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Couch Talk

'The mankading incident was in the spur of the moment'

West Indies Under-19 coach Graeme West talks about how his team overcame the controversy and won the World Cup

The West Indies players come from different territories. How did you go about moulding them as a unit?
It's a challenge that you probably won't be able to appreciate until you have been to the Caribbean. We got the guys together on a fairly regular basis within the school holidays. We didn't play as much cricket as some of the other sides, but we did get to spend time with each other in the camp and play against each other regularly. It was very important before going to Bangladesh that they understood each other.
You have to work with high-school kids. Teenagers have their own issues. How did you handle the emotional side of things?
The reality is that many of them may not play again until they play in a senior West Indies team or an A team, which would be a great achievement for them. A lot of them have exams this year. There is a lot of pressure in terms of studies, and the challenge is making sure they are keeping up with their homework and revision. At the same time, you have to keep them focused on the cricket. It is a difficult balance. But once we got to Bangladesh, the players understood that they had to get their heads down and work hard. We were playing catch up, we hadn't had as many matches as the other sides. Every practice session was crucial in terms of getting ready for our first game, against England.
West Indies' strength was pace bowling. In the subcontinent, the spinners are expected to have a greater role. But in Mirpur, there was pace and bounce. How did your game plan evolve?
When we were picking the squad in December, we were looking for a balanced attack with spin and pace options. Our difficulty was that we didn't have quality spinners. We had [Kirstan] Kallicharran for variety with his legspin. We had three guys who all bowled offspin. As the tournament developed, we were fortunate that we got some wickets that encouraged good fast bowling. We found that the opposition was very comfortable playing spin, and therefore it was a challenge for those teams, and the three sides we played in the knockout stages were all Asian sides.
Regarding the mankading incident against Zimbabwe, did the team discuss it with you before it took place, or was it spontaneous?
I had never been involved in such an incident, as a player or coach. It was not discussed or planned prior to the game. It was down to the situation itself. There was some observation in the penultimate over that the batsman was looking to get a head start. The bowler, Keemo Paul, was aware about it going into the last over. Hence, he hadn't entered his delivery stride at all when he brought the stumps down. It was very much in the spur of the moment. Therefore, my initial reaction was a little bit of shock, in terms of not being prepared for something like that, given the nature of the situation as well. We fought back in the game magnificently, got them nine down, and we were in a position to win the game. But with six balls to go and three runs to win in what was the game of the tournament, it will probably be remembered only for that one moment.
Was there any pressure on captain Shimron Hetmyer to withdraw the appeal?
The referral to the third umpire came after the umpire had asked Hetmyer if he would like to proceed with the appeal. He said yes straightaway, and the team was 100% behind that.
The discussions after the game were two-fold. Firstly, I don't think anybody on the field was aware of the reaction that was going to follow. We had to make the guys aware that it is going to be out there, you don't need to make any comment. You played within the laws of the game. The unfortunate situation with this is the perception and interpretation of the law. You have not done anything that infringes on that, you can move forward. We did say that in future, if a situation like that occurs, when you see that the batter is moving early, you involve the umpire. Make the umpire and batsman aware that you have seen it.
"We had to make it very clear to Keemo and to the rest of the team that they had not said anything wrong, despite the feeling that they had done something terrible"
We travelled very early the next morning, which was a good thing because it allowed the players to move on, not dwell on that. We knew that we had Pakistan to play in the quarter-final and that was going to be a huge game for us. We had a lot of work after the Zimbabwe game because there were areas where we hadn't performed well in that match.
Your players were alert to such opportunities, like in the final when Tevin Imlach stumped Rishabh Pant in the first over. Was that discussed, that Pant can be dozy standing outside the crease?
I think Imlach is a very smart and aware keeper. I had seen that in a couple of occasions in the competition when he had thrown the ball at the stumps, not with the same success. He has a close eye on that. That dismissal was very significant in the final. Pant is a class player and had done very well in the competition and was our first wicket.
Was there a discussion on this philosophical disconnect, where you are doing something right and legal but at the same time you are made to feel guilty about it?
This is an anomaly within the laws of the game. Young players have seen such incidents and they are into the visual side of things and that is how they learn and get their ideas from. A number of players have seen this not just on the international stage but also in the domestic stage in the Caribbean. That was one of the reasons why they felt the way they did. We had to make it very clear to Keemo and to the rest of the team that they had not said anything wrong, despite the feeling that you had done something terrible. If there was a case where the ball clearly came off the bat or glove through to the keeper and was not given, clearly that would infringe on the spirit of the game far more. Ian Bishop spoke very well after the game, saying reinforcing the law and regulation is what is going to uphold the game.
Jason Holder was quite vocal in support of what had happened, and in support of the players moving forward in the tournament. Did that renew their confidence in themselves?
We were very grateful for the comments that came, particularly from the Caribbean, in support of what happened. We didn't sit the players down and get them to read the comments. I am sure they were available to them and they would have seen them. The perception would be slightly different in England. That is one of the reasons why you get the disparity in the reaction. We got back to the same thing - the rules, the laws of the game are such that it is within the laws. Maybe the culture in some countries is slightly different. It was interesting in the Murali Kartik incident as well.
There have been discussions with the captains before the World T20, in terms of what would happen in a similar scenario, and the match referee encouraging the players to not carry out such an act. Again, you are questioning the laws of the game here. It has to be brought to the public again. There will be another discussion between those who make the rules, shortly.
"In the Caribbean, players are not as comfortable initially with coaching support. They are their own coach or mentor and have developed a style that has produced some success"
Can you talk about Hetmyer's role in the squad, and his calming influence?
We were under a lot of pressure to get into the knockouts stage. That reflected in some of the cricket we played. We identified Hetmyer as captain in August, in the regional Under-19 competition camp, because we liked the way he went about in the field. He did things a little differently, he was very positive and the players looked up to him. At the time, he was a standout batsman in that tournament. Unfortunately he got injured in the first day of our campaign in December and couldn't play a part in Grenada before we went to Bangladesh. We didn't have a lot of opportunities to work with him on the field to develop his captaincy skills. He is certainly a player who is naturally very positive. He wears his heart on his sleeve when he gets frustrated and you can see it, and it is one of the things that we have spoken to him about, to cope with situations a little better and not show some of those signals. In terms of passion and enthusiasm, you can't fault him. It was very much down to him, the way our strategy evolved, going with our seamers and not spinners in the latter stages of the competition.
Against Pakistan, and then Bangladesh, did you see the players maturing in terms of understanding game situations and the pressure of a knockout game?
The key message [bowling coach] Corey Collymore mentioned on a regular basis was to start and finish the innings well. In both those games, we started very positively. We started with the ball well in the final against India, not so with the bat. Against Pakistan and Bangladesh, you knew you are getting a lot of spin, so the first ten overs were very important in the chase. We hoped to score very quickly. Immediately, we managed to bring the target down to something more comfortable for the middle order.
The new-ball bowlers, Chemar Holder and [Alzarri] Joseph, seemed to turn around our fortunes quite quickly, with their aggression, control and swing. That is where all the top-order batters of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India struggled to deal with the threats that those two guys had.
In the final, you had a very small target, but you were 70-odd for 5 with another 70 to get. What were your thoughts at that point?
Personally it was a game where my emotions were like a roller coaster. You go into the game as underdogs, you are playing against a good side. You have them at 50 for 5 and you think, "Wow, this is a great position. Let's finish the job here." When Sarfaraz [Khan] was there, we were reluctant to get too far ahead of ourselves. But to knock India over for less than 150, you are suddenly the favourites. It was the first time in the competition when we were the favourites. We knew a good start in chasing a low total would have been excellent, and we would have been halfway there.
But we had lost a couple of wickets and [Gidron] Pope didn't have the effect that he normally had. We got to 67 for 2, and again, we were in charge, Hetmyer was playing really nicely and his dismissal was the most disappointing because he had the game in his pocket. The two wickets that followed within the space of five overs got the game to turn on its head. For me, you are now starting to think the worst, although you have five wickets left, some good players left to come. India must have thought they had gotten themselves right back into the game.
A lot of people in the Caribbean felt that this win could be a turning point for cricket in the region. Are people reading too much into this?
The response certainly overwhelmed me on our return to the Caribbean. It is difficult to know from a distance how the people are feeling and how much support you are generating. On arrival back in Barbados, it was very clear that the cricket fans in the Caribbean had gotten behind their team, stayed up all night for the last couple of games, and it was very well received. I think everybody has been looking for a positive, for something that they can look towards to turn the fortunes of their senior team around. Clearly these guys are not going to do that overnight.
You have Alzarri and Hetmyer who have played first-class cricket. You now have to look at the pathways for the players to ensure that over time they can realise their potential that they have shown in abundance in the competition. The franchises are going to play a significant role in developing the likes of Joseph, Hetmyer etc. For me, the standout performers like Keemo Paul and Shamar Springer need to get the right support from their territories to then continue to progress, make their way into first-class and List A cricket. Most of the boys are 17 or 18. By the time they are 24-25, they would like to think that they have been given everything that is available to make sure they move forward. Hopefully by then they are starting to push their way to the senior team. That is some way away.
What we are working towards in the High Performance programmes is producing a pool of players that will start to knock on the door for the senior and A teams, by professionalising first-class cricket. Interestingly, this season, only the second season of professional cricket [the Professional Cricket League], there are more batters averaging between 40 and 50 rather than 35, which was the case when I first came to the Caribbean. It will take time for the players to gain experience and be well prepared for the international arena.
Coming from England as you do, are there any challenges in coaching in the Caribbean?
As a coach coming to the Caribbean, the biggest difference I found was the players' background, what coaching support they had received before they came into contact with me. In England there is a system whereby you have a coach from a very young age at the club or school, and then your counties will pick you up and develop you and feed you into an academy. There is a consistent coaching support in the development of a player, which is paramount for player development. At the moment, in the Caribbean that is not the same. So the players are not as comfortable initially with coaching support. They are their own coach or mentor and have developed a style that has produced some success.
My biggest challenge was developing relationships with players so that they can understand where I was coming from, and information that I could offer them would be valid, that they would try it out and see how it suits them. That was a big learning curve for me. Myself and Corey spent a lot of our time in Bangladesh talking to them about the game, making them aware of the situations, getting their thoughts on how they would play in that situation. There are some good coaches in the Caribbean, but many experienced players with a great wealth of knowledge who can, given the right opportunities, pass that down, and that will be important for cricket in the Caribbean to move forward.