A guilty conscience, those who grew up in Trinidad in the second half of the 20th century would often have heard, needs no accuser.
Christopher Henry ‘Scrempy’ Gayle grew up in Kingston, Jamaica in the second half of the second half of the last century. But he probably heard it too.
“I can tell you personally—and you can let him know,” Gayle told a radio host on a St Kitts station on Tuesday, “that Chris Gayle, the Universe Boss, have no respect for Curtly Ambrose whatsoever.”
On the Island Tea Morning Show, the iconic left-handed opener, whose selection on the 19-member squad picked to represent the region in the 2021 World Cup starting in the United Arab Emirates and Oman next week has provoked a lot of negative reaction, was responding to the iconic pacer’s comment that Gayle had not earned automatic selection on his starting team.
Speaking on a radio talk show in Barbados, Ambrose offered this eminently reasonable justification for his position:
“When you look at his exploits over the last 18 months, he has struggled not only for the West Indies but for other T20 franchises. The few home series we played, he hasn’t had any scores of significance.”
But he came under verbal attack anyway.
The feared 6’7” fast bowler with 405 Test wickets to his name is perfectly capable of defending himself. Ask Australia’s Steve Waugh or Dean Jones.
But the person who responded to tell Ambrose’s 6’3” Jamaican attacker to cool his herbs was Ambrose’s fearless 5’10” 69-year-old compatriot who never wore a helmet while taking 8,450 Test runs off the bowlers of his era, including the fastest and the best.
“It’s Curtly’s honest opinion and he’s entitled to that,” Richards urged, speaking directly but gently to the disgruntled 42-year-old, “and he is just as much an achiever as Chris Gayle at the highest level and you should have respect for that.
“[…] An individual who would have also been an achiever and a legend in the department of the sport we would have represented […] is entitled to a voice as well.”
Gayle did explicitly declare his intention not to ‘take anything from any senior player’.
“This team has been selected and we need past players to support us,” he continued, cleverly de-personalising the issue. “In other teams, their past players support their teams; why can’t our own support us in a big tournament like this?”
But people with long memories will know that the former West Indies captain was not taking medicine for other people’s ailments. It was empathy, I argue, that drove him to respond in Ambrose’s stead.
As far as I am aware, none of the pacer’s many on-field battles has ever spilled over into off-the-field encounters.
On at least one occasion, however, Richards has taken the fight to his detractors beyond the boundary.
Rewind to Antigua 1990. West Indies, led by Richards, have just levelled the series against Graham Gooch’s England at Kensington Oval and are going all out for a win in the last Test to claim the series rubber.
Here is Richards talking to Daily Express reporter James Lawton on the rest day:
“You write anything about me and I’ll come and whack you. A lot of crap is being written about me and it is time someone was sorted out.
“I’ll start with you.”
Lawton’s report on the incident appeared on the front page of the Express the next day under the headline ‘Captain Viv blows his top’.
As play was about to start, Viv appeared in the press box. With the entire press corps within earshot, Lawton got a proper dressing down.
Almost 20 years later, Lawton wrote this about the incident:
“[A] magnificent competitor was approaching the end of his powers and this fact, along with the pressures of a job which he turned into a crusade, had brought him to a brittle edge.”
So the old Viv understands the pressures the old ‘Universe Boss’ is feeling in a way, perhaps, that the old Ambi does not.
And Viv was running interference to protect them both.
Arguably, I submit, to protect Kieron Pollard’s troops as well as they prepare for the challenge of defending their title.
That means that Gayle’s narrative about the old-stagers not supporting the team, though clever, is false. Implicitly or explicitly criticising his selection does not amount to not supporting the West Indies team. Indeed, there are many who hold the view that not to ask questions about the surprising choice is in fact to play into the hands of Australia and England and South Africa, Pollard’s team’s major opponents in Group One.
Of course, it is true that the Antigua threesome of Ambrose, Richards and former pacer Andy Roberts have long been very outspoken on regional cricket. But, in my view, there has been no particular focus on the negatives.
Their forthrightness, though, has not made them popular with current players.
Who has forgotten Edgbaston in 2012?
Having at long last delivered on his potential and got to three figures, Denesh Ramdin unforgettably whips a scribbled note out of his pocket and displays it to the watching world.
Yeah, Viv, it reads, Talk nah.
More recently, Ambrose declared that the West Indies glory days were a thing of the past and were not coming back. But the same ex-player had joined Clive Lloyd, Richards’ predecessor at the helm of the most successful regional team in history, in offering words of advice on how to approach the daunting challenge of taking on Bangladesh in two Tests as members of a second XI cobbled together at short notice.
We have not yet forgotten how that turned out, have we?
The third member of the critical trio is Andy Roberts, held by many to be the number one fast bowler the region has produced. The 70-year-old began this year by declaring that the current crop of fast bowlers will not reach their full potential because they do not want to do the hard yards.
“I don’t think that these guys are prepared for the hard work that fast bowling entails,” Roberts told the Mason and Guest programme.
“Most players now prefer to play T20s,” he went on. “It’s only four overs. [But] fast bowling is hard work, donkey work, I would say, and I just believe they are not prepared.”
“It has nothing to do with pitches,” he added, cutting the ground from under the apologists’ feet. “The young cricketers […] don’t want to work hard.”
That drew a prompt retort from the then ICC number one all-rounder, Jason Holder, who commented that the legends are long on criticism but short on solutions.
Notwithstanding which, when the former West Indies Test captain was omitted from the 15-member World Cup squad last month and relegated to the reserves, Roberts expressed ‘shock’ at Holder’s omission.
Calling him ‘the best cricketer we have in the region’, Roberts said he would ‘pick him as one of my first choices for the World Cup. What is he doing in the reserves?’
Before this week, however, none of the three had added his voice to the chorus of criticism of the selection of the multiple T20 record-holder with over 14,000 runs to his name.
Coach Phil Simmons has never explicitly said so but it seems the stresses and strains of an arduous, protracted season have taken their toll on the players. Not just physically. So Simmons has recently been almost pleading with West Indies supporters to give his team ‘time to bond’.
But is it really time to bond? Or is it perhaps time to heal?
Is it a job for the physios? Or a job for the psychs?
Perhaps the latest Gayle gale is a clear clue…