line when they returned to the Caribbean.

Gibson cannot afford two more performances like Kingston - or like Mumbai, Kolkata, Wellington and Hamilton last year. Otherwise he could suffer Sammy's fate.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for 50 years

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ellery on June 18, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    The discussions around captain, selectors, coach and team will not serve to move WI cricket forward. At best they address symptoms of the problem and not the root causes. At worst they prolong the current state. If you take the 50 best players in the WI, I can guarantee that no combination from that group will be able to beat Australia, England, SA, India, Pakistan or SL in a 5 test series. If we accept the above statement as true then the discussion about who should be captain, coach or on the selection panel is irrelevant. The focus and discussion should be on how do we create a system that will produce the next Richards, Greenidge, Marshall, Holding, Lara, Ambrose, etc.. I concede that it will make a difference to an individual cricketer whether they are selected or not or named captain, but in the overall scheme of things it is not that important. We were fortunate in the past that through county cricket and Kerry Packer that our natural talents were honed to become world beaters.

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2014, 12:48 GMT

    Cricket and our progress in this realm starts in the mind! Many of our players see themselves as stars of the short version and so even in tests, they perform in that mode. You cannot reinvent something by replicating it! For us to develop test cricket, we cannot do it with people who cannot be shaken from their old mould, hence, inculcate it in our youth, move away from the 3/4 days version of first class cricket to the real deal 5 days, so the dashing culture of bat-man-ship, will fall away and guys will develop stickability and value their overall performance especially their time at the crease. Give the bowlers also the opportunity to increase their strength and endurance thus enhancing their performance. Let the mindset be, I must bat at least 200 overs, make provision for bad weather and bowl out the opposition twice. This must be a constant bench mark! To often WI get rolled over within 50 overs. Developing this culture of excellence is urgent and can only take root in our youth

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2014, 1:31 GMT

    Gibson needs to go. They West Indies player need leadership and they are not getting it from Gibson, send him back to England.

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2014, 1:06 GMT

    The West Indies cannot figure out how to pick in form players, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Bravo, should be plying in this test. Cotrell and Gabriel need 2 years more before they should have played a test match. Its time for Gayle to go, his foot movement have gotten worse, he is now a bunny for away swing bowlers. The coaching is not the problem yet, its the selection committee. Johnson and and blackwood are good choices to be bled into the side, its not like it can get any worse.

  • benny on June 16, 2014, 23:06 GMT

    i dont think getting rid of gibson is the key! i think doing a full clean out of the wicb and selectors would be a better start! if you ask me i think there is way to much going on behind the scenes as to why the best players arnt getting selected! i beleive the domestic format in the west indies is terrible as proven! west indies first class cricketers need to play in other domestic competitions around the world just to get a bit better understanding of what cricket has to offer! regardless of whatever reason ! you select the best players you have at all times ! i am sick of all the crap that is going on! give ottis the chance to coach well

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 19:34 GMT

    I feel very sad to see West Indies in such disarray. Whether Gibson is on the firing line or not, I guess fresh ideas need to be brought in every 4 years i.e. from World cup to World cup. In a way, West Indies is similar to India ... they don't win overseas. However, I'm really sad to see that they can't win at home. Meanwhile, New Zealand is not a bad team at all. While I see it as an encouraging sign that bowlers like Kemar Roach and Jerome Taylor are on a comeback trail, I would like to see some new young fast bowlers who bowl at 145+ kmph. Indians are not built for speed, and West Indians are not made for spin. Agreed Sunil Narine is a fantastic wicket taker, but how effective he will be in tests remains to be seen. There is huge talent - Dwayne Smith, Keiron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Kevon Cooper ... these people can do very well. Encourage them to build test cricket, no just call them T20 specialists and export them to IPL franchises. Also build fast and bouncy wickets.

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 12:35 GMT

    It's easy to target the Captain and Coach, for me there needs to be a clean sweep of the personnel right at the top. The WICB and Selectors need refreshing, as well as Gibson. This whole debacle involving Narine, was the last straw of many poor decisions beforehand. The only positive is the introduction of more youngsters in recent times, instead of recycling the tried and tested failures. There doesn't seem to be any thought-process regarding the balance of the squad itself. The pitches in the Caribbean look more like sub-continental dustbowls, which completely discourage any up and coming fast-bowlers. We need some fresh ideas to inspire and educate the players of today and the future, instead of the same old methodical, predictable, one-dimentional thinking, that has left us 20 years behind everybody else. Even going back to the mid-90s, individual world class performers like Ambrose, Walsh and Lara couldn't cover the multiple flaws, our teams have always had as a collective unit.

  • kartikeya on June 16, 2014, 6:24 GMT

    people are forgetting his achievements. He was the coach who led our team to the t20 world cup in 2012 and also a very successful t20 world cup last year. Let us also not forgot the other things he has done for the welfare of the team. He even led us to no. 5 in the test rankings during his tenure.

  • J on June 16, 2014, 1:25 GMT

    It is sad that this article took so long to come out as any other coach around the world would have been sack 2 years ago and to add insult to injury he was offered a extention. WI is the only side that gives perference to the coach over the player as if the coach is going out there to play. Coaches main job is man management and in this Gibson as not only fail but push WI cricket back a further 5 years. Where all our best talented cricketers are suppose to be in the pick form of there careers they are all trying to make a come back. Gayle 2 years out of cricket, Taylor 4 years, Shiv 2-3 years from ODI and batting to low in test also the main damage to WI this era is the Sarwan ordeal. To add to that the over use of Sammy as test captain that render Bravo's test selection and the treatment of Ediel Edwards. The only good thing i saw was the re-introduction of a inform Marlon Samaul which lead to the victory in the t20 and New Zealand test

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 0:27 GMT

    He should have gone long time ago

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