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Best: WI cyar find a West Indian batting coach? Ting really so bad in cricket?

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:

Photo: New West Indies cricket batting coach Monty Desai.

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.

Photo: West Indies cricket legend Sir Garry Sobers during his heyday.

“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.

Photo: Cricket analyst and West Indies legend Sir Vivian Richards.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Glyn Kirk)

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.

Photo: West Indies cricket coach Phil Simmons (right) talks to his then Test captain Denesh Ramdin.
(Copyright AFP 2015)

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.

Photo: West Indies’ Kieron Pollard bats during the third T20 match against India in Mumbai on 11 December 2019.
(Copyright AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

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.

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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  1. The Indian National cricket team appointed Trini Robin Singh as fielding coach of their team. They should have found a local?

    This is the backroom staff of the 2019 England World Cup Winning squad. Notice the number of coaches in addition to the head coach. AND….the spin bowling consultant isn’t English either

    Coaching staff
    Cricket Committee chairman: England Andrew Strauss
    Managing director: England Ashley Giles
    Head coach: England Chris Silverwood[68]
    Batting coach (Test): England Marcus Trescothick
    Batting coach (ODI & T20I): England Graham Thorpe
    Spin bowling consultant: New Zealand Jeetan Patel
    Fast bowling consultant: England Darren Gough (New Zealand tour only)
    Fielding coach: England Paul Collingwood

    • Two comments: (1) As far as I am aware, there was no announcement of liquidity problems made by the ECB at any time. Many of CWI’s people are still waiting for their November salaries. So if we have to cut the support staff, do we need a batting coach more than we need a psychologist?

      (2) Has the ECB leadership repeatedly made public any preference for ENGLISH support staff? The CWI has.

      • In response to your liquidity Issue, perhaps the psychologist is more expensive than the batting coach

        As far as I recall, that preference was related to the Head coach position only. If it extended to all positions, I could see the point.

        • Do serious administrators make important decisions of this sort in terms of COST as distinct from VALUE? Maybe the TTFA but certainly not the new CWI.

          And Skerritt has been as clear as day and consistent; where qualified West Indians are available, they will be preferred to qualified non-West Indians, all things being equal, I expect. And since actions speak louder than words, the unqualified non-West Indian coaching the team was the first casualty.

          • Fair enough. But look at WI batting, especially in regional cricket where lower scores tend to be the norm rather than the exception. That reflects on local coaches.

            Now, would Dessie Haynes have done better? Perhaps. He certainly has the playing pedigree. But does that necessarily translate in the ability to coach effectively? We don’t know.

            Has Dessie been a head coach of batting coach of any regional team? I believe he’s been on the bench in some sort of capacity. But do you just hand him the position based on his performances as a player?

            Arsenal right now reflecting on such a decision.

            Interestingly, coincidence or not, since the official appointment of Monty Desai, WI batting averaged 186 in the recently concluded 3 match T20 series against India and scored 291 for 2 today to easily overhaul India’s total in the 1st ODI.

            Some might say that’s a result of him benefiting from the work of his predecessor. Others might suggest it’s a different approach h that has but in from the players.

            Whatever it is, he appears to be Head Coach Simmons’ choice and coaches in every sport tend to surround themselves with people they’re comfortable with.