Less Power to the Elbow

27th August 2014

The Mason & Guests Show

Intolerant of tolerance

Back in the director’s chair, Andrew being in St Kitts. We hoped to catch up with him over the phone, but couldn’t track him down. In the studio my guests were Dr Andrew Forde and Graeme West, Head Coach of the High Performance Centre.

DO: “A good week for the West Indies. A bad week if you’re a Bangladeshi supporter. I suppose the only thing worse is if you’re a Man United supporter this evening.”

I opened by asking Dr Forde if West Indies’ 3-0 win reflected the gulf between the two sides:

AF: “Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are at a lower level than the WI, and we’ve a long chasm to get through as well. We were expected to win. The important thing is how we win. Let’s look at the positives: we have a young bowler, Holder who’s developing; Rampaul isn’t bowling badly; Narine looks good; we have Ramdin keeping and batting well; we have Darren Bravo scoring runs, but the problem is the batting. We’ve been in trouble in every match, two down early, and in one match five down early. Against a good team we’d have been skittled out for under 100. The opening pair has been problematic. Gayle did have one score but Edwards didn’t fire at all, didn’t look like he’d make any runs. I have serious question marks over his future. I’m worried about the batting. It doesn’t auger well for the World Cup. We have serious batting problems. We have a lot to fix.”

DO: ” I wonder how different we’d be feeling if WI hadn’t recovered from 34-5 in that 1st ODI, if Pollard hadn’t come out and played an innings of immense maturity and excellence, supported by Ramdin. They won that game. They won the 2nd game comfortably, but in the 3rd game, record stand and all that – no other player got more than 10. Teams are playing a lot of ODI cricket ahead of the World Cup. What chances have WI got in that World Cup?”

GW: “The firepower is in the middle order but they need a good platform. Let’s be honest, the Bangladesh attack was very poor. Against the better attacks, guys are going to do damage with the new ball. There’s concern the firepower in the middle gets exposed early. Ramdin has been given responsibility up the order and took full advantage. Simmons hasn’t got runs in this series but in the CPL he looked a class act, so hopefully he’ll come good. Bravo made a big score, but making runs consistently against the quality sides is still to be proven.”

DO: “Did Ramdin’s innings suggest he can bat at 6 in the Tests, giving WI a genuine balance, playing 5 bowlers?”

GW: “Against Bangladesh he could bat 6. The concern is exposing that long tail against better sides. This is where Jason Holder becomes important because he has ability with the bat. Jason could be one of the guys who really steps up, with the bat as well as the ball.”

AF: “We have to play the team we’d play if we were playing a higher side. A 50 over and a Test innings are different. Ramdin took a lot of liberties you can’t take in a Test. WI have to look towards a quality all-rounder. Nobody’s there right now. I don’t know if they want to try Pollard in the longer version?”

DO: “When the Test team is announced, will it reflect the balance of side we’ll see on the tours of India and South Africa? Is Ramdin the answer at 6, or could Pollard do that job and bowl some overs?”

GW: “One of the biggest difficulties is the lack of first-class cricket these guys have played. Bravo, Pollard, Russell – the three of them are pretty similar in what they bring, but they’ve played no first-class cricket in 12 months. As a selector, it’s difficult to pick a Test side on the back of one-day and T20 cricket. But they’ve got to look at the Tests v Bangladesh with a view to India and South Africa. There’s no first-class cricket in the Caribbean before they go to India. It’s very tricky. If WI are going to be a force, the top order have to perform, but they need their lower order to contribute. They can provide support to Chanderpaul and stick around. You need everybody to contribute.”

In considering the Test team for the Bangladesh game, I interjected with news I’d come across from the Indian press:

DO: “According to the Bangalore Mirror, the WICB is to allow WI cricketers involved in the CLT20, which coincides with the 2nd Test v Bangladesh, to not have to play in that Test. Most wouldn’t be selected anyway, people like Dwayne Smith – but Pollard is one I’d flag up who might come into the reckoning. He’s starting to look like he could make the jump into Test cricket. Tony Cozier wrote that it was time for him to be given a chance. The biggest one this would concern is Sunil Narine. We know what happened when he didn’t play v New Zealand because he wasn’t back for the training camp. If this report is right it’s quite a U-turn by the WICB. If so, is this an opportunity to try out a couple of players v Bangladesh? Is that an argument to allow Narine to go elsewhere? Or should they get the best XI on the park?”

GW: “As a coach you want to be judged by putting your best team on the field. In the last 12 months several players have missed cricket. Putting out your strongest side is the challenge and it sounds like it’s going to be compromised here. For someone like Jermaine Blackwood it’d be a great opportunity. At the same time you don’t want to compromise too much.”

AF: “The board is trying to please two masters. There may be some economics involved.”

GW: “It’s difficult for the selectors to change too much and justify taking somebody out.”

We opened the phone lines, and our first caller demanded change – pensioning off 40-year-old Shiv Chanderpaul for a younger player. He also felt that Clive Lloyd at 72 (actually, he’s 69) doesn’t see enough Caribbean cricket to pick a side.

DO: “We said a lot of players haven’t played much first-class cricket – the caller touched upon how much have the new selection panel seen? How much cricket in the Caribbean has Clive Lloyd seen, and Eldine Baptiste and Courtney Walsh?”

GW: “It makes sense to give a younger player some experience but I’d want Chanderpaul playing and getting plenty of runs and take that with him to India. I don’t think there’s going to be too many changes.”

DO: “Andrew – Shiv Chanderpaul – forty. Is it time for him to go?”

AF: “We have to develop. We have to push on.”

GW: “But it really is a challenge to gauge who’s ready to make that step up.”

Our next caller suggested WI should switch the whole team around: “Let the lower batmen come to the top to see how they perform and keep the strong men for the last.”

AF: “A bit unorthodox caller! I don’t think anyone plays cricket like that. But in desperate times we may try something new! The problem is our top batsmen lack consistency except Chanderpaul.”

Our next caller pointed out WI only had one batsman ranked in the world’s Top 10: “Who would drop their only world rated batsman? Chanderpaul is number 6 on the list, therefore he’s a certainty.”

DO: “Are the calls for Chanderpaul to go only about his age? Is this pure ageism? If this were an office and we were saying somebody should be sacked because he’s 40 we’d be up before an industrial tribunal!”

Another caller claimed: “Chanderpaul’s runs do not cause WI to win or draw. They are for him! We aren’t going to win with him in the side, therefore we can try somebody else who’ll be more enthusiastic, who’ll try to make a run or two. He has not helped us to win.”

AF: “We are a cricket loving people, and we are a frustrated cricket loving people. The problems in WI cricket are more numerous than Shiv Chanderpaul. People used to say a similar thing about Brian Lara.”

GW: “It takes eleven men to win a game of cricket. One man is not going to win the game.”

DO: “Well, if Chanderpaul isn’t a great player, his stats are the stats of a great player.”

With that we went ‘Around the World in 2’. Straight after the round-up we were joined on the phone by the universally admired commentator, Reds Perreira:

RP: “A very interesting discussion. I’m thinking about the 1st Test in St Vincent and the 2nd in St Lucia v Bangladesh, and I ask the panel how the Champions League and the players who’ll be going effects the selection by Clive Lloyd and his panel. I think most people have seen the players heading in that direction. It’s an interesting situation because the WI board has a position where they’re saying WI first, but it’s something the panel could look at. I know the Chairman of tonight’s programme is very good on the internet and you can bring up those players who’ll be heading to the Champions League. It’s going to be interesting to see what side they pick.”

Reds was right. If the unconfirmed report was correct then the WICB had reversed the stance it took earlier this year. I listed those involved in the CLT20, who are:

Dwayne Smith, Dwayne Bravo & Samuel Badree (Chennai Super Kings); Sunil Narine & Andre Russell (Kolkata Knight Riders); Kieron Pollard & Lendl Simmons (Mumbai Indians); and the Barbados Trident’s squad, which included Jason Holder & Ravi Rampaul, but didn’t include Kirk Edwards, and featured only 6 Bajans.

GW: “I feel very sorry for the Tridents. Not only have they lost players, they’ve lost their coach, who’s involved with one of the IPL teams. It’ll be a great experience, particularly for some of the younger guys I’ve worked with – but you want them to go out with their strongest team.”

Graeme is taking the WI A side to Sri Lanka on September 29th, and they have a four-week camp before that. This will coincide with the senior side’s preparations for India. Sir Viv Richards is to be involved with the side again, and I asked Graeme about his influence:

DO: “You spoke very eloquently about his assistance with the HPC camp ahead of the Bangladesh A games. Is he going on the tour with you, or just the build up?”

GW: “We’re hoping he’ll be involved all the way through. The players responded to him superbly. He really got to know the players and as we got competitive he took on almost a new identity – you thought he was going to go out there himself and put the pads on at one point.”

DO: “You said he ‘helped to create a winning culture… he showed how to create and maintain a winning habit… you can still see that hunger, that passion, that desire for WI to be successful, that it still burns within him.'”

GW: “You could see in the CPL how much it meant to him. He’s phenomenally competitive. He is an ambassador for WI, an ambassador for the game. Wherever he goes there’s interest. To tap into his experiences and what made him the player he was, what made the team the success it was – being able to delve into that is the thinking behind having him involved.”

Tony Cozier wrote this weekend about the shortage of quality coaching in the Caribbean, and in the light of Ottis Gibson’s departure, he named only 3 West Indians qualified to succeed him: Phil Simmons, Roger Harper and Gordon Greenidge. I added to that list Jimmy Adams. I asked Graeme how far behind the rest of the world Caribbean coaching had fallen?

GW: “You can be the most qualified person in the world, but to actually have done it and be able to pass that knowledge on is fantastic. I found working here initially a challenge. What I’d learnt in England and worked with in terms of younger players and their expectation from a coach was very different from a younger player here. The coach is viewed in a different light. Almost in some cases a threat rather than someone who provides support, because all of a sudden the coach is challenging players’ technique. But the potential in the younger players is on a par with anything across the world. It’s now how we develop and harness the experience of the likes of Sir Viv, but also with the scientific approach, the conditioning, the preparation and the technical side of things. It’s a question of finding the right mix because the raw materials are here for the next generation.”

I moved onto the apparent clampdown on questionable actions, with Sohag Gazi the latest to be reported. I asked Andrew if this was a failure of coaching?

AF: “It seems to be an international plague. Over the years so many people have had dodgy actions – what’s surprising is the number of West Indians that display that. It’s become the norm and people have turned their backs and allowed it to go on. I think the science needs to be developed so we can get things back to the way they were.”

GW: “The worry is that at U15, U17, U19 level there are a number of bowlers who come into that category. It’s probably a reflection of the lack of coaches that can stop it.”

DO: “You’re getting bowlers with questionable actions getting as far as you who should’ve been picked up further down the chain when they were younger and not got that far?”

GW: “Most definitely. There doesn’t seem to be a platform for coaches to work with players. Even in senior regional cricket players are only operating when the competitions are on. It’s not as if they get a great deal of time to prepare where you take a bowler out and express concerns. The problem with the 15% is interpretation until you go to Australia and get it done properly. Until then you’re hoping you’re somewhere just under rather than over and recently the ICC has taken a stance of ‘enough’s enough’.”

DO: “15% is a sort of tolerance level. Andrew, do you have much tolerance for that sort of tolerance?”

AF: “It’s painful on the eye. And almost everybody wears long sleeves now. I wonder are they wearing long sleeves because they want to hide their elbows?”

DO: “It’s not because it’s cold! I’ve suggested before for the power to go back to the umpires to call it as he sees it, and to make bowlers bowl with short sleeves. It wouldn’t be a difficult law to introduce. If you’re going to bowl we’ve got to be able to see your elbow.”

AF: “The naked eye seems to be just as good as all this testing.”

DO: “We were talking about the Tridents. It was announced they did actually win the CPL.”

AF: “We knew that!”

DO: “There was one thing when I read the statement which worried me that this could drag on: ‘the CPL management would offer no objection to the matter being referred to ICC’ – almost handing it back to Guyana and saying ‘we say the Tridents have won but if the Amazon Warriors want to take it to the ICC we won’t stand in your way’. Do we really want that?”

GW: “No. We want to draw a line. We want to move forward.”

AF: “That’s all done and dusted. But it’s unfortunate the Tridents won’t have a captain, they won’t have a coach, they won’t have their main batsmen – it’s really gutted the side.”

GW: “We’ve just seen how seriously India take Test cricket. T20 is the biggest thing in India.”

DO: “They seem to be in the process of sacking their coach, Duncan Fletcher for Ravi Shastri – taking a man out of the commentary box to take over running the side. I wonder whether the same thing’s going to happen here? Perhaps Fazeer Mohammed…”

GW: “Or Andrew Mason!”

DO: “I’m sure Andrew wouldn’t devalue bowling.”

GW: “I know a couple of changes he’d make straight away!”

DO: “What sort of time frame have they got on replacing Ottis? The name Mickey Arthur has been bandied about.”

GW: “I’d say that was down to his involvement with the CPL and someone putting two and two together.”

DO: “He also gave an interview on Jamaican radio when he was asked ‘would you be interested…?’ and he said ‘yes, of course I would be’. He’d have been foolish to say ‘no, I don’t want that job’.”

AF: “It’s a tough start in India. Anyone who’s been a creditable coach looking to go forward, the WI job is not for them. Our problems are not coaching related, our problems are structural.”

DO: “I think it’s motivational. I wouldn’t have a problem with somebody taking over who’s only got a Level 1 or Level 2 as long as they’re going to listen and be inspired by him and take WI in the right direction. I give you a fanciful name – I think the man who’s had the biggest positive influence on WI cricket in the last 2-3 years is Darren Sammy. I’d have no objection if he was running WI cricket. I think the man’s inspirational. But it’s more likely to be Phil Simmons.”

GW: “Phil’s got experience. He’s been a coach for a long time. I got to know him relatively well. He’s been successful in Ireland. To come away from that and take this on – if the guy wants a challenge – fabulous! But he ticks a lot of boxes. There’s not many who do. Jimmy Adams would be an interesting one. One of the biggest challenges in cricket is the dressing room and the amount of time a group of people spend together.”

AF: “I go back to when Gibson wanted to get all the youngsters together under Sammy. We were starting to see an upward trend and development of the team ethos, but bringing some people back eroded that philosophy. Maybe it’s time for something new. Maybe we don’t need selectors any more. Maybe it’s time for a Supremo who does everything.”

DO: “It is a time of change. But we have this disparity of 3 different captains in 3 different formats. Should the WI new Head Coach look to have a unified captain?”

GW: “As a coach, ideally you want a captain you have great trust and faith in. If that relationship works you want it across all the teams. For one person to do it makes life a lot easier. The dynamic changes every time you have a different captain. Teams that are not doing well tend to rotate and change personnel frequently and that creates more problems. I’m sure the ambition is to have a Head Coach before travelling to India. It’s going to be challenging – but flip it over and it’s a great challenge. If they come away with some success then there’s room to grow. A Test series v England after the World Cup…”

DO: “Very beatable here in the Caribbean. They lost last time they were here for a Test series.”

GW: “Very much so. But it’s difficult when there’s been so little cricket. Hopefully the longer first-class season will produce players that can perform over a longer period. It’ll give coaches more opportunity to develop players. You want to be selecting from a stronger pool. At the moment there’s depth in certain areas: Spin-wise looks good; a lot of the keepers are holding up well. But beyond the seamers in the first team and the A team there’s not too many; and in terms of batters going out and making hundreds consistently we’d like four or five more than we have at the moment.”

DO: “Bangladesh’s results in 2014: Played 24, Won 2, Lost 20, Drawn 1, No Result 1. Those 2 wins were in T20 matches against Afghanistan and Nepal. In that context, where is West Indies’ international cricket at the moment?”

GW: “You can’t measure WI cricket against Bangladesh. Bangladesh are a poor side. They’re more competitive in Bangladesh, but as soon as they travel they struggle. The New Zealand series was interesting. In terms of resource WI and NZ are very similar. But watching NZ’s captain, manager, their practice, training and preparation – they had an edge over WI and it’s something we need to take on board and learn from because man for man there’s nothing in the two sides. That was a real test and to lose was a big disappointment.”

DO: “Well first it’s a T20 v Bangladesh tomorrow. Do you expect WI to win?”

GW: “WI you anticipate will dominate the game and should win very comfortably.”

DO: “Anything other than that would be a big surprise.”

AF: “Disaster!”

GW: “Disappointing.”

DO: “And in the Tests?”

GW: “More of the same. Hopefully some of the younger players can take their game forward and set themselves up for India.”

AF: “Finally a series we can win!”

Let’s end on a positive!!

The Mason & Guests show is broadcast live every Tuesday from 6.15-8pm ECT (10.15pm-midnight GMT)  on Voice of Barbados 92.9fm, and can be heard by clicking on ‘LISTEN LIVE’ on the website page via the link provided, or via numerous internet tune-in services.

David Oram

David Oram is the resident ‘statto’, and sometime presenter of ‘Mason & Guests’ – Voice of Barbados’ weekly cricket talk show, the leading cricket radio show in the West Indies – hosted by the Caribbean’s principal  radio commentator, Andrew Mason. You can tweet me at DavidOram@colblimp1983.

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