Changes but insularity and indiscipline still reigns
By Tony Cozier
April 6, 2003
THE more things change, the more they remain the same.
The West Indies start their Test series against the most powerful team of the day at Bourda on Thursday not two weeks after switching captain and coach for the fifth time in the seven years since Richie Richardson and Andy Roberts were replaced by Courtney Walsh and Clive Lloyd after the 1996 World Cup.
Add the demise of two board presidents and two chief executives in that time and it has become something of a ritual culling. Yet it has made little difference to the waning fortunes of West Indies cricket.
Even from the sketchy distance of a holiday in South Africa, it is clear the restoration of Brian Lara to the captaincy, the exciting appointment of Ramnaresh Sarwan as his deputy and the bid to make the Australian, Bennett King, the new coach can have no effect unless there are fundamental changes in other areas.
Five years on from their week-long strike at Heathrow airport that preceded the inaugural tour of South Africa, the players remain as distrustful of the board and vice-versa - as they always have been.
According to those in the best positions to judge, namely managers and coaches, insularity and indiscipline, the old bugbears, remain as ingrained an ever.
And the board, under whatever dispensation, seems incapable of carrying out even the most straightforward task, such as communicating with its team managers, concluding a contract with a high-profile employee and realising that a Test match cannot be played on Good Friday, without bungle and embarrassment.
Under a militant new leadership eager to assert itself, the players have shown a disturbing eagerness to down bats and balls for the most superficial of reasons.
And the priorities of some have been starkly exposed by Chris Gayle’s preference for a lucrative, if basically meaningless, double-wicket tournament over representing his native Jamaica in the final of the West Indies’ most prestigious tournament.
Unless the players seek proper, professional advice on labour relations and unless the board is willing to acknowledge whatever legitimate grouses they have, the most recent strike won’t be the last. Or, then again, given the financial frailty of West Indies cricket that must depend on attracting sponsors, it might well be.
Ironically, at a time when players are pressing for increased pay and other rights, the indiscipline that has been a persistent complaint of one coach after another remains as pervasive as ever.
The damning reports of manager Joel Garner and coach Gus Logie following the `A’ team’s tour of England and Canada last year have been followed by similarly disturbing comments by Roger Harper who has washed his hands of the whole business after his allocated three years.
“Until we get rid of that (insularity), until we start thinking as one, until we have common ideals and common goals then we are not going to get anywhere because we are creating monsters,” he said on leaving his post. “What people expect is that we breed children for 20 years and, what has not been instilled in them in those 20 years, they expect them to come into a West Indies team and, in two months’ time, for the management to put it right. It is not going to happen.”
These are strong words indeed and the board should take heed. But, they are merely a repetition of sentiments of Harper’s predecessors Andy Roberts, Clive Lloyd and Malcolm Marshall, none of which have had any impact.
That is the environment into which Lara once more assumes the leadership for which he was earmarked since he was a boy but the responsibility of which overwhelmed him the first time round.
He needs first to overcome well established misgivings to regain the confidence of the board and the public for his past has not been exactly pristine. As it is, chairman of selectors, Sir Viv Richards, has made it plain that he was in favour of keeping Hooper at the helm but was outvoted by his colleagues, Gordon Greenidge and Joey Carew.
But the signs are that, at 33, Lara is a more settled soul. A gradual maturity has been evident and his recent problems have been caused by illness and injury, not indiscipline.
It is clear his desire has been rekindled by the emergence of brilliant young players such as Sarwan, Marlon Samuels, Chris Gayle and Jermaine Lawson, all in their early 20s and none of whom played under him in his tumultuous, initial tenure.
He has spoken enthusiastically about his given role of preparing Sarwan for his eventual succession but, at the same time, stressed that he intends to be captain as long as he has left in the game.
It is a last chance to erase an intemperate past and leave a legacy far beyond the runs he leaves in the book. The new journey starts at Bourda on Thursday.