Best: Long WI cricket history, short memories, success, succession and the easy solution illusion

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At a time when aggressive, proactive international captaincy is in short supply,” writes Ian Chappell, in discussing Ajinkya Rahane’s leadership in the absence of Virat Kohli, “India are fortunate to have two leaders who both understand the value of taking wickets over containing the opposition.”

At a time when aggressive, proactive international captaincy is in short supply, says an echo, West Indies are fortunate to have one leader who understands the value of taking wickets over containing the opposition.

Photo: West Indies captain Kieron Pollard, right, reacts after missing a close chance to dismiss Sri Lanka batsman Dhananjaya de Silva during the third ODI in Pallekele, Sri Lanka on 1 March 2020. 
Watching on is umpire Raveendra Wimalasiriu. 
(Copyright AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

His name is Kieron Pollard. But the Bajans will doubtless eat his tail raw should Guyanese CWI lead selector Roger Harper put God out of his thoughts and recommend that T&T’s Pollard be appointed to replace Barbados’ Jason Holder as West Indies Test captain.

There is precedent. 

In 1997, the Jamaicans were waiting with knives and forks for the new captain; the old captain Courtney Walsh, however, would have none of it. At Sabina Park, the 6’5” Jamaican pacer put his arm around his 5’8” Trinidadian successor and walked in lockstep with him all the way to the middle. 

That simple gesture from a genuine West Indian completely disarmed the bloodthirsty home mob. 

Since inheriting the mantle from Richie Richardson just over two years earlier, Walsh’s team had won only six of 22 Tests. More T&Tian than West Indian, Alloy Lequay and Joey Carew insisted stridently and persistently that it was time for the only man who had been ‘long in training for the job of West Indies captain’. 

His name? Brian Lara, the 28-year-old double world record-holder from Santa Cruz. 

Photo: West Indies and Trinidad and Tobago cricket legend Brian Lara pulls for four against England at the Oval, London on 4 September 2000.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Adrian Dennis)

Unsurprisingly, the pair reminded no one of this inconvenient truth: in less than a decade of playing for WI, Lara had already accumulated a list of ‘indiscretions’ as long as Walsh’s arm.

Looking the other way, the selectors capitulated. Summoning incumbent and pretender to Antigua at short notice, they unceremoniously divested the ace pacer of the mantle and passed it to the master batsman.

The expected magic, however, never materialised. Starting with an early cut-arse in South Africa so comprehensive that the fans have not forgotten it to this day, all WI got, in three separate instalments up until 2007, was ‘moderate successes and devastating failures’. 

Success and failure marked the period between 1928 and Frank Worrell’s 1960 appointment as WI Test captain. In those 32 years, the captaincy went to Massa as of right so only one of the dozen who led the regional team in at least one Test was black. 

A single Test was all ‘Massa’ George Headley, an acknowledged cricketing brain and still for some the best batsman WI have produced, got—as a stand-in captain in 1948, in the twilight of his years. That was more than a decade before Learie Constantine identified the underperformance problem as race and CLR James campaigned publicly to have ‘a black man […] lead them’. 

Photo: Legendary West Indies batsman George Headley on the attack.

Gerry Alexander, a genuine West Indian, decided that that was an idea whose time had come and said ‘no más’. 

In the 60 years since then, 25 different players have skippered a West Indies team on the field. It really should be of no relevance here but, alas! there are those who run their mouths about race in regional cricket. So, of those 25, six have been Indians, including Rohan Kanhai (13 Tests in charge), Shivnarine Chanderpaul (14) and Denesh Ramdin (13).

Another Indian, Guyana’s Alvin Kallicharan, was summoned in the crisis following Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket decimating of the WI ranks in 1978. He lasted only nine games. And five or fewer games in charge was all as many as nine others among the 25, mere stand-in captains, managed. 

However, in the case of the 15 formal appointees, the transfer of power did not always go smoothly. 

Take, for instance, Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards, whose teams famously never lost a single series during his eight years at the helm. Finis now written on a sparkling Test career, he made one parting request of WICBC; he asked to be allowed to represent the region in the next World Cup.

Richards, remember, did not play in the 1992 tournament.

Photo: Iconic West Indies batsman and captain Sir Vivian Richards celebrates a century against England.

Named captain, Richardson, his compatriot, recommended that the Board nix Richards’ request; acceding, he submitted, would make it difficult for the new captain to impose his own new culture on the team. 

The new culture brought other changes. Before long, Australia’s Mark Taylor imposed his will on Richardson and ended—irreversibly?—two decades of WI world domination.

Ten years earlier, Clive Lloyd had announced his intention to surrender the captaincy. WICBC asked him to stay on.

A sniper suggested to the listening world that the Board wanted to ensure the captaincy went to ‘their little blue-eyed boy’. We can only guess at who that ‘little blue-eyed boy’ was. 

The sniper’s identity, however, has never been a secret; he was the heir apparent, IVA ‘Master Blaster’ Richards.

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

Another heir apparent, opener Conrad Hunte, was the popular choice to succeed father figure Frank Worrell when he decided to call it quits.

But in England in 1963, the 27-year-old Garry Sobers removed all doubt about his enormous all-round talent. So, to succeed him, Sir Frank recommended not the Barbadian opener but his younger, less experienced all-rounder compatriot.

On that occasion too, it bears noting, the WICBC accepted the recommendation. However, despite the vast excitement generated by the new appointee’s immense promise, the expected magic never materialised—between 1965 and 1973, out of a total of 39 matches played, all WI got was nine wins and 10 draws. 

Now, as 2021 begins, the just over 5,000,000 people comprising the West Indian nation are hungry for success again. But nobody makes omelettes without breaking eggs. With the heat on, Harper has to deliver or get out of the kitchen.

Let us not forget, though, that we have passed this way before. Above all, let us not delude ourselves that changing the captain will be some kind of feeding-the-multitude miracle. 

Photo: West Indies captain Jason Holder reacts during action in the second day of the second Test match against England at Old Trafford in Manchester on Friday 17 July 2020.
(Copyright AP Photo/Jon Super, Pool)

Remember Noble Philip’s timely H L Mencken reminder here on Wired868 last month?

“For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple…

…and wrong.”

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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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