Since taking over the Cricket West Indies reins last March, new boss Ricky Skerritt has added real value to the West Indies brand. So far, he has talked good West Indies talk and walked the West Indies walk.
However, the long-hoped-for turnaround remains elusive—and I am not merely talking about on the field of play.
If you’re wondering why I say that, you should look at what the CWI media release announcing the recent appointment of India’s Monty Desai as WI batting coach on a two-year contract says:
Desai is a highly respected and experienced coach who has worked with several teams at the franchise level as well as with several international teams.
He worked with Canada, as their Head Coach at the ICC World Cricket League Division 2 and Afghanistan as their Batting Coach at the ICC Cricket World Cup qualification tournament in 2018. More recently, he also worked as Batting Coach for the United Arab Emirates at the ICC T20 World Cup qualification event.
Nary a word about his playing career. When I checked Statsguru, I found Dilip Sardesai and Women’s player Minoti Desai who played one Test in 1986 but no mention of a Monty Desai.
I immediately remembered Garry Sobers.
“Certificate coaching is a complete and utter joke,” he writes on page 290 of his eponymous 2002 autobiography. “Many of the people who hold the certificates are well educated rather than having a true cricket background. They can read a manual, listen to a clinic and pass exams. That earns them their piece of white paper rather than proving they can do the practical work.”
Just an opinion, I know. But it’s an opinion backed by the accumulated experience of 20 years and 93 matches in the Test arena, yielding 8,032 runs at an average of 57.78 and including 17 centuries and a once world-record 365.
“No certificate can make you a better coach,” the gifted former West Indies captain continues, “any more than having been a great cricketer automatically makes you a good coach. The good coaches are the ones who are respected and can pass on their knowledge in a sensible and understandable manner.”
Ah! Those last six words give pause. Malcolm Marshall (376 Test wkts at 20.94) passed muster, serving from 1996 to 1999. But neither Andy Roberts (202 at 25.61) nor Curtly Ambrose (405 at 20.99) (both of whom got appointments) nor Courtney Walsh (519 at 24.44) (who never has) could quite make the grade as West Indies head or assistant coach. Not even as West Indies bowling coach!
In chapter 23 (“Whither Windies?”) of the aforementioned autobiography, Sobers has this to say:
“Since my retirement, I have been regularly asked why I have not been involved in helping to right the wrongs, and used my experience to help put Caribbean cricket back where it belongs. The answer is simple—they haven’t asked me.”
Remember: 93 Tests, 8,032 runs, ave. 57.78. And 235 wickets at an average of 34.03 into the bargain.
‘They’ did ask Rohan ‘Babulal’ Kanhai, during whose 1992 to 1995 stewardship Brian Lara burst on to the world scene with his 277 in Sydney. Roberts succeeded him and was replaced by Marshall.
In 1999, they also asked Vivian Richards, whose 121 Tests had yielded 8,540 runs at an average of 50.23, not to mention 6721 ODI runs at an average of 47.
They appointed him for a short trip to New Zealand, Sir Garry records, and then got rid of him because he didn’t have the right piece of paper.
(…) (T)hen they introduced the business about the coaching certificate, that paragraph ends, and Viv, of course, didn’t have one.
Sobers, let us be clear, is writing in 2002, a decade and a half plus before Skerritt gave Dave Cameron his comeuppance and took over the reins. Wherever feasible, Skerritt has repeatedly insisted—reminiscent of Learie Constantine’s 1950’s insistence to CLR James that the West Indians ‘need a black man to lead them’—West Indian technical staff will be appointed to handle West Indies cricket.
So we can all guess at CWI’s answer to the question that has been on many West Indian lips: is India’s anonymous Desai a far superior batting coach to former WI opener Desmond Haynes, the runner-up to Phil Simmons in the recent race for the position of West Indies Head Coach?
Interestingly, Simmons’ Test record reads 1002 runs in 26 Tests at an average of 22.26 while Haynes’ reads 7487 runs in 116 Tests at an average of 42.29. Chalk versus cheese.
Other questions arise. The CWI release says that the 10-member Team Management Unit also includes a bowling coach (Roddy Estwick) and a fielding coach (Rayon Griffith). At the risk of exposing my ignorance—my stupidity?—I ask: why does a team with a batting coach, a bowling coach and a fielding coach need a head coach too?
I feel sure it has been explained somewhere but I must have missed it.
Why does a team whose batsmen repeatedly give their wickets away or are dismissed in strikingly similar fashion time after time not have a team psychologist? Is a batting coach going to teach judicious shot selection, the fruit, arguably, of greater humility? Is the essential problem talent, technique or something else?
Are we satisfied that the inexperienced players graduating from the lower levels to the senior team—Brandon King, Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran, Shamarh Brooks, for example—are making the transition smoothly, steadily getting closer to achieving their full potential?
Is a batting coach truly helpful in that regard? A batting coach who’s never played at the highest level?
But perhaps Desai is already making his presence felt. Even if the top order’s response to a challenging 240 yesterday left a lot to be desired, no one can reasonably complain about the overall batting effort so far. They amassed 200-plus runs in the lost first T20 in Hyderabad and then, chasing 170, powered WI to an 8-wkt victory in the second at Thiruvananthapuram.
After all, last month against Afghanistan, when Head Coach Simmons was presumably responsible for the batting, Pollard’s men contrived to lose the T20s 1-2, managing scores of 164/5, 106/8 and 127/7 after earning a 3-0 victory in the ODIs, with scores of 197/3, 247/9 and 253/5.
So, Sir Garry, I confuse. Two and two ent making four.
Help a brother out, nah. Please.