Another tour same outcome

Stabroek News
September 10, 2000

Another tour, another captain, another manager, another coach, same outcome.

The agony under Richie Richardson, Wes Hall and Andy Roberts has been perpetuated under Courtney Walsh, Clive Lloyd and Malcolm Marshall, under Brian Lara, Lloyd and Sir Viv Richards and, now, under Jimmy Adams, Ricky Skerritt and Roger Harper.

It is a whirlpool that has sucked West Indies cricket to the lowest point it has ever known and every time it seems as if it is about to surface to regain the high ground it once commanded, it suddenly sinks again. So what next?

The situation has become so increasingly critical that thefear its popularity, if not its very existence, is threatened isnot hyperbole. The crisis has shaken everyone - boards, governments, the UWI, former players - into action and there are more reports and recommendations than the West Indies team is able to muster runs these days. If properly implemented, they will have an impact.

Intensified coaching, improved facilities and additional opportunities will obviously benefit the next generation whose success in the Under-15 World Cup in England last month gives cause for hope.

But nothing will change unless the attitude of those directly involved, the boards, the management and the players, does. Manager Skerritt complained, as his predecessors did, of a lack of professionalism in the team in England. Sir Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd and Michael Holding have spoken of a lack of pride. Adams and Harper cited "mental weakness".

Troll back over assessments from earlier debacles in Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand and you will find identical sentiments, often expressed in identical words.

It really amounts to a condemnation of the leadership. It is the responsibility of captain, coach and manager to instil such virtues, all inter-connected, but the WICB was so convinced last year that specialist help was needed it added a psychologist - or "performance consultant" - in Dr.Rudi Webster.

With the typical inconsistency that has been matched by the team, the WICB has kept him only for home tours when it is glaringly obvious that it is away from home where such support is most needed. The presence of Webster, or whoever else filled the post for the duration, may not have made a difference in England but he might be able now to explain at least a couple of imponderables.

Technical faults were exposed by unsympathetic television examination but this does not explain how Reon King and Wavell Hinds, two of the most talented of the young brigade, so rapidly deteriorated or how the team so lost its sense of self-respect towards the end that it capitulated to Somerset, depleted and weak county opposition, by 269 runs.King, fast and accurate, was the new fast bowling find, in New Zealand and in the Caribbean, sweeping past Merv Dillon, Franklyn Rose, Nixon McLean and the many other tried, as the next in line to Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.

Out of the blue, he was transformed into a novice, spraying the ball this way and that, overstepping for no-balls which he had never done and relieved when his series ended.

It was an extreme case but all of the other fast bowlers have gone through similar periods of regression after promising beginnings. Some have gone forever, others, like Dillon and McLean, are only now recovering.

A lot was understandably made of Hinds' technical deficiencies when he was lbw in his last three innings to full length inswingers.

Yet this was the same batsman who mastered the Pakistani masters of swing, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis - and their sultans of spin, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed - a few months earlier, who belted the dangerous Craig White and others around Lord's in the second Test and who had three hundreds against the counties. His technique didn't seem too flawed then.

Perhaps his hat-trick of dodgy decisions in the Tests got to him but it was more likely the malaise that enveloped the entire team that led to his last seven innings on tour yielding 3, 16, 0, 10, 0, 2 and 7.

Hinds is an excellent young cricketer, fast in the field with one of the strongest arms in the game and, if encouraged, a useful medium-pacer. King is a fine fast bowler - although, at the highest level, his fielding and batting are presently an embarrassment.

The reasons for their problems in England were not technical alone. Nor were Brian Lara's, nor Franklyn Rose's, nor Chris Gayle's nor any of the others who performed so far below their potential.

If each player performs to his capacity even this West Indies team can compete with anyone, even the mighty Australians. But each has to overcome "mental weakness", a state that applies not only to the reaction under pressure on the field but to the attitude off it. It covers pride in performance, commitment to practice and resistance to the temptations of the good life that entice every international sportsman.

Unless this is eliminated, we can prepare ourselves for more despair for some time to come.

Mental weakness was not a phrase associated with Roy Fredericks, whose death last week was the latest in a bizarre sequence that has prematurely taken so many West Indian cricketers of late.

Freddo was as tough as they come, a little left-hander who believed in his ability and who made the most of it.The reflexes, strong wrists and quick eye that made him Guyana's table-tennis champion in his teens and squash champion in middle-age were also the basis for his proficiency against fast bowling. The faster they came, the more he seemed to enjoy it.

His assault on Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson, the fastest and most feared bowlers of their time, or any time, on the fastest and bounciest pitch in the game, at Perth in the 1975-76 series, remains one of the most remarkable in the annals of the game.

He hooked the second ball, from Lillee for six, as he was to do in the World Cup final four years later only to slip back into his stumps. He arrived at 100 from 71 balls and, when he was finally caught at slip off Lillee, had 169 after three and a half hours of devastation. When he started, he was limited against spin but Freddo had as much cricketing sense as he had common sense. He quickly learned to deal with flight and the turning ball so that two of his eight Test hundreds were in India in 1974-75 against Bedi, Prasanna and Chandrasekhar, as great in their way as Lillee and Thompson.

He was by no means just a ball-beater. He played to the team's needs, once occupying eight and a half hours for 150 against England at Edgbaston.

In spite of small hands, he could spin chinamen and googlies a long way, although he never bowled much, and catch brilliantly close to the wicket. Whatever he did, he enjoyed, another secret to his success.

How West Indies cricket could do with a Roy Fredericks now.

Follow the goings-on in Guyana
in Guyana Today