A prescription for West Indies cricket By Trevor Philip
Guyana Chronicle
November 24, 2002

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THERE is a West Indies Cricket Board by-law that states that only persons who have played cricket at the highest level are eligible for election on the selection panel of the WICB. This means simply that the likes of revered commentator Tony Cozier cannot be a West Indies team selector. This means Ricky Skerritt and Dr Rudy Webster are also exempt. How absurd!

I would hazard a guess that no more than 300 persons have played Test cricket for the West Indies and by now many of them are no longer playing in this world. This means that in effect, we have deliberately and unwittingly limited our pool of prospective selectors - what shortsightedness! Would it not have been better to state that at least one or even two of the panel’s members must have played Tests? Such a decision would permit the board to select from a wider pool. As it stands, they are limited to a handful. No wonder our selectors have blundered so consistently. They are quick to blame lack of talent for poor performances, whereas in most cases it is simply poor judgment on their part.

Just imagine that Cameron Cuffy at age 32, is our opening bowler. To this date he has only played 15 Test matches for 43 wickets at 33.83 apiece and a strike rate of 78.2. On average he claims a wicket every 78 balls. Compare this with Reon King whose strike rate is 56. Stuart has the most impressive rate of 32 after five Tests. King is 27 years old and Stuart is 29.

Surely, it should be clear to our selectors that the average athlete today at 32, has only experience to depend on for success. What experience can one claim after 15 Test matches, the grand total of what Cuffy has played? Ours is a struggling team in the rebuilding process; therefore there is no advantage in playing Cuffy over a young fast bowler. This is an error in judgment.

The tour selectors in India erred too when they chose to play specialist spinners in the first and second Tests of the recently concluded series, as the chairman of selectors unwittingly alluded to, when he stated in an interview, that they reverted to four fast bowlers - a formula which had worked for the West Indies. They should have begun and not ended the series with that attack. The evidence shows that our last spinner of note was Lance Gibbs whose final match was in the 1970s. The craft of spin bowling is extremely difficult to master, much more so than fast bowling. The margin for error is simply too small for a slow bowler.

The fast bowler can virtually work on his own, developing his skills. Not so for the spinner, who must take into consideration the mobility of the batsman, the pace and bounce of the wicket, wind direction, etc. Consequently at this stage in our cricket, we expect to see a young developing pacer rather than a spinner. Given the opportunity therefore, Lawson or Powell would have been better bets for success than Breese.

I have always believed that nobody fights for second place but again the selectors do not agree. While Ambrose and Walsh were around, we never attempted to develop our rookies.

The result is they had to learn on their own when the two masters left. The old maestros were usually entrusted with the new balls in the most conducive situations and the rookies were expected to use the softer and less shiny ball when the wicket is less bowler-friendly and the batsmen set. Such irony. Wouldn’t the experienced bowler be better able to use the old ball?

Another error to my mind is not retaining Powell and Lawson for the current one-day international series. Just imagine Australia not using Brett Lee or Pakistan Shoaib Akhtar in a series. Those two youngsters are our best prospects in fast bowlers. How else are they to gain experience at that level? For the record, at the time of writing, Vasbert Drakes at age 33 had played 10 One-day Internationals and averaged 12.5 with the bat. With the ball he had bowled 81 overs, taken nine wickets at an average of 47.8 runs per wicket. His economy rate was 5.26 -what qualifies him over anybody else?

Many, myself included, have sharply criticised our players, but the truth is there is steady but slow improvement. And slow it will continue to be. For starters, we sent a relatively young batting team to India where the hosts are impregnable, with only one practice match to get acclimatised to the conditions. It is true that the ICC regulations require the host to arrange only one such match, but the WICB has a moral obligation to the players and supporters alike to prepare the team in the best manner possible and this includes a few practice matches.

England, on its current tour of Australia, were treated to at least three preparatory games. Not so for West Indies in India. Unless the board learns from the experiences of others and changes course, the recovery of West Indies cricket will be slow and painful.

Let us not forget our current team captain is 35 years old and his deputy 34. Where does that leave us in three or four years’ time? Back to square one.

It might be a bitter pill to swallow for the Board Members to accept that they are responsible for the state of West Indies Cricket, but they need to wake up. (St Lucia Star)

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