It was reported that during the 2019 ICC World Cup, the England team pulled up and did some soul searching. They revisited videos of sessions featuring themselves—not at play—but talking about their feelings.
It takes a lot of courage to do that; courage and trust. I’m thinking here about how our West Indian boys would fare in such a scenario. Has it been part of our culture?
From the accounts I have heard during my research on Sir Frank Worrell, he was an attentive, thoughtful and caring counsellor, but he understood that this was not a culture of open sharing, so men were given access to his nurturing bosom in private, unstructured moments.
He kept confidences and he earned more than trust; it was almost blind adulation.
In the fifties, there was barely a team in terms of spirit, but in the long tour of Australia in the 1960–61 season, Worrell set new practices that led to a team that actually liked playing with each other. This was a remarkable feat, considering the background of the group that was still shuddering from its racist and colonial history.
He did not confine his influence to team psyche; he introduced new measures of a technical nature, based on his personal theories. He had spent a year studying Optics in England.
He made them stop playing cards on the nights before games, based on his belief that the eyes, forced for long periods to focus on close objects, would not adjust well to the longer range demanded on the field. Given today’s attachment to hand-held devices, which require that same short-range focus, it might be useful to consider the impact on vision on the field.
He encouraged the team to go out at night, but asked that they used discretion in their revelry. He believed it was better to be distracted than overly anxious about the next day’s play. He developed more structured training sessions and he was always deeply involved in those elements.
Like Richie Benaud and Mike Brearley, he encouraged them to see themselves as professionals with a responsibility to put in the work it required to perform at their best.
The teams under these captains rose to the challenge because they were made to feel that they were valuable as individuals and respected as professionals.
We do not have a history of treating our players that way. We forget that they have feelings as much as we do; and like us, they do not come from a culture where they can examine or express their emotions.
In many instances, the coping mechanism becomes one of feigned indifference. They shrug off the burdens under masks.
What might have been the fate of West Indian cricket had there been a nurturing environment?
I do not believe that we are in an intractable situation. I am convinced however that we will go as nowhere—as we have been for decades—if we do not grasp that we have to move very far away from the old ways of doing things; and rather than revile the behaviours of this generation, we have to try to understand and work with them.
In 2019, the senior West Indian men’s team had shown that there is individual talent. What was wrenching was to see how weak their confidence was, and how quickly they lost their fighting spirit.
Two teams in that World Cup tournament showed outstanding determination right through: Bangladesh and Afghanistan. What did they have in common? Phillip Simmons had been the Bangladesh head coach (as well as eight years as Ireland’s), and Courtney Walsh had been the specialist bowling coach for Afghanistan—two West Indians.
Neither team got far, but they fought right down to the end in every match. Confidence and belief in one’s abilities are major aspects in the development of what has been called the mind of a champion.
Sir Everton Weekes, and many others, would say that there is something addictive about winning. It is heady, for sure, but when you win, you know what is possible, and what you have to do to get there.
The gloom that follows a defeat can also take root and that is why the mental toughness has always been a factor in helping players get past the rough patches.
After the tour of England in 2012, Daren Sammy stepped up, and Sir Viv Richards had this to say.
“All of a sudden there was this new-found confidence. You need to have a leader who can come out to the middle and make some sort of contribution. He has done enough and should not feel he has one foot in and one foot out as far as the leadership is concerned.”
Many have had their confidence constantly on edge because of this uncertainty. How does it affect them?
Editor’s Note: This column is the fourth in a five part series on cricket captaincy that was first published in the Trinidad Express newspaper. Wired868 will publish the final part on Wednesday 15 July.