A whole new world opens for Harper

by Colin Croft
Stabroek News
February 26, 2000

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.

The most visible, and perhaps most important member of the new management team, will be 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. 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 and Joel Garner, as team manager, have done a pretty good job. Some young, promising players like 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.

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, Queen's 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 years 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"!!