South Africa has exposed West Indies dificiencies
May 13, 2001
West Indians who have turned out in their thousands for the one-day internationals against South Africa these past couple of weeks have seen first-hand what they had previously had to endure from far-off lands through the television screen and the radio.
The West Indies' overseas record in the abbreviated game has been every bit as calamitous as it has been in Tests but at least they have been able to hold their own in both at home.
Now the South Africans have come into our backyard and exposed the yawning gap that has developed between the top teams in limited-overs cricket and the West Indies.
In every single department, the West Indies have fallen so far behind the rest that we must wonder whether they will ever be able to catch up again.
The accompanying table that lists the depressing West Indies record in one-day internationals since last July and Keith Miller's observations in his book almost half-century ago, quoted by Dr.Rudi Webster, provide food for thought for those presently in charge of West Indies cricket.
The point is that there has been no improvement, generally or specifically. Not one department, not one player, has got better. Some have actually got worse.
Compared to the South Africans - and, indeed, most other teams - the fielding is an embarrassment. The batting lacks planning and common sense and the bowling is unable to contain for even a short spell.
The situation is compounded, perhaps even caused, by a confused selection policy that was clearly exposed in Grenada and in Barbados.
In the second match at the Queen's Park Stadium, Carl Hooper arrived quarter of an hour late for the toss, tardiness that would be unacceptable even in club cricket.
It prompted obvious speculation that the selectors were still arguing about the composition of the final eleven, especially when Hooper was unsure of the team changes at the mandatory TV interview.
At Kensington, Hooper was on time but his reaction to the eleven he was given was obvious by his refusal to offer Kerry Jeremy a single over, even when it was clear from as early as the 20th over that the match was good as lost.
At 21 and in a weak team, Jeremy's straight-forward medium-pace bowling may not measure up but he is an enthusiastic young cricketer who didn't pick himself.
His treatment was demeaning and unnecessary but it was instructive. It will, however, not fill those coming into the team with confidence.
The most worrying aspect of the whole business is the lack of progress, the failure to come even close to the standards set by South Africa, Australia and the others who so consistently thrash the West Indies.
Every bowler worth his considerable fee has long since perfected the changes of pace that are so essential in limited-overs cricket. Not one West Indian has so much as tried it. In the Busta Series, Ian Bradshaw, the Barbadian left-armer, was the only one I saw using variations.
The young batsmen continue to get out in the same way, their weaknesses quickly identified and worked on by the opposition without the necessary response.
The fielding? The less said, the better.
The finger of blame can be pointed at the coaches, not only, or even primarily, Roger Harper, but those who are responsible for the players in the formative stages.
How many bowlers in the under-19 tournament have been shown how to deliver the slower ball? How many weak fielders, and there are plenty around, have been made to work to improve? How many batsmen have spent practice specifically eliminating their weaknesses rather than indulging their strengths?
It may be, of course, that no one listens and no one is prepared to work hard enough. That is another problem.
In the magazine for the Cable & Wireless one-day series, Chris Gayle responds to a comment from interviewer Haydn Gill that his heavy-footed style has been identified as his main weakness: "Footwork doesn't have anything to do with it for me. I am scoring my runs with my technique and I'm satisfied with that."
It was an almost identical reply given to an identical question about his footwork by Stuart Williams four years ago. "I never really felt I had a problem with it, you know," he said. "I feel comfortable with my style, I'm going to use my style and I'm going to die with it."
Williams, like Gayle, was an opening batsman with abundant talent who never fulfilled his promise. It would be heartbreaking to find Gayle and the other young batsmen who have come through of late going the same way.
Nor are these two isolated cases. Coaches at every level report how difficult it is to get their charges to understand that they can only get better with practice and hard work.
Unless that message gets through, the West Indies will continue to falter while the others who appreciate the secret to cricket success widen the gap even further.