West Indies cricket needs a supremo

says Colin Croft
Stabroek News
October 7, 1999

This last week has been something else with e-mails and faxes sent to me. I have been writing cricket articles for about six years, since England's tour of the Caribbean in 1994 and I can honestly say that I have never had so many responses and reactions to one of my articles as I have had for the one last week.

Unknowingly, maybe I touched several nerves in that piece. I have no idea.

It was particularly pleasing indeed to note that about 40% of the responses and comments were from females.

I am sure that my "charm" had nothing to do with it.

I would just like to say a very hearty "Thank You" for the response to last week's column.

Most followers of West Indies cricket would probably know that this ongoing tour of Bangladesh and Sharjah is supposed to be the last one covered by the contracts of the manager, Clive Lloyd and the coach, Malcolm Marshall.

Marshall has been out of the loop since the World Cup recuperating from internal surgery.

He even got married recently. Congrats and good luck to him! However, it is unlikely that either Lloyd or Marshall would be reconsidered when one looks at what has transpired in the last few years. A close look would really indicate the dismal returns of the senior team under their tenure.

It therefore means that the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) will have to make drastic decisions very soon, changes which will go well into the new century.

There is little time left, for the tour of New Zealand beckons in December while Pakistan, Zimbabwe and England take us to August next year.

While there may be many persons suitably qualified to do either or both jobs one does not yet know what will be the actual criteria for the position(s), since, as at time of writing, the WICB was in the process of drawing up guidelines etc., for the impending vacancies.

l actually agree with the WICB on this. These appointments are much too important to be rushed.

Proper deliberations are very necessary here. It was confirmed by a WICB source earlier this week that perhaps an interim appointment would have to be made for the New Zealand tour due to start in December.

Of course, I do have my own suggestions and even selections.

Firstly, I believe that the "Supremo" role of one individual is enough to make things run properly as regards the West Indies cricket teams and should be implemented.

I would like to see the West Indies cricket teams, especially the senior Test team, run like my favourite soccer team Manchester United. Sir Alex Fergurson is "The Boss", period.

Sir Alex has several understudies but in the long run, it is the manager who must take the blame, or indeed, the kudos, when the team fails or is successful.

He makes the decisions and must stand by them, come hell or high water. In aviation, it works exactly like that.

This may not, in all truthfulness be too difficult to implement in West Indies cricket.

After all there are now three senior selectors and a few junior ones along with the trusted and experienced coaches. These could still have their say and bring very useful knowledge and information to the table. The captain will also be in the same vein. Not only will he be captain, but in a way, a scout too. However, the manager of the team must make the final decisions even the exact team selected to play in each game.

The ultimate responsibility will be his.

Many would say that this was not the way it was when I played Test cricket, and that Lloyd was indeed the "strong" captain of our team, even though we did have some good managers. Agreed. The difference here, I think, is the changes of the times and the state of mind of the current West Indian players. When we played, there was very little money around, so pride was the only key. If one was to really look around, one will see that the younger players, those just getting into the team and those on the verge of, are "hungry", with hope and pride, perhaps, to play for the West Indies. It is not always easy to say exactly that about some of the senior guys these days and that is where the problem lies. They are the examples used by the newer players. Therefore, the seniors must have a work ethic second to none.

No-one could ever, ever suggest that Desmond Haynes, (Sir) Vivian Richards, Larry Gomes or Joel Garner, to name a few of our team, were not prepared to play, regardless of what the situation was. They tried just as hard at the end of their careers as at the start. Lloyd, as captain and a consummate performer himself, knew that. Hence he became stronger and the team prospered too from the cohesion and determination which abounded. Some of his guys had really world beating talent too, but that is not the point.

However, changes must be made to our approach and thought processes to go along with the times we now live in. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

When I started playing cricket for Guyana's and West Indies Youths from 1970-2, it was taboo to lift any weights at all in order to get fit.

According to the "experts" then, one would become muscle-bound and slow with such activities.

These days, I can guarantee that every professional sportsman you know in any discipline, even golfers, do weight training. I know a few pro golfers and a few world class sprinters and without weight training, many of them would literally collapse. "Weight Training is strength." That is how far the thought process have changed in only 25 years or so. With this exploding age of technology, there really is no end in sight for the horizon and the imagination as to performances which could abound.

Most of the present senior West Indies cricket team players make more money for a three month tour that most of us made in a career. While I think that they deserve every penny they get, in today's world, playing professional sport, they must give a good account for that money too. The team needs cohesion badly, especially in performances and realizing their responsibilities. Therefore, the team needs someone, only one person, with ultimate power and know-how, who could put all the tools together, including technology, ala Bob Woolmer for South Africa, to make things work. Woolmer certainly did not do it alone, but as the "Supremo," he managed to corral a few good men and women around him, used their thoughts and experiences, and brought about a minor miracle in the short eight or so years that South Africa has been back in international cricket.

I know there are people intimately involved in West Indies cricket who have openly suggested that "technology is useless when the batsman crosses the boundary on the way to the crease." I also know that there are some who do believe that Woolmer was "lucky" and that he may not have done such a great job. I do not know about that. The results speak for themselves. The extensive use of technology was evidently very useful to South Africa's effort these last few years.

Perhaps the only thing the South Africans have not learned fully under Woolmer was "how" to win, faltering against England last year in the Test series and again in the World Cup against Australia. That is something altogether different. Learning to win is an acquired taste, and must come from experiences and the manager/coach too. South Africa has been around much too short a time to have learned that properly. It should also be remembered that Woolmer has never won anything, especially against the West Indies, as an England player in the 70's and 80's. Perhaps he could not teach what he did not know.

Playing as a team, and convincing the supporters of that fact, do not guarantee winning, but at least it makes for cohesion and 100% effort. That is what is needed now more in West Indies cricket than anything else. Oh, I am sure that we all want the team to win too, as they represent all of us, but at least 100% effort is all we ask, maybe even should demand.

Of course, the big question would be to find that person who is acceptable to all, players, WICB, the Caribbean politicians and people alike, and yet know more than just "something about cricket." That person must also be a winner, since we in the Caribbean have become so accustomed, spoilt even, to winning.

I have two suggestions for the "Supremo" position, both former West Indian players, even though it is rumored that the manager, if a two-man management team is preferred, will certainly not be a former player. These two guys, in my mind, have all of the necessary "qualifications" for the piece. My two guys for the "Supremo" position are (Sir) Viv Richards and Joel Garner. If not either, then both, as a management team.

These are two of the greatest players ever produced by the West Indies.

"Smoking Joe" Viv is probably the best batsman we have ever produced, even though another Knight, Sir Everton Weekes, would be some people's favorite for that accolade. The thing about Viv which makes him ideal is his no-nonsense approach. Of course, he is very much in tune with the modern game. He more or less gave us a hint when he was temporarily put as coach during the World Cup.

While sometimes seen as abrasive, but always determined, honest and loyal, this may be the time for such a man with such attributes. The "niceness" of Wes Hall, Rohan Kanhai, Lloyd, David Holford, and a few temporary others seemed not to have gotten through at all. The tail is still wagging the dog.

That is why the "Supremo" must be implemented. That person must be especially strong of will, sufficiently well respected and forceful nearly to the point of rudeness, with a free hand to implement changes and be assured of the backing of the WICB and the respective Governments, to bring about dramatic change, knowing fully well that his head is on the block for failure. As was seen in "The Dirty Dozen", when the rope is removed from below, the only way to go is up, as there is no rope to climb back down on!

Garner, outside of being such a fine fast bowler in his time, perhaps the toughest of my time, and like Viv, very knowledgeable about cricket, has also managed the West Indies "A" team fairly successfully and is even a senior team selector. His honesty and dedication is also without question, and his success speaks for itself. In my mind, Joel is just as good a candidate as Viv.

It has also been suggested that perhaps the West Indies cricket team needs a complete outsider. There may be some merit in that thought but I honestly cannot come up with a name which would last a full contract, have the same attributes needed and command the respect of all in our Caribbean.

If the "Supremo" thought is not acceptable then the combination of Richards and Garner is as good for the situation as would be had.

Incidentally, the respect these guys have for each other, as persons, professionals and friends could also be used to really get things moving in the correct direction. Once the finances are there to effect this plan, then these two should be it.

The next several weeks would be of great interest in West Indies cricket. As Bob Dylan once said, "The changes, they are a-coming". If we in the Caribbean are going to like and accept those changes is another matter altogether. The sparks will fly, I promise you.

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