As I suggested very recently, we already have some surprises, pleasant ones, with the new management structure for the senior West Indies cricket team. Some of the appointments were expected, while a few were simply "out of the blue." Whatever happens, let us all hope that this combination would now bring some much needed success to that most visible part of West Indies cricket on the field of play; the senior West Indies cricket team. Recent international results suggest that the only direction this team could travel is upwards.
All West Indian supporters at home and abroad, including yours truly especially, expect a much more cohesive, communicative and concentrated effort for the new millenium and beyond. I am absolutely tired of trying to explain the demise and lowly state of our cricket to the rest of the cricketing world.
The most visible, and perhaps most important member of the new management team, will be the new coach, Roger Harper.
Roger Harper was easily the most qualified, experienced and "ready" person to be the new coach of this team. His appointment, at least to the people who seem to know their cricketing business, the people "in the trenches", the normally paying fans, was a foregone conclusion. Most Caribbean people had already agreed, even before the appointment, that Harper was probably the "best" candidate for the post.
Harper is under no illusions as to the task in hand:
"I know how difficult a task this is for anyone who is appointed. Our job will be to make conditions most suitable, and favorable, for the players to accentuate their efforts and ability. The players must be put in a position where they would want to perform for self and region with great pride, as was done in the past times of glory. While I am very proud to have been given this opportunity, and I can promise to bring some innovation and, hopefully, some progress for our cricket, I also know that this is not going to be easy, as West Indies cricket is probably at the lowest ebb it has ever been. We are going to need every bit of knowledge and experience to be able to bring the senior West Indies cricket team to where it should rightfully be; the top of world cricket."
Despite not being the coach of his native Guyana, Harper has been the coach of the West Indies "A" cricket team for just over three years, which included tours to South Africa and Sri Lanka, and a few home tours, India "A" in late 1999 being the latest. He has also been the coach of the cricket team as put out by the United States of America in the ICC competition.
Thus, he qualified on experience, as set out by the West Indies Cricket Board's stated criteria. The "A" team has been mildly successful on the field of play, but if one uses the larger picture of it being the "feeder" for the senior team, then both Harper, as coach, and Joel Garner, as the "A" team's Manager, have done a pretty good job. Some young, promising players; Chris Gayle and Ricardo Powell of Jamaica, Ryan Hinds of Barbados and Ramnarace Sarwan of Guyana are good examples; are actually emerging to take their places in the senior team.
Roger Harper also has the "book" qualifications to parallel his on-the-field coaching achievements so far. Not only does he have the necessary senior coaching certificates, as issued by both the Marlebourne Cricket Club/National Sports Council in the United Kingdom, and the West Indies Cricket Board in the Caribbean, but he has even made it possible to get first hand experience and knowledge of sporting facilities, practices and attitudes from professional American football (grid iron) in the United States of America. He even gleaned some very useful peripheral training in sports psychology. Judging from what has transpired recently with the West Indies cricket team, that last qualification could well be the most important of all.
Harper's international playing career was not that spectacular after his first class debut for Guyana in 1980/1, while I was still actually playing for Guyana and the West Indies. He has been around for some time. He was even once touted as an emerging captain for the West Indies cricket team. He also did play County Cricket for Northamptonshire and, more recently, like former West Indian cricketers (Sir) Learie Constantine, Larry Gomes and Collis King before him, played for Nelson in the Central Lancashire League.
His greatest asset as a cricketer, though, was his tenacity and ubiquitous ultra-fitness. 46 wickets with his off-spinners, from 25 Tests, along with 535 runs at an average of 18.44, do not give much credence to greatness, despite the thought that he was something of an all-rounder. His one-day international history does suggest a more effective effort and return at that forum of the game; 105 matches, 100 wickets and an RPO (run per over) average less than 4.00; all very creditable indeed.
His out-fielding, though, was something else again. To put Harper's stupendous cat-like out-fielding in perspective, it is arguable that in the last twenty years or so of West Indies cricket, perhaps only Gus Logie and Clive Lloyd, incidentally Harper's cousin and cricketing mentor, were comparable fieldsmen in West Indian international cricket. It can be argued that Harper was even better than those two in the outfield.
Harper's appointment as coach, and finally, intelligently, also as a permanent senior team selector, could be, should be, much more successful, certainly more "friendly and positive", than that of either Malcolm Marshall, Clive Lloyd or (Sir) Vivian Richards. Two distinctly separate reasons could account for this.
Firstly, while he is respected by the cricketing fraternity and the players alike, Harper does not carry that special aura; and perhaps resulting "fear" from those around him; of greatness that those immediately before him did. That must be something of an advantage since Harper could more understand the need for better communication of the attitude and especially the effort needed for positive results, rather than to simply expect performances from tremendous basic natural talent, as the three West Indian greats named had in abundance. In a very strange way, people like (sir) Gary Sobers and (Sir) Vivian Richards would never realize how great they were at cricket. Normal mortals simply cannot perform as they did. I am not sure that the "Sirs" know this!!
Harper could more easily empathize with the present players. At least, the present players should never hear him suggest that "I could do it then, when I played, so certainly you can do it now," since, as a player, Roger Harper was, at best, average. Hopefully, he would be much better as a coach than as a Test player, as it does not necessarily follow that great players will be great coaches, (ref. Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Malcolm Marshall, Viv Richards) or, for that matter, that average players will become average coaches. We all hope that Harper becomes a great coach.
Secondly, Harper's knowledge, training, experiences and effervescence, from his high school days at the best boys' school in Guyana, Queens College, to being the coach of the West Indies "A" cricket team, and now the senior West Indies cricket team, was gleaned the hard way. He worked damned hard and earned any success he has had the hard way. None of the recent former coaches had anything else behind them except the fact that they were, naturally, outstanding West Indian cricketers.
Psychology is now a massive part of sports overall. Sports psychologists would tell you that some people are paralyzed in the presence of real greatness. Perhaps that could even be the "real" excuse, or reason, for the West Indies cricket team doing so very badly over the recent past; their recent coaches in Marshall, Lloyd and Richards. By not being that great a Test cricketer, Harper is probably more "properly" prepared for this position.
His relative youth; 37 on March 17 next, (Pisceans are such tremendous people. Really!!); could be seen in some quarters as a disadvantage, as some of his charges, especially that old fast bowling duo of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, are just about the same age. To his advantage, though, at least Harper would be out there on the field with the team, stride for stride, doing the same stretches and sprints as the players. That is what coaches are supposed to do in cricket, anyway, which is quite different to the role of managers. Let us simply also hope that Harper does not become "one of the boys"!!
Jeffrey Dujon, named as the Assistant Coach for the senior West Indian cricket team, is a great surprise appointment, one of those "out of the blue" appointments. This has nothing to do with his cricket, per se'. This Woolmer's Boy's School graduate, then Jamaica and West Indies player, now holds records in West Indian cricket, as a wicket-keeper/batsman, which will probably not ever be broken, or even challenged, in my lifetime.
81 matches, 3322 runs, five 100's, sixteen 50's, average 31.94, 267 catches and five stumpings are his wonderful Test figures; truly out of this world. His One Day International record is just as impressive: 169 matches, 1945 runs, six 50's, 23.15 average, 183 catches and 21 stumpings. Whichever West Indian wicket-keeper/batsman does nearly as well as that in the future will have to really be someone very special, play extremely well and work tremendously hard too.
"Duje" has augmented his obvious playing talents with the required WICB Senior Coaching Certificate, and perhaps more importantly, has begun passing on some of his expertise by being greatly involved in the coaching of 13 and 15 year olds in Jamaica and around the Caribbean. He has also done some broadcasting, since retirement, casting a very critical eye on players around the region. He certainly should know what to expect.
Like Roger Harper, Dujon should be under no illusions as to the task ahead. If he and Harper could change the entire face and attitude of the senior West Indies cricket team on the field of play is left to be seen, for most of the senior West Indies cricket team's effort on the field of play needs to be changed, quickly, if positive results are to be achieved.
The surprise of his selection to the post of assistant coach comes with the fact that the West Indies Cricket Board had actually openly suggested that they would very much like to have a continuing input for the senior cricket team from the last previous team coach, (Sir) Vivian Richards, coach to the latter part of the World Cup and to New Zealand.
Richards himself had suggested that he would like to have a continuing role: "Six weeks in New Zealand is much too short a time for me to implement the things I want to implement, so that this team's attitude, outlook, effort and results could improve." Most would agree with that assessment.
Obviously, the West Indies Cricket Board have now changed their collective minds. Hopefully, he will not be fully discarded. This also confirms what was actually suggested by the press in New Zealand during that horrendous last tour: "The qualifications stipulated for the position of coach of the senior West Indies cricket team seem to have actually been made with the direct thought that (sir) Vivian Richards would ("should"?) not qualify for the position."
While it would be unfair to suggest that the stipulations were done with Viv in mind, the fact remains that Viv does not hold a Coaching Certificate, nor does he have three years in a similar coaching position. He simply did not qualify.
While most agree that Viv may not have been ideally suited for the position of Coach, most expected that he would have been retained in at least the similarly visible position of assistant coach, lending his expertise and enthusiasm to the situation. Knowing Viv as I do, I expect that he would take any position and possibilities to "lend a helping hand" to the team.
Said a disappointed (Sir) Vivian Richards, on hearing of the new appointments; "While I am disappointed at not being selected, West Indies cricket is bigger than any one man, so I would continue to support, and to solicit support, for West Indies cricket."
One could only hope that the WICB and Sir Vivian Richards would be able to work something positive out. West Indian cricket needs the presence of people like Sir Vivian Richards, even if it is for outside inspiration.
Already, the Caribbean press, especially that of the Leeward Islands, are, probably correctly, asking the relevant questions about the appointments, and the situation with Viv. However, it does seem that nothing done in the cricket world of the Caribbean can be done without having insular rhetoric rearing its head.
We all wish "Harps" and "Duje" well, but their work is now beginning, and will be extremely difficult. It is a hard road to travel, and a long, long way to go. Let us hope that they help get the West Indies cricket fraternity to its objective quickly; to be among the best, if not indeed the best, in the cricketing world. They are going to need all the help they can get. Everyone in the Caribbean should somehow contribute that help. The coaches will need it!!