Hoping for a change
After all is said and done, after all the monkey-see-monkey-do parties complete with top hats and party favours, nothing really changes. Despite all the well-meaning addresses and editorialising about a new spirit and a new attitude, we all know - as 365 days before, and 366 days before that - that it will be more of the same because we lack the courage, conviction and selflessness to really make a difference.
Yet it doesn't require any of those admirable qualities for the selectors to at least try and make a difference in the continuing misfortunes of the West Indies senior cricket team. All that's needed is a little common sense, a recognition of the importance of leadership in a diverse often dysfunctional side, and therefore an acknowledgement of the immediate need to try and reverse the existing trend.
Unconfirmed reports that the convenor, Joey Carew, and fellow selectors Gordon Greenidge and Clyde Butts are prepared to give Shivnarine Chanderpaul another opportunity at the helm for next month's tour of New Zealand are therefore not encouraging. It can only be hoped that those reports are way off the mark and that the trio of former Test players are still pondering their options before making a final recommendation to the West Indies Cricket Board for ratification.
If in fact they have gone for the incumbent, then it is a decision that flies in the face of all reason and could not possibly be based on a reasoned assessment of Chanderpaul's nine-month tenure at the helm in terms of his tactics, leadership and ability to motivate.
On results alone he has been a failure, with just one win from 11 Tests and 11 defeats in 12 One-Day Internationals, including ten in succession. That the solitary limited-over triumph was engineered when he was off the field and vice-captain Sylvester Joseph in charge against Sri Lanka in Colombo last August hardly seems coincidental. Yet in the midst of the worst period in West Indies cricket history, all the captains since Richie Richardson bowed out after the 1996 World Cup have been statistical failures.
It is more than just the depressing statistics, because Courtney Walsh, Brian Lara (twice), Jimmy Adams and Carl Hooper all had the numbers stacked heavily against them. Where Chanderpaul suffers more than the others is from an unwillingness or inability to react to changing situations on the field. Just as his tunnel-visioned focus and intense powers of concentration at the crease are tremendous assets at the crease, they are crippling handicaps as skipper.
Like a tourist trying to get his bearings at the base of the Cipriani statue while surveying the traffic mayhem surrounding him, Chanderpaul seems at a loss to recognise what is going on, to sense the vulnerability of an opponent and tailor his tactics to suit. If it is that he is merely following the dictates of Bennett King - as the powers of the Australian head coach mandate - then he should give up the job on his own. No cricket captain should allow himself to become just a tool for implementing someone else's orders. There must be some leeway to adjust, amend or abandon altogether depending on the changing circumstances. If that allowance does exist and he is not exercising it, then all the more reason for him to be replaced.
Yet if it is true that the selectors will recommend the retention of Chanderpaul, then, as wrong as it is, it may also be a case of taking in front before in front takes them if they are reading the signs from the WICB correctly. With the extremely damaging sponsorship dispute involving Cable and Wireless and Digicel still very fresh in the memory, there are obviously some directors and territorial representatives who cannot yet look beyond personal grudges and appreciate the bigger picture for the sake of West Indies cricket.
Carew and colleagues probably do not wish to have their recommendation rejected, as has occurred more than once in the last ten years. But that still does not excuse them not making a decision purely on cricketing merit and without the considerable baggage of administrators' politics. If indeed they will recommend the retention of Chanderpaul for purely cricketing reasons, then they are not suited for the job and should resign.
New year, old year, it makes no difference. West Indies cricket, certainly in terms of the flagship senior team, continues to suffer from that sinking feeling, even with the optimism generated by the recent performances of Dwayne Bravo and Denesh Ramdin, the evergreen class of Brian Lara and often-unrealised potential of Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan. Forget about Ramdin for vice-captain and then captain in a year or two. For a 20-year-old newcomer in a team anchored solidly to a losing habit, such a burden will certainly take its toll on his performance and confidence and only succeed in dragging him down with the others who are now comfortable as a collection of losers.
His time will come, but it is still some distance away. For now, Wavell Hinds, who arrives in the country tomorrow night as captain of Jamaica, is the best option, even if some at WICB level don't think so for non-cricketing reasons. The four-day match against Trinidad and Tobago, starting Friday at the Wilson Road ground in Penal, could be his opportunity to change influential minds, unless the selectors have already closed their eyes on the issue.