Spectators turning away in disinterest April 3, 2006

Windies cricket needs real leaders

Fazeer Mohammed

The West Indies tour of New Zealand was one of missed opportunities © Getty Images

Another learning experience? Give me a chance with that foolishness, you hear?

In the aftermath of the West Indies tour of New Zealand, now is definitely not the time for the empty platitudes about absorbing the lessons of the latest disappointments, or that ever-popular ditty about leaving those setbacks in the past and looking forward to the next series.

Even in the midst of a 4-1 whipping in the one-dayers and a 2-0 loss in the Tests, there have been encouraging signs. But those signs will not lead to real long-term progress unless everyone of influence in West Indies cricket is prepared to take the action necessary to build on whatever has been achieved during the seven weeks in the sport's furthest frontier.

Yes, there is a World Cup looming on the horizon. Yet even if it seems that any and everything being done in the region at the moment has some association with that monumental event less than a year away, the fact of the matter is that everything else in West Indies cricket does not come to a grinding halt until after that extravaganza is completed on April 28, 2007.

Zimbabwe, whatever their internal troubles, are due here at the end of the month for five one-day internationals. They will want to show they are emerging from the mire that has resulted in their self-imposed suspension from Test cricket for a year.

India, the increasingly aggressive power-brokers of the game, follow the southern Africans for another five ODIs followed by four Tests.

With Trinidad and Tobago's historic World Cup finals appearance coinciding with the Test series, it will be understandable if most attention here is focussed on the global footballing showpiece in Germany in June rather than on the cricketing contests in Antigua, St Lucia, St Kitts and Jamaica.

Last year, there was no World Cup to divert attention, yet fans stayed away by the thousands for Pakistan's Tests at Kensington Oval and Sabina Park. Caribbean impatience, frustration and anger had long been tempered by the conviction that somehow, sometime soon the beloved regional team would halt its steep decline since 1995 and begin the long journey back to respectability.

Now that conviction has been replaced by widespread cynicism and, worse still, an increasing disinterest. To have to endure defeat after embarrassing defeat is bad enough. But for those losses to be cast against a backdrop of an administration crippled in debt, locked in a damagingly divisive sponsorship dispute with the players and-as ever-wracked by self-serving internal wrangling presented a repulsive image that forced many to turn away in disgust.

And yet, after all of that, the West Indies could have come away from New Zealand with a shared Test series if they had held their nerve in Auckland, and what a tremendous lift to the spirit that would have given. That it didn't happen, that the hugely advantageous positions in the one-dayers in Queenstown and Christchurch were not converted into victories, should confirm once and for all that this is not so much an issue of ability but mental toughness, of learning how to win again after a decade of relentless licks.

Cultivating that habit once more on the field, and in the boardroom, requires strong leadership. How much more evidence is needed before it is realised that Shivnarine Chanderpaul has been harnessed with a burden he is incapable of carrying and, even worse, has taken an obvious toll on his ability to contribute with the bat?

Who really believes that the hasty assessment of Bennett King, the head coach and his Australian staff was anything other than a smokescreen to divert attention from the captaincy issue?

That the West Indies Cricket Board should commission such a useless, indeterminate exercise-on the eve of a tour of all times-suggests that Ken Gordon is as helpless as any other recent president in effecting real change in an organisation that continues to be populated at its decision-making level by members who see no further than the boundaries of their own constituencies.

There is no quick fix, with King, Gus Logie or any other coach for that matter. But getting the ship back on course requires people at the helm who are agreed on the direction they should be heading.

That direction must be towards rediscovering the commitment, discipline, dedication and pride that has defined West Indies cricket, until recently, as a standard to be admired, romanticised and emulated.

Brian Lara's berating of the New Zealand media for what he perceived to be their disrespect of West Indies cricket might have been justified. However, if the truth be told, the apparent disdain for the current team is due in large part to the fact that many of the local writers covering the tour were shocked and saddened by the performances of a team that was a pale reflection of a revered legacy.

The organisers of the 2007 World Cup speak often of the legacy of state-of-the-art infrastructure and administrative efficiency as one of the most meaningful rewards of the event. But systems and structures are essentially hollow without pride and passion.

As with any other endeavour that we hold dear to our hearts, it is the people who make the difference. People who can lead. People who can inspire.

Real leaders. This is what we need to make a real difference in West Indies cricket.