A Poisoned Chalice by John Holder

6th September 2014

Patrolling the Boundary  – a view from the outfield

With the departure of Ottis Gibson, yet another has left the post of West Indies Coach. Long before Ottis’s departure many so called experts were blaming him for the team’s recurring failures, but when will the players be blamed for their lack of success?

The job of West Indies Head Coach has been a poisoned chalice. Numerous experienced people have held the post and have all failed to stop the rot. We plunged from the dizzy heights of being the best team in the world for about 15 years, to being the laughing stock of world cricket, only marginally better than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh near the bottom of the ladder. Some of the coaches under whose stewardship the team failed are Roger Harper, Malcolm Marshall, Bennett King, John Dyson and latterly, Ottis. In every instance the coach was blamed for the lack of success but coaches are soft targets and just blaming them resolves nothing. At some stage players have to take the blame for continuing failure.

In my early years of umpiring in the mid 80’s I was approached by a county player about the possibility of coaching his team. I declined because I backed myself to succeed as an umpire at the highest level but coaching is different. You can do all the necessary preparation, technical, mental and motivational with the boys but when they step onto the field they are on their own and have to be able to think on their feet. Clearly our boys are incapable of doing this.

During the St Kitts Test against South Africa in 2010, a former player asked some of the WI players how they felt they were doing at International level? They told him that they felt they were doing well and had nothing to improve on. This sort of comment is the reason why our team languishes near the bottom of world cricket. Complacency breeds inertia and a refusal to face reality. The secret is to practice harder to hone your skills and improve.

The former great South African golfer, Gary Player was told by a spectator how lucky he was to be so successful. Player’s reply was “the harder I practice the luckier I become”. Maybe West Indian players should try Player’s method and stop blaming the coaches?

John Holder

John Holder is a highly respected former international umpire, who stood in Tests & ODIs between 1988-2001, and in 1st-class cricket from 1982-2009. He was also the innovative mind behind the introduction of the ‘bowl-out’ to settle washed out one-day games.


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