April 29, 2012

Gibson keeps the faith

The West Indies coach does not expect extraordinary results in England, but he also doesn't expect his charges to embarrass him

Ottis Gibson's first two years in the West Indies coaching hot seat have been as testing for him as the slow, spinning pitches of the Caribbean have been for the Australian batsmen.

There was public criticism by senior pro Shivnarine Chanderpaul to weather in 2011, constant sniping at his captain Darren Sammy to combat, and the tedious year-long Chris Gayle saga to endure. But Gibson seems to be getting through the rough spell.

"I'm on a three-year contract, so I always figure that by the end of my third year, I would have a team that is doing the things I expect the team to do in terms of winning matches," he says. "If you look at how we played in India and you look at how we played against Australia, I don't think we're far off from what we're trying to do."

What Gibson is trying to do is build a team, a tight unit, one that wins. As a former West Indies player, he knew the setup he would meet would not match the one he had left; that he would have to be starting from scratch almost, not near the top as he had been.

But Gibson has quietly gone about laying his foundation, winning over young players by motivating them through his straight talk, and, especially in the case of the bowlers, through his knowledge of what it would take to make them better.

"When I came, I had all these plans of how I would like the team to be structured, how I would like the team to develop, the shape of the team, and all that. A lot of the names that were in the team at the time aren't there. So when you look at the resources that we have and the way that we are playing, I'm very proud of the way this young, inexperienced team is fighting. We will go to England with that same fight."

The contest does not look an even one on paper. England, still hurting from a bruising winter in Asia, are a different prospect on their own turf. They beat India, who were coming off a series win in the West Indies, 4-0 at home, and retained the Ashes against the Australia side that has now beaten West Indies 2-0 in the Caribbean.

West Indies' bowling department is currently the strongest part of the edifice Gibson is trying to construct. But the batting is shaky, weakened by a lack of experience rather than a lack of skill. Adrian Barath, Kieran Powell, Kirk Edwards, Darren Bravo and Narsingh Deonarine, all set to go on their first Test tour to England, have played 52 Tests between them.

Gibson rates his side 6.5, at best 7, out of ten. "Obviously we know the shortcomings of the batting. But if we get the batting right, we will score quite highly and win matches."

It is not the performance against the Australians alone that has given Gibson hope. "Say the last six to 12 months, the way we played in India, we went to Bangladesh and won. We dominated India in two out of three Test matches. We weren't strong enough as a team just yet to finish them off, but you can see the signs of improvement. You can see the signs of belief starting to grow in the team."

But while Chanderpaul was, according to Gibson "unbelievable" against Australia, the travails of the top order do not portend a breakthrough summer, "simply because we've got players that haven't played in England before."

The young West Indians, however, have defied expectations already this year, twice in the shared Twenty20 and ODI series with Australia and in their dogged refusal to lose easily in the Tests.

The athletic, committed fielding, even when the chips were down, was symptomatic of a new spirit and discipline. Sammy's increasing willingness to attack, boldly declaring on Australia in Barbados and himself pushing for runs on the last day in Trinidad, was more evidence of a new ethos taking root.

"When you look at what we have been able to achieve against Australia, the amount of times we've dominated days' plays, which I don't suppose many people would have been expecting, the way that we've been able to bowl them out twice, the way that we've been able to get within 75 runs of that target [in Dominica] just shows the spirit in the team," Gibson says.

Sammy's boys will need all their gumption and then some when their English test begins. But Gibson believes in the investment West Indies cricket is making. "Those young inexperienced guys, we've shown belief in them, and they are giving a lot of effort. But some of them are learning on the job. Yes, they will make mistakes, and some of the mistakes are very obvious, but at the same time they are learning, and that's all you can ask of them. Hopefully, as they continue to learn and the team continues to grow, we believe that winning is not far away."

When his contract is up in ten months' time, Gibson expects that faith not to have been misplaced.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express

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