West Indies must sustain winning ways April 14, 2008

Only more hard work to end the drought

Fazeer Mohammed on why West Indies must not take the third ODI against Sri Lanka lightly, despite having clinched the three-match series

Chris Gayle leads the celebrations after West Indies sealed the ODI series against Sri Lanka © Getty Images
Like the weather of the past week, this may just be a brief respite from the prolonged drought in West Indies cricket. Which is why the team-management should remind the players - forcefully, if necessary - that tomorrow's final encounter with Sri Lanka should not be approached with the relaxed air of the day after exams.

Coach John Dyson says he wants a clean sweep of the one-day series. But mere minutes before that comment, captain Chris Gayle was joking in the post-match ceremony at the Queen's Park Oval on Saturday that everyone who has not played so far can expect a game in St Lucia, even the coach. It may have been spontaneous, reflecting as it did the jubilant mood of a squad that has every right to celebrate such a rare run of success. Still, it betrays a subconscious acceptance of the task being over and that now is the time to party.

Stemming the rising tide of satisfaction over a job well done during the three matches in Trinidad will not be easy. Still the task is not complete, and even if the series is already settled in the home side's favour, a truly professional outfit with the real desire for constant improvement is never satisfied with doing just enough to get over the line.

A week earlier, as we watched the players doing a victory half-lap before they were summoned to the presentation ceremony following the series-squaring Test victory, Jimmy Adams was more understanding of the seemingly excessive rejoicing over winning a single Test match, especially by a team that once dominated the game like none have ever done before or since.

Quite correctly, the former West Indies captain reminded me that not only was this not the same legendary squads of yore, but that they were so far removed from that era, and have endured so many defeats for almost all of their international careers, that it was only natural for them to be carried away by an experience we once took for granted. Never one to give a short answer to anything that he is really interested in, the once stoic left-handed batsman suggested that the players could use such moments of unbridled joy as motivation to work even harder in ensuring that similar experiences become the norm rather than the exception.

So even if Kieron Pollard and Runako Morton are drafted in and someone like Jerome Taylor is rested for the day-night duel at Beausejour Stadium, you would hope the message has been broadcast loud and clear that anything less than optimum effort will not be tolerated. Given our record of the past 13 years, it's not as if we can indulge in the luxury of relaxing anyway.

Winning, like losing, is a habit, and the only way this current crop of West Indian cricketers can ever get anywhere close to making winning a reasonably familiar experience is by pulling out all the stops whenever they take the field in a competitive environment

If these players really want to be credited in the fullness of time as being partly responsible for the eventual re-emergence of the West Indies as a consistently competitive team sometime in the distant future, then they will have to recognise the need to work hard all the way through. Even if this series is won, there is always another challenge not too far off and it is so very easy for the skylarking of an apparently academic fixture to linger into the next campaign.

The fact that the next campaign is against the team that continues to set the standard for contemporary excellence and ruthlessness in Tests and ODIs mandates an even higher level of intensity on our part, a requirement that is likely to be even tougher given the more than five weeks before the first Test against Australia begins in Jamaica on May 22. At least involvement in the revolutionary, money-spinning Indian Premier League will give Gayle a first-hand appreciation of what drives a personality like Ricky Ponting, seeing as the opposing captains in the upcoming series will be in the same Kolkata Knight Riders squad for the IPL, which gets underway on Friday with the Knight Riders taking on the Bangalore Royal Challengers outfit that includes Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

There is only one other West Indian - Ramnaresh Sarwan turns out for the Kings XI Punjab - involved in this 44-day event (it's entertaining and sometimes thrilling, but it's still only glorified swiping). The stark reality that they are so alone among the galaxy of the game's biggest names should in itself be another reminder of how far the Caribbean star has fallen from the pole position that essentially led all other cricketing wayfarers to a new standard of professional and athletic excellence in the late 1970s.

Winning, like losing, is a habit, and the only way this current crop of West Indian cricketers can ever get anywhere close to making winning a reasonably familiar experience is by pulling out all the stops whenever they take the field in a competitive environment, whether they are representing their region, country, club or multi-million-dollar franchise.

It is about a personal pride, hunger for excellence and, yes, even selfish desire to dominate, that transcends the specific circumstances of any contest.

Very soon the sun will emerge from behind the clouds and scorch the earth again with a renewed vengeance. We can only hope that the showers and the success of the past week have allowed a few seeds of hope to germinate, even if we may not live to admire the flowers and savour the fruits.

Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad