Mission Impossible for selectors
There are any number of instances of the muddled thinking that presently pervades West Indies cricket. The latest - not counting the bloated, sub-standard, expensive, non-sponsored regional one-day tournament in Guyana, last week's meeting of the Caricom sub-committee on cricket that did not involve a single cricketer and Carlton Baugh's disappointing run in Abu Dhabi - concerns a shift in selection policy.
Although enunciated separately over the past month by the chief executive of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and by the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA), the stated transformation is so similar in content and timing as to suggest collaboration.
At a time when West Indies officials are at their wit's end to know how to revive standards, their proposals are, no doubt, well meaning but they are also patently unrealistic and unworkable, if not laughable. Here is the WICB man Donald Peters's take on the issue, as delivered at the opening of the Trinidad and Tobago's High Performance Centre last month:
"If you decide that you are an opening batsman, we will expect you to occupy the crease for at least 75% of the time you go to bat and your batting average will be between 40-60 over at least ten first-class matches.
"If you are a top order batsman we will expect you to have a batting average that is consistent with international players at that level/position."
The West Indies selectors, he indicated, would be guided by a first-class average that "should be similar" to that of Mike Hussey, Ricky Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara, Kevin Pietersen, Virender Sehwag and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
The theory, presumably, is that if you're aiming high, go for nothing but the highest. No Ian Bell, Hashim Amla, Ross Taylor or others of that ilk in there. Only the top performers.
The problem is that Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle are the only ones among active West Indian batsmen who meet such qualifications. Clyde Butts and his fellow selectors will find impossible to scrape together an eleven, unless, of course, they simply ignore such nonsense.
A few days after Peters made known the WICB's plan, the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) issued a lengthy, detailed document entitled 'Selection Policy Guidelines', covering such aspects as attitude, fitness and commitment. Under the heading 'Performance Levels', this is what it states: "All players seeking to represent Barbados at the regional first-class level shall maintain a First Division (club) average of 40 or higher as a batsman or a bowling average less than 15 with at least 35 wickets as a bowler.
"All players seeking to represent Barbados at the regional one-day level shall maintain a batting average of between 35 and 40 or higher as a batsman or a bowling average under 20 as a bowler."
It goes further. Those in the Barbados team who don't maintain the required averages at club level "shall appear before the director of coaching with their club coach to give reasons for their non-performance". If, "after further monitoring", the standard still isn't met then the player won't even get into trials. The text, the BCA surprisingly revealed, was prepared "in consultation with the selectors" whose initiative it would obviously compromise.
All they need do in future is to pick batsmen and bowlers who meet the given statistical specifications and argue over the wicket-keeper, the only category for which none are set.
|All the West Indies selectors need do in future is to pick batsmen and bowlers who meet the given statistical specifications and argue over the wicket-keeper, the only category for which none are set|
The problem, short of bringing back Garry Sobers, Seymour Nurse, Charlie Griffith, Joel Garner and others from the generations of greatness, is where to find them.
The BCA directive offers no discretion to the selectors. The players "shall maintain" the given averages, full stop. Peters' plan is slightly more flexible - the WICB would simply "expect".
What both should expect is a mass resignation of those self-respecting selectors whose roles are rendered redundant by such edicts. They are all former players who have been chosen specifically because of their knowledge gained from years of experience in the game. They are not strictly guided in their judgement by runs and wickets but have an eye for the intangibles behind the numbers such as talent, competitiveness and mental toughness.
While they get it right more often than not, they inevitably get it wrong sometimes for which they are crucified, especially in these small, scattered, insular territories. Now they would be able to hide behind the bland figures. Had the WICB and the BCA come up with the same ludicrous idea in the past some of our finest players might never have had the chance to rise to stardom.
One example suffices to illustrate how absurd these new guidelines are.
For the tour of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan 34 years ago, the panel of Clyde Walcott (chairman), Joe Solomon and J.K.Holt picked a precocious young Antiguan batsman for the first time. His average after 15 first-class matches over three seasons of regional cricket was 26. He had yet to score a first-class hundred.
His name was Vivian Richards.