Not Forgetting the Tie

3rd September 2014

The Mason & Guests Show

Driven by serious discussion – going beyond the stats

Andrew was back for a week before heading off to cover the Tests v Bangladesh for radio. He neglected to comment on my neckwear this week, which he usually does – a Zimbabwe tie in honour of their ODI victory over Australia. His attention was turned to expressing his surprise and anger at the selection of a St Kitts & Nevis team to play the tourists in the warm-up game:

AM: “Where are we going with that? Pick a West Indies A team and players who are looking to get in the side: Blackwood hasn’t played for a bit; Carter is looking to break through; Kirk Edwards has trouble. But we picked players from St Kitts. I couldn’t believe it at all! In the studio we have our panel. David Oram – nice to see you. Thanks for hosting the show last week. I understand you did a good job?”

DO: “Nice to see you. I don’t know who told you that, Andrew – but they’re very kind. It’s nice to see you back on your show.”

Andrew Forde, Pearson Bovell and the former CEO of the BCA, Dr Roland Toppin were our guests. But first we went on the line to Montserrat, where we spoke to Ian Bishop, formerly one of WI’s best fast bowlers, now the region’s best TV commentator, about the ODI series:

AM: “Ian, are you happy with WI progress?”

IB: “I’m pleased with some aspects – with the way Ramdin and Darren Bravo batted, Pollard on occasion, but there are still problem areas. Opening the batting – in the first 2 ODIs WI should’ve won more convincingly. Still work to be done. Chris Gayle has to strike form, play aggressively and score bigger runs in ODIs for WI and he has to have a partner. I don’t know who that long-term partner will be with Kieron Powell out of the picture. Dwayne Smith has been tried and tried – whether they’re going to try him again, I don’t know. Kirk Edwards doesn’t look the person to be doing it. I’m happy with Ramdin; Pollard contributed under pressure in a significant innings, and Darren Bravo. I myself have had some interaction with him and I’ve reinforced the need to score hundreds at that 3 or 4 position. From a bowling perspective I’m reasonably happy with the resources. But batting – Dwayne Bravo’s batting did not fire. I want to see him looking more business-like in his approach.”

AM: “Are you happy with the squad for Friday?”

IB: “I’m not surprised the way they’ve gone. One or two guys decided to forsake the Tests to appear in the Champions League. That is their choice and they’re going to have to live with that. But it’s a squad that should beat Bangladesh. What I want to see from WI is the clinical approach to beating a team ranked lower than them. I want to see Roach and Taylor firing with the ball. Pace should feature big time, depending on the pitch. Then when WI bat I want to see someone like Darren Bravo dominate to the tune of a couple of hundreds in the series. We know what Chanderpaul can give us. There are other guys I want to see dominate.”

AM: “Andre Russell and Sunil Narine were part of this squad but preferred to go to the CLT20. Are you disappointed about that?”

IB: “I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed. The landscape of the modern day cricketer, in that so much money is paid for CLT20 and IPL – there’s a conflict with who a player should abide by. Having grown up and been given the foundation in the Caribbean then there should be some obvious tendency towards that. I don’t know what is right or wrong but if you make that choice they have to live with the consequences if the selectors decide to go with someone else in the next series and they shouldn’t complain. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

DO: “The WICB brought in the ‘West Indies First’ policy, which was one of the key points of the Pybus Report. Is this a contradiction allowing these players to go to this tournament? Is this not a massive u-turn by the WICB?”

IB: “It could be looked upon as that. That is the least of my concerns. These conflicts of interest are more complicated than it was years ago. We have to find a way to compromise at times. But the players themselves have to understand that if they make a commitment otherwise… I’m not holding it against them because if someone is paying USD$1m for example, 20% of that they’d withhold unless you appear in the CLT20 – it’s a no-brainer. Neither of those players who’ve gone – we’d like them to play Test cricket, much more so in Narine’s case – but they’re not guaranteed places. So I understand why they went. But the consequences may be that they’ll not make it ahead of someone else, a Suliemann Benn say, in the next series. They cannot be seen to be complaining if that happens. I understand what the Board is trying to do. But I think a ‘WI First’ policy is a difficult policy to enact in this era.”

DO: “Is it therefore more acceptable for them to go off and do this now against Bangladesh? Tony Cozier wrote about this issue in August and he thought the first time this would be put to the test would be the England tour next year. Well, it’s happened already. Is it going to be unacceptable when England come here, presumably full strength, if guys like Narine who would be first choice selections, go off and play in the IPL and don’t play versus England?”

IB: “That’s going to be a serious test. It’s probably going to come to a head. I remember when Mike Hussey went to the CLT20 a few years ago and he begged the ACB to make the decision for him. Should he go and meet the touring team in India or stay back and play the final end of the Champions League? They wanted to leave it up to him. And he said, ‘no, don’t leave it up to me. You’re a partner in this league – you tell me what I should do so I don’t look like the one who left my team at the CLT20, or who left Australia in India.’ There has to be a little bit of compromise. There has to be some principle. It’s a difficult situation and the players and the Board have to come to some sort of an agreement. For me, if  I have a contracted player – if one of my players choose to sign an annual contract, then he has to admit that I have call over when and where he can go – otherwise don’t sign that contract.”

AM: “How do you respond to someone who says ‘Country First’?”

IB: “Different era – a polarisation of thought on it. I’d like to feel the WI regional teams that grew me I’d feel allegiance to. Unless it’s a desperate situation I’m going to lean towards WI cricket. But it’s an individual judgement. When you’re dangling USD$1m in front of a player, what do you expect that guy to do?”

DO: “We talk about nations – one of the problems seems to me as a guest in this region is, ‘what is a nation?’ I’m in no doubt many of those players if they put on their own regional shirt, they’d die for that shirt, would go out and die for their country. But they don’t have the same allegiance and identity to the WI cricket team that previous generations have had. I might be well out of line with that suggestion, but I throw it out there.”

IB: “In an age of globalisation that paradigm of WI meaning so much to so many, for a younger generation is diluted. But we still have to teach our players value for a dollar. Honest work. Even if it’s not about nationhood, it’s about giving your all because you are employed.”

AM: “Pearson, you’ve got some strong views on this issue.”

PB: “I didn’t agree with the Board’s position. I totally disagreed with Narine’s case earlier in the year and thought it’d come back to haunt us. Even though I disagreed with it I hoped the Board would be consistent. Obviously, they are consistent with their inconsistency as usual.”

Pearson also felt strongly that the new partially-franchised 4-day regional tournament would be weakened by players being unable to naturally identify with their team. Ian responded:

IB: “The addition of the right overseas players in a franchise set up, as people who’ll be able to assist in the development by way of performance, sharing preparation methods, practice routines with players, is a benefit. During the CPL, Barbados people got behind the Tridents and its Trinidadian captain, Kieron Pollard as if he were one of their own. Suliemann Benn and Fidel Edwards strained every sinew for T&T Red Steel. Ramdin and Narine were playing as hard for Guyana Amazon Warriors. Once the franchise is taken ownership of by the country in which its based what is important is winning! The whole concept of nationhood as a fulcrum for interest in the regional tournament I respect but don’t see as necessary.”

Pearson responded by expressing a desire to see a system whereby the new, longer season is split into two – with the first half seeing genuinely national sides playing each other, and in the second half franchise teams competing. Ian challenged him:

IB: “Why do you feel the burning need to have a regional tournament based on national lines?”

PB: “Because you’re talking about sovereign nations – not Australian regions, or English counties.”

Dr Toppin agreed with Pearson:

RT: “In the Caribbean we look at bragging rights. The country is on a high when we win. I didn’t feel excitement when the Tridents won the CPL.”

AF: “Life isn’t about being static and being stuck in what we do. We’ve had ten years of mediocrity in this set up with sovereign nations – and the fans don’t even come to watch the cricket, even if we’ve had Barbados winning. Are the fans feeling as good as you think if they don’t come to watch? We’re trying to produce a product to get rid of insularity which has plagued us for a generation or two. Integrating players can dispel that and get us where we need to be as a WI team. The status quo doesn’t need to continue because it’s getting us nowhere. Isn’t it time to take the old framework, rip it apart and do something new?”

I pointed out that according to Vinode Mamchan, January’s Super50 would feature national sides with no franchising. Andrew asked Ian if he was surprised by Ottis Gibson’s departure:

IB: “I can’t say with his record in Tests and 50-over cricket I can argue too strongly. I just think the timing seemed strange. The New Zealand loss made it he couldn’t hold on any longer. I wish it had been done better and had less animosity.”

AM: “Did you rate Ottis as a coach?”

IB: “I think he learnt on the job about being a head coach. He had some really good ideas: his concept of taking ownership of the team by the players; the stress on getting guys stronger and fitter; the whole ethos of the team. I’m strongly in favour of that. He made some mistakes, he burnt a few bridges, and if he had to do it again I don’t think he’d do it the same way. He’s learnt and he’ll be a better coach for it.”

AM: “Would you give him a passing grade?”

IB: “He won a World T20 title. That was significant. But he didn’t get the results in 50-over and Test cricket. And the reason for regional cricket is not as an end unto itself. It’s to provide a strong WI team. If it’s not, then it has to be rejigged. The biggest goal is that it’s a breeding ground for WI cricketers. We mustn’t lose sight of that.”

DO: “Talking of breeding grounds, you had a conversation on air with Fazeer Mohammed about zero tolerance for pelters. You said it goes back to younger players and coaching. How important here in the Caribbean is the reconstruction of coaching and youth development?”

IB: “Hugely! Coaching is as important as oxygen in the development of cricket. Coaching in the Caribbean is really poor. Until we get the right techniques being implemented and imparted onto young players… how can a Ray Jordan, a Shane Shillingford, a Kevon Cooper or a Ronsford Beaton slip through the ranks with signs of illegitimacy in their bowling actions and not be picked up and corrected? We can’t say it’s a huge talent for a guy to execute a doosra because it’s illegal. Why should guys be legally practising what they do and be given an unfair advantage? Because they can’t do it if they’re not throwing. So why allow it? Coaching and umpiring are important. If these guys are called at the age group level then those actions will be smoothed out or they’ll have to depart the scene.”

AM: “Do you expect WI to win both Tests?”

IB: “Weather permitting. Nothing less than 2-0 will suffice v Bangladesh. WI need to win 2-0.”

And it was farewell to Ian and time to open the phone lines. First was a perturbed lady. She felt talking in terms of five balls bowled in an over as being ‘point 5’ of an over was a new innovation – and a mathematical nonsense. The ‘point’ is a decimal point she insisted. I felt she was wrong and told her so, pointing out that the ‘over’ was not a decimal entity. “He is an idiot!” she responded. Well, she was entitled to her point of view! Andrew called upon the mathematician on the panel to resolve the issue:

RT: “It’s just convention. It’s certainly not new. It’s been around for a long time.”

DO: “Does the caller propose we convert to a 10-ball over and a decimal game?”

Caller: “It is new and it is foolish!”

Andrew conceded defeat and thanked her for her contribution. A subsequent caller was far kinder to me. It was our regular correspondent, Winnie. We’ve had a running flirtation on the show and it was great to hear from her again:

Winnie: “Good night, Mr Mason!”

AM: “Hello, Winnie! How are you?”

Winnie: “Not too bad. David – hello my darling! I’d better give you a kiss. Your wife won’t beat me up because I’m an old lady.”

DO: “I can’t promise that – she’s a very jealous lady!”

Winnie: “She won’t be jealous of me, man. She’ll be glad.”

DO: “Mmm, I’ll check when I get home.”

Winnie: “She’ll be glad of the taste of chocolate!” [Huge laughter in the studio].

Winnie was dismayed at the youth in WI cricket:

Winnie: “These boys, you can’t teach ’em nothing. That’s why I’ve done with West Indies cricket. I don’t watch it no more. I don’t want no heart attacks.”

Our next caller wanted to thank us for regularly providing an interesting and thought provoking show:

AM: “Well, we are driven by serious discussion. We go beyond the stats!”

Next we were joined from St Vincent by former WI wicket-keeper, and former Chairman of Selectors, Mike Findlay:

AM: “Michael, everything for you is former!”

MF: “Andrew, you’re respectful to the old man!”

Mike was worried that the ticket sales for Friday’s Test were very slow and was also concerned about the weekend’s weather forecast:

MF: “There are three tropical waves coming off the African coast, heading our way. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

Andrew asked Mike how he expected the pitch to be for the Test?

MF: “It’s usually slow. Efforts are being made to leave some grass on it. If it does take some spin, WI may play two spinners. But Shillingford hasn’t been as effective as he was since he can’t bowl the doosra. He has to concentrate and bounce back.”

AM: “Are you surprised Gibson was fired?”

MF: “We have to be practical. I didn’t hear your programme last time but I read about it on the ‘net. It gave Gibson’s stats and they weren’t flattering. So I’m not surprised. We need success. A coach needs to be successful. He needs to show he’s moulding the team. I hope there wasn’t friction. He was there for four years and made a contribution. We have to respect that.”

DO: “Michael, you were quite outspoken at the weekend in a Trinidad Express article by Garth Wattley. You spoke about the players opting out of the Test to go to the CLT20. You said: ‘The Board has to be firm… it’s not firm enough in its administration of WI cricket… they have to get the players to understand that their first loyalty is to WI cricket… how could the Board after this say to any other player when selected they MUST play for WI?'”

MF: “We live in different times. I’m disappointed that some players don’t seem to have a loyalty to WI cricket. If they’d not been bred on WI cricket at international level they wouldn’t have got the contracts they have. I’m not against them making money – their lifespan is short. But clearly you have to do so in the context of your national team. You have to give preference to your national team when required. If we don’t do that we’ll lose our top players.”

Pearson was concerned that the players are annually in an invidious position because of the customary timing of the Caribbean’s early year home Tests, which are normally played in the months of March-May to avoid the Hurricane and Rainy seasons – but conflict with the scheduling of the IPL. Mike replied:

MF: “ICC should balance its fixtures with negotiations between the countries involved. We shouldn’t be playing, or travelling, in the Hurricane season.”

PB: “And it’s not going to get any better! India is controlling the cricket. India is at the forefront of the ICC superstructure.”

AM: “Indian cricketers don’t have that problem do they?”

MF: “And we’re not a big draw card anymore. When we were they would listen to us because they needed us.”

We went ‘Around the World in 2′. Next, Andrew asked Dr Toppin to tell us about his new cricket website, Topp!cricket:

RT: “Right now it’s concentrating on stats. There’s an emphasis on cricket statistics right now, but as we go on it’ll go around the world with interesting stories – the world is my audience. It’ll take on a global appearance. It’s developing. It’s getting interest.”

DO: “It’s a real growth industry online blogging – there’s not enough here in the Caribbean of quality cricket writing. Dr Toppin’s site is very informative and statistically based, with historical articles as well. My own site is Roland Butcher’s Hook. It’s a play on words – cockney rhyming slang in England is to ‘have a Butcher’s’ – a ‘Butcher’s hook’ is to have a look, and I’m looking at WI cricket, so it’s Roland Butcher’s Hook. I do a weekly review of this show, I post ‘Around the World in 2‘, feature original articles by myself and do a round-up of the region’s cricket writing and news. I’m hoping to do podcasts with colleagues, including Roland himself. But there’s other sites out there – a very popular site, I know because they monitor us on this show, is Caribbeancricket.com who have a forum most weeks listening to us at their pcs (and hear us being called ‘idiots’ by callers) and I know they’re following us now – so I want to say a big ‘hello’ to BatQuake, Sudden, Powen001 and Larr Pullo. Great that you’re listening, guys and keep listening to Mason & Guests.”

AM: “Is there money to be made from this?”

RT: “I definitely think so. Once you can build an audience and attract sponsorship and grow.”

AM: “Well, I welcome the information and I use it in commentating. Let’s leave with some stats. David, let’s look at how WI and Bangladesh have done.”

DO: “They’ve played 5 series before – WI have won 4, Bangladesh 1. That’s 10 Tests – WI have won 6, Bangladesh 2, with 2 draws. And in context overall, Bangladesh have played 83 Tests in their entire history – won 4, lost 68. WI have played 498 – bear in mind the 2nd Test in St Lucia will be their 500th Test Match – they’ve won 161, lost 168 and drawn 168. And one tie.”

AM: “One tie. You had to mention that of course!”

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

The forum of the guys at Caribbeancricket.com and their conversation thread discussing this week’s show can be found here.

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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