Windies need unity on all fronts

Special by Tony Cozier
Stabroek News
May 28, 2001

What is most pertinent, and disturbing, about Joe Hoad's comments last week is not the pettiness over whether or not he was fired before he quit as West Indies team psychologist or whether or not he got on with manager Ricky Skerritt.

It is how his observations on the players he had served for the past five months were almost identical to those made by others similarly attached to the team over the past 10 years - or, to be more precise, since the end of the era of excellence under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards.

They reveal a malignancy that has been allowed to develop until it has become endemic and seemingly incurable.

The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has been ineffective in dealing with it, stymied by the compliant attitude of some of its individual member boards, and successive managers and coaches have found themselves made the scapegoats.

Hoad spoke of a general indifference, of a lack of respect for former players and for sponsors, of low fitness levels and of an aversion to hard and proper practice.

His strictures might be dismissed as those of a man embittered by what Skerritt claimed was his dismissal, except that they are not new. Every one rings a familiar bell.

Coach after coach has complained of the same frustration in recent times as the team has suffered one humiliating defeat after another.

The late Malcolm Marshall was the first to sound the warning horn as far back as 1992 when he announced his retirement following the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

"Everything seems to be going down the drain," Marshall said. "There is no respect, no manners".

He would return four years later as coach to find that little had changed. He went to his premature grave bemoaning the hard-ears players he had to deal with.

The first coach appointed by the WICB was Rohan Kanhai, an outstanding batsman and former West Indies captain who had great success in charge of Jamaica before he was assigned the Test team.

On the tour of New Zealand in 1995, he reported to the WICB that certain players had no respect for him and that they used "abusive and very foul language in public" to him.

The upshot was that Kanhai - not the players - was fired and replaced as coach by Andy Roberts, one of the great fast bowling dynasty of the Lloyd era.

It took only one series for Roberts to understand what he was dealing with.

He publicly complained that there were certain players with "attitude problems". Sound familiar?

He charged that the fast bowlers took no heed of his advice. Sound familiar?

And he made the startling revelation that he had to cajole the team to take the field after a break in play during a Test match.

In that same 1995 series in which the West Indies surrendered the Frank Worrell Trophy to Mark Taylor's Australians, there was documented evidence of players night-clubbing until the early hours during the Barbados Test that was lost by 10 wickets in three days.

It has got no better since.

Brian Lara left the team in a huff in England in the summer of that year, returned only under persuasion, and then pulled out of the tour of Australia a few months later at the last moment.

Appointed captain in place of Courtney Walsh in a contentious decision in 1998, Lara resigned two years later, took a break from the game and only agreed to rejoin the team for the tour of England last year after it had been picked.

The team as a whole chose the eve of the most significant tour in West Indies' history, to South Africa, in 1998-99 to air their grievances by way of a strike at Heathrow Airport on the way.

Once they got to South Africa they moaned over Dennis Waight's fitness regime that had helped make the teams of Lloyd and Richards so formidable and had it toned down.

It was no coincidence that they lost all five Tests and six of the seven one-day internationals.

Hoad charged last week that some players don't seem to mind whether they win or lose.

After the first of the many subsequent whitewashes overseas, in Pakistan in 1997, Michael Holding, the great fast bowler and passionately patriotic West Indian, wrote: "Some of the players I watched in Pakistan did not have the right attitude or commitment. They didn't seem to understand what it means to the people of the West Indies to have a team that is playing proper cricket and they were not prepared to put in the effort."

Three years later, in England last summer, Jamie Cox, the Australian who captained a below-strength Somerset to victory by 242 runs over the West Indies, said he was appalled that international players could take such humiliation so lightly.

So how many players have been dropped for such nonsense?

Winston Benjamin, who was sent home from the tour of England in 1995, and Franklyn Rose and Chris Gayle who were not considered for the recent tour of Australia. Not a soul else.

And yet three coaches and three captains have got the flick in that time.

The problem is that such a culture is now ingrained. Young players come into the team and are easily corrupted. It is a vicious circle.

What is particularly galling is that Shaun Pollock, Herschelle Gibbs, Lance Klusener and several other South Africans make it a point to praise the coaching and guidance they had from Marshall and Desmond Haynes in their formative years.

Somehow West Indians don't seem to similarly benefit from their many great players.

For the West Indies team, a succession of coaches and managers have come and gone and Skerritt and coach Roger Harper, only just over a year in their posts, are the latest faced with the challenge of putting things right.

They obviously need more time to turn things around and it would be folly for the WICB to now dismiss them, as is rumoured.

England's experience of the past two years, under captain Nasser Hussain and coach Duncan Fletcher, is proof enough that it can be done. With only a few changes to a team that was, like the West Indies now, the laughing stocks of world cricket, England have suddenly found the secret to success.

It is not a mystery and Hoad, and others before him, have identified what it is. It is commitment, discipline and hard work. They are attributes that have been clearly missing in the West Indies for too long now.

"We've had 33 players come to the table over the past 13 months and definitely not all of them have had cricket as No.1 on the agenda," Skerritt acknowledged last week. "I think we have to work very hard to ensure that the people we bring to the table do have cricket as No.1 on the agenda and we have been taking measures to ensure that they focus primarily on cricket."

"Curfew violations and things like punctuality and dress code and some of the areas this team had a horrible reputation for in the past have minimised considerably," he claimed. "Where we have our biggest problems today are being able to maintain the mental discipline over long periods of time in the actual match situation and that is an area we continue to work on."

"We will do everything we can to achieve the professionalism necessary at this level," he added.

To do so, Skerritt will need the full support of the WICB and of his management team.

Since he has taken up his post, Hoad, his predecessor Dr.Rudi Webster and assistant coach Jeffrey Dujon have all fallen by the wayside.

It indicates a divisiveness that undermines any organization. What the West Indies need now is unity, on all fronts.