December 21, 2012

'About time West Indies came back'

Richie Richardson, the West Indies manager, doesn't only take care of team logistics, he also is a mentor to a young side finding its feet in international cricket

There's a good chance West Indies will win five Test matches in a row when they take on Zimbabwe in March next year. This streak would better the four in a row they won in 1993, albeit against much stronger opponents.

This West Indies team has defeated New Zealand at home and Bangladesh away, but it would nonetheless be an achievement for the players, who have turned a corner this year.

As the team manager, Richie Richardson, who captained West Indies during their 1993 streak against Australia and Pakistan, will be watching from the dressing room when Zimbabwe come to Barbados. He is one of the lesser-mentioned cogs of the West Indies machine under Darren Sammy.

For all the goodwill they have received for their recent success, West Indies' progress has been slow, and the four wins are nothing compared to what Richardson's team achieved, starting with the famous one-run win in Adelaide that turned the 1992-93 series in Australia in West Indies' favour. They went on to win the final Test, at the WACA, by an innings and 25 runs, and the series 2-1. The next two were comprehensive wins against a Pakistan attack led by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

Things have changed so much for West Indies cricket since then. Victories against New Zealand and Bangladesh are now causes for celebration. This new sense of success was missing from the side in the past decade.

"Since I have been here, there is certain improvement, in terms of commitment," Richardson said. "Players are buying into what the coach has to offer. It is paying off. [They are] working harder and with more commitment."

It has been slow going between January 2011 and December 2012, but the last six months might give Richardson a brief reminder of how things were back in the day.

These days he spends most of his time dealing with logistical and managerial issues, though he tries to spend time talking to players as well. "I like the idea of working with younger players, paying attention to them. I make sure they do the right thing.

"I hope we can really rise again. I believe we can. We have dominated world cricket for a long time and we had a lull. I think it is about time we came back."

Richardson said working with Sammy is easy. "He often asks me questions, and I feel free to discuss bowling, batting and captaincy. It is very important for captain, coach, manager and senior players to have a good relationship. Sammy works well with anybody, always smiling and open, approachable."

Richardson says it's nice for captains to have a large support staff at their disposal, a luxury he didn't enjoy during his captaincy years. "Captaincy is always tough but if you want to compare between my time and now, I was a player, captain, father, counsellor, coach, everything. It is easier for players with the support staff these days. Everything is more controlled, [we have] several coaches, we have everything available now, but back then we had nothing. We had to do everything based on memory. Things are better. That's how it should be, because the game is becoming more and more professional and you have to do these things to [keep up] with the rest of the world."

West Indies coach Ottis Gibson appreciates the "tremendous" support he receives from Richardson. "He has been brilliant for me to bounce ideas off," Gibson said. "His attention to detail, in terms of touring, the movements of the team, the logistics of the team, is second to none."

But Richardson is not your everyday team manager. In Bangladesh he strutted out of the airport and declared the team had arrived to win everything on the tour. And though West Indies lost the ODI series, their improvement didn't go unnoticed.

Richardson also offers advice to batsmen and slip fielders, though not often. Gibson, in fact, welcomes Richardson's input. "He's a Level 3 coach in his own right," Gibson said. "He spends time talking to the young players, especially about batting in Test cricket. He was one of the best slip fielders West Indies ever had, so to be able to offer advice to the guys, he gets involved in some of the practices."

It is hard to imagine whether a fifth consecutive win will make Richardson feel the way he did after his streak in 1993. But as the manager and senior-most member of this West Indies set-up, he will take pride in seeing his charges experience the success he did on a routine basis during his international career. And five straight wins will certainly mean more to West Indies cricket today than they would have in 1993.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent