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Now that WI have a sports psychologist, are CWI people playing mind games? 

About a dozen runs and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

In Monday’s Express, Fazeer Mohammed raised the very pertinent question of who is calling the selection shots. Why is the 39-year-old Chris Gayle, he asks—who unretired towards the end of the 2019 World Cup—included in an ODI squad which, according to the coach, has been selected with one eye on the 2023 World Cup?

Photo: West Indies batsman Chris Gayle was dismissed without scoring against Bangladesh in 2019 Cricket World Cup action.

That precise question leapt unbidden into my mind as I read the Cricket West Indies release dealing with the 14-man squad selected for the imminent three-ODI MyTeam11 Series against India. Beginning next week Thursday in Guyana, it continues in Trinidad on Sunday 11 August and Wednesday 14 August.

Of the 15 who could only finish ninth in the recent World Cup, Gayle is among those retained in the home series 14 while batsmen 26-year-old Sunil Ambris and 30-year-old Darren Bravo along with quickie Shannon Gabriel and off-spinner Ashley Nurse are omitted.

Interim head coach Floyd Reifer explains that Gayle is “a very valuable player and he brings a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge, he lends a lot to any dressing room and it is great to have him in the squad.”

My primary question to Reifer is this: Are Gayle’s beyond-the-boundary contributions deemed to outweigh the liability than Gayle in the field can be? And, if yes, my ancillary question is this: might Gayle not contribute just as much beyond the boundary without being called on to contribute inside the ropes?

Accusations of parochialism be damned, let me ask this albeit awkward question which Mohammed stops short of asking: is it possible that the selectors’ decision to retain Gayle has something to do with these three sentences which I quote verbatim from the release?

Photo: West Indies veteran batsman Chris Gayle in action.

The self-proclaimed “Universe Boss” also has the extra motivation of two records for West Indies in this format to chase during the series. 

Gayle now has 10,338 runs and needs 11 to pass batting legend Brian Lara (10,348) for the highest aggregate in ODIs for West Indies. 

He has also amassed 10,393 overall career runs and needs 13 to again pass Lara (10,405) for the most runs by a West Indian in the history of ODIs.

I began with two answers. Question one is for you to frame. Question two is this: which former player was stopped dead in his tracks as he got within 100 runs of Lara’s 11,953 Test aggregate?

Speaking of former players, here are five whose names also appear in the release cited above: Reifer, Rawl Lewis, Roddy Estwick, Corey Collymore and Rayon Griffith.

Lewis is designated Team Operations Manager and the other four are now pretty much known quantities. Not so, I imagine, the last six, Physiotherapist Denis Byam, Strength & Conditioning Coach Corey Bocking, Massage Therapist Zephyrinus Nicholas, Sports Psychologist Steven Sylvester, Analyst Dinesh Mahabir and Media Relations Officer Philip Spooner.

Photo: West Indies coach Floyd Reifer (left) has a word with batsman Nicholas Pooran.
(Copyright Cricket West Indies)

In light of what we saw at the recent World Cup, I want to focus briefly on the last three.

I don’t know if it is something that has happened in the wake of the change of regime of if it is merely my own heightened awareness but my impression is that CWI media communications are much improved. A day rarely goes by without my receiving a communication from one or more of the several members of that team.

Maybe now that T&T is back on the list of venues for WI cricket—an “A” Team Test also starts in the Oval today and another in Tarouba next week—the greater interest will encourage translation of the information into stories for publication. At the moment, however, these e-mails merely get read and shelved for potential later use.

I find myself wondering if handing the captaincy of the T20 team back to Carlos Brathwaite was always on the cards or whether it was influenced by the performance against England and the subsequent CWC2019 shambles. How I wish we could all see Mahabir’s World Cup report (if report there was) on Jason Holder’s performance, particularly his command of strategy and tactics.

Finally, Sylvester, the sports psychologist. Wired868 readers may remember Romain Pitt, who briefly authored the Pitt Stop column two years ago. Almost exactly seven years ago, in a piece in the August edition of the Trinidad and Tobago Review headlined “The Mind Games People Play,” he argued for just such an appointment:

What happens emotionally to a batsman when he reaches a milestone? What happens emotionally during a partnership when the partners feel secure but are still far short of the required score? What is the best frame of mind for a tail-ender trying to get a small number of runs to win or draw? What happens to a batsman during a series after he has had phenomenal success? What happens to a fielding team when the opposition is building up a big score? 

Photo: West Indies psychologist Steven Sylvester.

What happens to a bowler when he has been hit for several boundaries in a single over or in fairly quick succession? What happens to a batsman going out to the middle with three overs left in the day’s play and his team behind on the scoreboard and sometimes behind the eight ball? How can a team get into the right mental frame to knock out opponents who are on the ropes?

A team is touring and the players are getting homesick and frustrated. What real options are open to the team management for getting things back on track?

To what professional, given options, can a captain, a coach, a manager turn if he finds himself in one of these situations? I say a sports psychologist.

I do hope that the good gentlemen of the WICB, he ends, (…) do something about it in the near future.

Pitt’s “near future” is now the past and Sylvester’s appointment is that something. Will it make a difference?

We have to hope that, when the umpires call time on the India series, Mahabir’s honest answer will be in the affirmative.

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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One comment

  1. If Mr Reifer doesn’t realize that his comments on the reason for Chris Gayle continuing is both confusing and contradictory. The future under his tenure seems bleak. There lies an abundance of talent within the West Indian fraternity who should be given an opportunity to work and develop their skills. Gayle may serve better as an ambassador for the game. I am truly disappointed with the choice of captain in all formats. Leadership is not about mediocrity that is available but a concerted effort to return to the top of the world stage. Start by having these players earn their places.