Bennett King: 'Sometimes you have to go through some pain to get some joy' © Getty Images
Although he doesn't publicly let on, there must be times when Bennett King wonders just what he got himself into when he finally accepted the offer to become West Indies' coach.
King is one of the three Australians in charge of the teams in the triangular Indian Oil Cup. While Greg Chappell, with India, and Tom Moody, with Sri Lanka, have taken over strong, well-settled teams in the past month, King has been surrounded by controversy and chaos over which he has had no control during his eight months in the post.
His assignment was difficult enough as it was. Following seven eminent West Indies players since Rohan Kanhai was the first official appointment in 1992, the 40-year-old King, who was the head of Australia's much-vaunted Academy, arrived last November to what was, at best, a lukewarm reception from the Caribbean public.
He was, after all, the first foreigner in the post. Such West Indian icons as Kanhai, Andy Roberts, Clive Lloyd, Malcolm Marshall and Viv Richards had preceded him.
After declining his initial announced appointment a year earlier in circumstances that are still unclear, he was second choice this time around to the same Greg Chappell who has now moved to India, a celebrated player who could not agree on the terms with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
Unlike Chappell and all the West Indians previously in the post, King did not possess the credentials of even a first-class playing career. He brought with him an entourage of fellow Australians in support and landed at the onset of the latest, longest and most bitter row between the WICB and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) that has made his job, and any reasonable assessment of it, virtually impossible.
He has seldom known, from one day to the next, what players he would have under him for the next international engagement, even whether he would have any at all. Thirty-one players in three separate groups under two different captains have represented West Indies under him, all to the constant detonation of angry words in the war between Roger Brathwaite and Dinanath Ramnarine, the feuding front men for the board and the players.
Even when he had the first-choice players available on his first international assignment, West Indies were beaten in four of their five ODIs in the VB Series in Australia in January. It was followed by a 2-0 loss in the Test series against South Africa and unprecedented losses to South Africa and Pakistan in eight consecutive ODIs. The satisfaction of the first Test victory under his watch, over Pakistan at Kensington Oval, was immediately compromised by the disappointment of defeat in the next at Sabina Park.
Worse was to follow. The tour of Sri Lanka, for two Tests and the ODI triangular, would have given King the chance to judge the progress of his work, as disrupted as it had been. Instead, it turned into a horror story for West Indies cricket that is still to run its fearful course. On the advice of the WIPA, ten of the originally selected 13 refused to sign the tour contract that contained two clauses - 1(k) and 5 - that were the bones of contention between the two organisations from the start.
There was no Brian Lara, no Ramnaresh Sarwan, no Corey Collymore, no Fidel Edwards. Only Shivnarine Chanderpaul, promoted to the captaincy when Lara withdrew from the first Test against Pakistan in April over the sponsorship row, remained as the solitary player of genuine Test experience and quality. WICB managed to raise replacements from the A team that was, coincidentally, on tour of Sri Lanka at the time but they were no more than novices at the highest level of the game.
More disturbingly, their decision to go against that of their seniors created an ugly divide between players, the effects of which are likely to further undermine King's effort in the months to come. At that point, he might well have advised the WICB that the seemingly never-ending disorder had made his position untenable and he was withdrawing from his contract and going back to the peace and calm of Brisbane. He hasn't.
"He [King] and the support staff haven't whinged about all the problems," said Tony Howard, the team manager, last week. "They've just got on with things." King doesn't dwell on the hullabaloo that has swirled around his players.
There has been no perceptible slackening in his enthusiasm or that of assistant coach David Moore and Bryce Cavanagh, the unrelenting trainer from the same tough rugby background as Dennis Waight, his Australian equivalent of the Lloyd-Richards era. While the WICB and the WIPA continue to wash their dirty linen in public, King and Howard have busied themselves preparing recommendations for presentation to their employees aimed at, among other things, increasing international competition for the A team and for youth teams at under-15, under-17 and under-19 levels.
"The pleasing thing is that West Indies cricket has invested in moving the game forward and not staying where they have been," said King. "They have taken the approach that they're not going to do what they always did which is good. My role in West Indies cricket is more encumbering than just the West Indies side," he explained. "It's certainly evolved that way although it's something I didn't expect. We've managed to put plans in place from a developing point of view," he added. The immediate improvements in whatever team has played under King have been in fitness levels and fielding.
Cavanagh has certainly been a hard task master - and King is adamant that the players have responded positively to the challenge. Before the Sri Lankan series, King spoke hopefully of "finding diamonds in coal."
"Sometimes you have to go through some pain to get some joy," he said. "Test cricket can make men out of boys and children out of men. It's one of the beauties of cricket, finding someone who rises to the occasion."
No individual diamonds appeared from the coal in the two Tests, no men were made out of boys. The depleted team was duly beaten by both Tests in Sri Lanka but what did emerge, as it often does in times of adversity, was a spirit and a resolve that earned the respect of opponents who looked at their collective record and dismissed them as no-hopers who would have been better advised to stay at home.
"In terms of this team, it could have some players of the future," King said. "It's the way we are thinking, the way we are looking forward."
The future, however, is in the hands of the WICB and the WIPA, rather than King and the management team. The trouble is they don't seem to appreciate it.