Ian On Sunday
By Ian McDonald
April 18, 2004
Love and loyalty are most truly tested in the fires of adversity. When your friend is in deep trouble, that is when he most needs your support. As with friendship, so with fanship. Never in my experience, which goes back to 1948, has the West Indies team more needed the loyalty and, yes, the love of their fellow West Indians.
Avoiding a whitewash by England was a relief and Lara's determined magnificence in retrieving the world record and scoring an unbelievable Test quadruple century went a long way to soothing the anguish of our wounded pride. The truly extraordinary scale of Lara's achievement at the age of 35 in reprising his world record effort of ten years ago - no fiction writer would have dared compose such an unrealistic script - will gradually sink into the consciousness of cricketers everywhere and will lend his already full-burgeoning fame an added and unique lustre. However, from a team point of view, the stark series result, the worst in our Test history, remains to haunt, concern and even, if we are not careful, embitter us against the younger generation.
Right across the region we must allow our continued fervent support to rise high above the despair we must inevitably have felt at losing so disastrously to England. We must help to lift the whole team's spirits, confidence and performance with a renewed intensity of support. They must feel we are the wall against which they can place their backs as they fight back.
It is not, as it sometimes seems, that the team does not care. We can be certain that they care to their very depths. There have been times of obvious panic but panic is not a sign of caring too little, the very opposite in fact. I am absolutely sure that all the team members were deeply wounded in their essential, inner selves. There has been great conjecture about what happened in the case of Chanderpaul. I think I know what happened. For the moment his heart was broken. And his young teammates in particular must all know to some extent how he felt.
Of course, they must now measure up. They cannot allow despair to continue. It is not the losing that throws us into fits of disgust, it is how they have been losing: seemingly in dejection and hopelessness and without concentration and courage to the last ball. Courage is grace under pressure. There has been little of that. When England needed 90 to win in the last innings in Barbados there should have been a proud and desperate battle to take wickets and save every single run, not a sort of sullen surrender to a fate perceived to be inevitable. In defeat there must always be defiance. However much they are hurting, they must never, ever, never give up or allow themselves to give the slightest sign that they have given up. They can't all hope to bat like Lara but they can all determine to behave like Ridley Jacobs.
I would recommend the following team for the future under manager (confirmed) Tony Howard and coach Gus Logie: Gayle, Devon Smith, Lara (captain), Sarwan (deputy), Chanderpaul, Ricardo Powell, Dwayne Bravo, Jacobs, Best, Rampaul and Edwards. To supplement this team we must search hard for, in particular, a wicket-keeper batsman to replace stalwart Ridley, a solid right-hand opening batsman and a young, strong, tall, fast bowler. If we come across a slow-bowling genius that would be good too.
Training should not so much be stepped up as more intensely individualized. The training secret of the winning English Rugby World Cup team was that every single player had a strict, detailed, closely monitored fitness and nutritional regime tailored specifically to accord with his physical capabilities and skill needs. General team workouts were not the heart of the matter, though team togetherness sessions were the order of the day, every day. If this is not the pattern with the West Indies team it should be.
Cricket practice sessions should concentrate very hard on fielding and catching and throwing. Also, Sarwan, Gayle, Powell and Bravo must be made to take their bowling seriously, since they will have to provide between them our fourth and fifth front-line bowlers. And young Best, Rampaul and Edwards must equally be made to take their batting to a level where between them they can reliably make at least 40 runs while top batsmen at the other end make 100.
I keep remembering what that great team leader, Steve Waugh, once wrote about the importance of fielding and of bowlers contributing with the bat:
"I believe uncommitted fielding is only a symptom of far greater problems, namely confidence and ability to perform under pressure. These are our team's greatest attributes and the reasons we regularly win the big moments in a match that turns the tempo in our favour. Partnerships have been a crucial piece in the overall jigsaw from our point of view and something that hasn't happened overnight or by accident. It has been an area of our game we have pinpointed as vital to our success. By not losing two wickets in succession you stop the momentum of the opposition and put the pressure back on the fielding side. Our tail-end batsmen have been inspirational, with McGrath, Fleming, MacGill and Miller all involving themselves in worthwhile partnerships. McGrath, in particular, has been ridiculed and teased about his skill with the willow for many years, yet he has shared two 30-plus stands already in this series. This is a great shot in the arm for the team and a huge psychological boost, as it says that nothing is going to come easy for the opposition and that they are in for a fight."
In the end what is needed above all and what must be supplied by the young members of the team is a self-conditioning of the heart and mind and soul as well as the body. Because poets should always have the last word, I quote from Kamau Brathwaite's great poem Rites - that passage in which he speaks profoundly about long-ago crises in the West Indies team:
When things going good,
you cahn touch
we, but leh murder start
an, ol man, you cahn fine
a man to hole up de
If every single member of the team without exception can stand up defiantly and, when "murder start," with complete dedication strive his best to "hole up de side," they will deserve and should get, win or lose, our unstinted love and enthusiastic support.