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Vaneisa: What trust can do; the rebuilding of West Indies cricket

I’ve been restraining myself from writing about cricket although I have been following our regional matches closely. There seems to be a gradual shift in the approach that makes me hope that something different is seeping in to the culture which has plagued the game for so long.

After the team won the ODI series against Sri Lanka, I wondered if they had been challenged, or had been given an ultimatum to forego the flashy shots and focus on occupying the crease. Idly, I even speculated that maybe coach Phil Simmons, out of exasperation, had threatened the batsmen with penalties for every thoughtless shot.

Photo: West Indies captain Kieron Pollard shows off his silverware after completing a 3-0 ODI sweep of Sri Lanka in Antigua on 14 March 2021.
(via CWI Media)

An unbiased appraisal of the way the T20 series was won (2–1) could not have been comforting to any West Indian supporter. Come the 50-over matches, it was clear something dramatic had happened behind the scenes.

In the dressing room afterwards, as the players celebrated their white-ball victories, the former Test captain, Jason Holder, was effusive and encouraging.

“I think it was outstanding to see the way we went about our entire game. Yes, it wasn’t a perfect game, but what was heartening to see was the end result.”

He was talking to his teammates with the nurturing air that is making a welcome return to the culture.

“We had a little pep talk at the half way stage and we probably let ourselves down at the back end of the innings, bowling, but it’s good to see that we took in front ourselves. The opening batters again, Evin [Lewis] and Shai [Hope] had another really good partnership (everyone applauds). And it looked to me that ‘Brav’ (Darren Bravo) and Shai really stuck to the plan.”

Photo: West Indies batsmen Shai Hope (left) and Evin Lewis cross for a run during the March 2021 ODI series against Sri Lanka at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua.
(Copyright Randy Brooks/AFP via Getty Images)

He reached over to his left and pulled out a little white board with ‘the plan’.

“And you know we spoke about committing to the game plan, and Shai and Bravo were committed to their game plan and it looked very good from the outside. And I really want to commend them on another hundred partnership.”

The team applauded as he praised Bravo’s hundred, his crossing 3,000 ODI runs and his return to the front office.

He said the discussion they had prior to the game was a very healthy one.

“We are not the complete product. We’re not the finished product, but we’ve shown significant signs of improvement and I just want us to continue to rally round one another, and to push one another in practice and push one another to get better.”

Photo: West Indies opener Shai Hope smashes to the boundary during the 2nd ODI against Sri Lanka at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium in North Sound, Antigua on 12 March 2021.
(Copyright Randy Brooks/AFP via Getty Images)

Shai Hope also spoke, saying it was good to see that everybody lived up to what they had been doing in the training sessions and leading right up into the games.

“We had a plan and we went out and did exactly what we had to do in the games,” he said, before adding the warning. “As coach always says, ‘This ain’t the end’.”

This chat, posted by Windies Cricket on YouTube, was not the usual kind of airing out, and it was obvious that the choice of Holder’s contribution was strategic. You can find clues in there to understanding the cultural shift. You could see that a team was gathered, that they were a unit.

It struck me as a marvellous way to demonstrate that although Holder has been replaced as Test captain, there is no diminishing of his role as a member of the West Indies team. I am so often appalled at the crude responses of the media to such shifts that I wonder if they even have the capacity to see beyond the prospect of a scandal.

Photo: West Indies pacer Jason Holder (right) is congratulated by batsman Chris Gayle during the 2019 Cricket World Cup.
(Copyright AP)

Holder may not have been the most strategic of captains, but he is undoubtedly a fine cricketer and has the nurturing qualities of a leader. Do our vapid journalists consider the impact of their words on cricketers who are still committed to representing us in the game?

An Indian journalist, writing about Gerry Gomez having to stand as umpire in a match when Australia toured in 1964/65, began his article like this: “Controversy, never very far from the surface in Caribbean cricket over the years…” 

It has been one of the defining features of our cricket, this love of bacchanalia.

For the first time in a long time that was one of the real absences from our scenario. Ever since David Cameron was removed, there is a more positive aura surrounding the conduct of the game.

Who are the CWI people now interacting with the players? Coach Phil Simmons, selector Roger Harper, cricket director Jimmy Adams and CEO Johnny Grave. With distinctly different personalities, one thing strikes me as being a gigantic unifying bond—they all seem to genuinely care about developing West Indies cricket.

Photo: West Indies coach Phil Simmons (left) and veteran pacer Fidel Edwards.
(via CWI Media)

I feel that the environment they are building, along with the support staff, and the fortuitous presence of Kieron Pollard, are the elements generating this new culture in West Indies cricket. The absence of adversarial relationships between the players and the CWI is the factor that has been of the biggest difference to the team.

It is why I decided to write about it—not because there were wins on the board—and not ten minutes after having made the decision, I heard a news report about the CWI presidential elections due next week. 

Challenging Ricky Skerritt is Anand Sanansie of the Guyana Cricket Board, and listening to what he had to say I could only cringe. It was exactly the toxic note that reminds me of David Cameron.

About Vaneisa Baksh

Vaneisa Baksh
Vaneisa Baksh is a columnist with the Trinidad Express, an editor and a cricket historian. She is currently working on a biography of Sir Frank Worrell.

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One comment

  1. Earl Best

    Whycliffe ‘Dave’ –not David–Cameron was in competition with West Indies cricket. But it is not his removal so much as his replacement by Ricky Skerritt and Kishore Shallow that has led to the tremendous improvement in relations between the Board and the players.

    Had he been replaced, for instance, by the Guyanese pretender mentioned in the last paragraph, we might well have taken a step or two back.

    So I would say that the emphasis on Cameron’s welcome absence rather than on Skerritt’s presence is misplaced.

    As for the journalists whose “crude responses” make one “wonder if they even have the capacity to see beyond the prospect of a scandal,” I would say that professional sport is not for the faint-hearted.

    One wonders just whether West Indies cricket would have been in a better or worse place if the journalists, barring Tony Cozier, had had the cojones to call a spade a spade when Brian Lara was simultaneously breaking records and norms in the Nineties and the Oughts?

    And in the last decade, say, if you’re going to get out trying to hit a six when you need six runs off seven balls to win the match or you’re going to have a swipe at the last ball of the second-last over of the match when you’re number 11 and there’s a recognised batsman at the other end, in my iconoclastic view, you deserve everything you get in the media the next day.

    If you are upset by the crude responses, you’re in the wrong place.

    Stay far away from professional cricket.

    Join the Girl Guides.