Resurrecting John Arlott

20th September 2014

The Mason & Guests Show

Commentators, experts, and armchair enthusiasts

DO: “The West Indies have won their 500th Test Match. An hour or so before the end of play today, many of us thought we’d be turning on our TVs the same time in the morning. But no, it’s all over. I’ll be looking closely at the game with my very good friend, Dr Andrew Forde.”

AF: “Glad to be here discussing something positive about WI cricket.”

DO: “And it’s great to also have with us on the line, Reds Perreria. Is St Lucia a happy place this evening, Reds?”

RP: “Yes. Test Match victories these days are quite scarce, and this is a 2-0 victory. Maybe we could have been a little more clinical, and some feel we should’ve won in two and a half days. St Vincent was a very slow track. This was a much better track for fast bowlers, but a partnership of over a hundred held up WI. It’s a new look team with Johnson being introduced and Blackwood coming back in after getting blooded v NZ. But we have to think of the battles ahead. How competitive will this side be against India where there’ll be spin and swing? And against South Africa which will be pace like fire, with a fair amount of short stuff? Of this squad I’m not sure if Kirk Edwards will be maintained. He needs a score. But if you take this twelve and add Gayle, Narine and Simmons you have the makings of a team. They may take Nikita Miller in place of Shillingford because without the doosra he’s like a tiger without teeth. And they may look for a young fast bowler. It’s starting to take shape. But we can’t expect Clive Lloyd to wave a magic wand to produce a world beating team. It’s going to take a lot longer than most West Indians think.

DO: “You mentioned that partnership – in a way WI did want to be stretched in these two Tests as much as possible. It’s a double-edged sword – you want to win convincingly, and yet you want to be tested. It’s no good to win too easily when you have far sterner tests ahead. You talked there about potential spinners – Omari Banks this week was beseeching the selectors to take three front-line spinners to India. Do you think they will?”

RP: “India is known for spin. But who are those three front-line spinners? Bishoo was very promising but needs to have a good first-class season this year before he comes back into the picture. Damion Jacobs, the promising leg-spinner from Jamaica, looked a good prospect. He comes to mind. But Miller must be given some consideration. He’s very accurate, he builds pressure and doesn’t bowl too many bad balls. But they may still stay with Shillingford. Omari Banks may get his wish. But there’s an opportunity to try a few people on the A tour in Sri Lanka with the hope they’ll be selected for India. Although I am told the selection will be made in a matter of days.”

AF: “Does it bother you that we don’t have a coach as we embark on these tours?”

RP: “Yes. I interviewed President Cameron, but didn’t ask him about the appointment of a coach because he wasn’t going to give me any positive news. But one of the names being knocked around is Phil Simmons. He’s a logical contender and has shown interest before. My understanding is that Simmons was due to be Ottis Gibson’s assistant, but it didn’t happen. I didn’t like how the Gibson departure was done so late. We had ample time after New Zealand to have done it in a different way, where we wouldn’t be arriving in Grenada with no coach. There’s no indication a new coach is around the corner. But that decision could be made in a week or two’s time.”

AF: “What did you think of the batting of young Johnson? We haven’t seen him a lot, but he’s been around touring teams for the last three years or so. He got his chance and he grabbed it.”
RP: “Technique won the day for him. He’s not a natural opener. I think he’s opened three times for Guyana. He played one ODI in Canada and was taken to NZ, but these days the tours are very short. If you don’t get runs in that first game, then that’s it. It’s then Test, followed by Test, followed by Test. He’s 27. He’s not exactly old. He bowls a decent leg-break, and I hope the coaching staff will encourage him and Blackwood to bowl a bit more. I’m also wondering if Jason Holder would be a better prospect than Gabriel? I don’t like the comparison of Gabriel with Wayne Daniel. Daniel was a big man, but when he hit the crease he had very good rhythm. I expect them to go along with Gabriel, but how long will we see Jason Holder carrying the drinks?”

DO: “Not for long we hope. You mentioned Gabriel and Daniel there – it seems to me that Gabriel in his delivery stride appears to pull back. He doesn’t run through the crease. He leans back, whereas Daniel went upright and leaned through, and came crashing through the crease. His momentum took him forward, while Gabriel almost backs away. Apart from the physique of the two men, it doesn’t seem a fair comparison.”

RP: “No, it’s not. And at times Gabriel bowled too wide outside off-stump. You’ve got to make the batsmen play. This was a better pitch than in St Vincent. Taylor and Roach looked a good pair, and Benn is among the wickets again. But Clive Lloyd has now called, quite rightly, for loyalty. Narine and others aren’t available now, but will be available for India and South Africa. But the IPL is going to clash with the England tour. What does a selection panel do? Nobody expects us to win in India. But if we are competitive and do well there and in South Africa – and then all of a sudden you lose players because they’re going to the IPL. There was earlier a ‘West Indies first’ statement from Richard Pybus, and Lloyd has again raised the issue. WI cricket must come first. I know it’s easy for me to say, and a person has to look after his bank balance, but how much money in life do you need? How many people will remember you as an IPL player?”

DO: “Let me read what Clive Lloyd said as reported in the Jamaica Star:

‘What we are saying is that anytime we have our cricket we would like you to be here. You must play in our cricket. And, hope the players take it on board… What we are asking the players to do (ahead of the England series) is to show loyalty, and that WI cricket comes first. I know some people may not like how that sounds, but our cricket has got to be first… We can understand the situation (of the players), however, it is not all about earning money.'”

RP: “The trouble is how do you… I don’t want to use the word ‘enforce’… how do you make that happen? There must be a timeline where the selectors need to know which way the player’s going. How do you get that kind of loyalty without legislating?”

AF: “All the top teams have no difficulty with it. India rule the IPL, so they set it when it won’t clash with their series. Australia, England – there’s really no other team that has the problem we have.”

RP: “I agree.”

AF: “Because of our lowly status in international cricket the IPL is positioned in a place where it clashes with our season. But not all players are Test players. If a guy wants to play the IPL – all well and good. But we can’t have this continuing ‘in and out’ of the Test team. And we’ll be better off for it. We need stability.”

RP: “Australian players, for example seem to have a greater commitment to Australian cricket than our present players do for WI. Some don’t go to the IPL and stay at home and work on their game. I haven’t seen that from a WI player. I would love to.”

AF: “Our players are paid pretty well. They’re not the lowliest paid players on the planet. It can’t be just a money thing. It has something to do with what you really believe in, and what do you like more. If a player declares his hand and wants to be in the leagues then we should let him go that way and look for others.”

RP: “Should players be honest enough to say upfront, ‘I’m going to the IPL next year, so you make your decision?’ Am I being naive?”

AF: “We know the players who’ll be contracted to the IPL and the Board knows them too.”

DO: “Let’s be honest. The top name on this list is the guy who again didn’t play in this series against Bangladesh, who didn’t play against New Zealand, and if you were a betting man won’t be playing against England – and that’s Sunil Narine. Does WI take an attitude and say ‘okay, Narine’s not going to be part of our plans’, and write him off, and say when he is available, ‘sorry, we’re still not picking you’?”

RP: “They’ve already said not being available for Bangladesh will not affect him in the future. That was maybe a soft indicator.”

DO: “Do you think they will say the same when it comes to England? The comments by Clive Lloyd indicate that they won’t be quite so conciliatory then.”

RP: “Basically, Lloyd has sent a very strong message to everybody. There are not many going to the IPL who’d be in line for Test selection. I’d like to see Simmons, he’s got talent and would make the batting stronger. Then there’s Gayle, Narine, perhaps Samuels. It’s not a large group of players. I don’t know what you feel about Dwayne Bravo? Can he make the side?”

DO: “Personally, I wouldn’t have thought so. A name you haven’t mentioned there is Kieron Pollard, who to me is playing a lot of very mature cricket. He still has years ahead of him. I’m not so sure about Dwayne Bravo.”

AF: “Pollard’s problem is he’s contracted to so many teams and leagues. Dwayne Bravo isn’t Test quality anymore. Dwayne leaks at least one boundary an over. He’s inconsistent, he’s experimental and Test cricket is about building pressure. When he was younger he was a useful player, but we have to characterise him alongside Darren Sammy. There’s little difference between them as cricketers. And the application – even in 50-over cricket – every time the pressure is on he’s back in the pavilion in a short time. In Test cricket the pressure is relentless. We don’t have any all-rounders in the Caribbean except for maybe Holder and Carlos Brathwaite.”

DO: “Andre Russell?”

AF: “Russell is very agricultural as a batsman, and the shorter version suits him more. Test bowlers aren’t going to allow him to get that leeway. Reds’ idea that batsmen should be working on their bowling will help the team to be stronger.”

RP: “I think the WI did try and court Pollard towards the longer version, but I get the impression that he was not interested. He’s made his decision. We have to live with that. On Bravo, the Board and selectors need to say to him: ‘You are a WI captain. There is an certain expected standard for your behaviour.’ Bravo has been known as a bit of a showboat. A man who likes to attract the media. If former greats had danced and masqueraded as much as he does every time they took a wicket they’d be very tired at the end of the day. I know I sound very old-fashioned, but leadership is leadership.”

DO: “I’d be surprised if Dwayne Bravo ever plays Test cricket again.”

AF: “I’d be disappointed if he did.”

DO: “He’s nearly 31. He should be at his absolute peak as a cricketer. But it’s almost four years since he played a Test. And as he gets older the WI must already be looking to who is going to be their next one-day skipper – probably in both short formats. There’s other players on the horizon. I’ve had an email, Reds asking you how long will Chris Gayle go on for and if you think Gayle will be picked to go to India, or will they persevere with Leon Johnson? Although I’m not sure that’s mutually exclusive.”

RP: “If we’d seen Powell come on we’d be in a better position to think of not needing Gayle. But Powell has asked to take a break from the game. I don’t know for how long, but he’s ruled himself out. I think Gayle will go to India, but I don’t see him going beyond the 2015 World Cup. And at sometime the Board has to sit down with Chanderpaul and make sure there is a good ending to his career. We need an exit plan that works. I hope the WI Board does the right thing and talks with him. He looks as though he can go on well into his forties, but we all come to a point when it’s time for us to stop.”

DO: “True. And I think this applies to cricket folk not just on the field, but off it as well – people prefer it when they make the decision to retire themselves, rather than to be retired.”

RP: “It’s always good to have a pleasant departure. If you look back we’ve had a number of situations where the farewell was not a good one.”

AF: “We’ve had a lot of discussion of Chanderpaul in recent weeks. Some people feel retirement ages should be enforced, and performance shouldn’t matter. Darren Bravo has been seen as his successor, but he hasn’t been making the scores that he ought to.”

RP: “I recently did an interview with Carl Hooper. He said if he could change one thing, he would have gone into the nets and hit more balls. It was an admittance that he didn’t work as hard as he should have, but relied on natural talent. I think we can apply the same thing to Darren Bravo. He’s not working hard enough. Lawrence Rowe and Alvin Kallicharran used to practice twice a day. I don’t know what the work ethic is. I’m hoping Clive Lloyd will get some of that back. We’ve got to be stronger in that area.”

AF: “There seems to be no responsibility on a player. How seriously do we take our cricket? And our bowlers look jaded and fatigued after less than a day in the field. The fitness of the players needs to be addressed. I don’t think they’re fully fit physically, or mentally.”

RP: “I’m hoping Ambrose will be appointed as the bowling coach. Right now he’s a consultant. I don’t like that tag. It doesn’t give him a clear mandate. He wants the bowlers to be patient. Clive Lloyd has a major role to play, but the players have to go out there and take responsibility.”

DO: “I hope people’s expectations are realistic. In the tour of India, the manner of WI’s cricket is going to be more important than the result. They can come back having lost every Test as long as they have fought.”

RP: “We want to forget the last tour of India when we lost twice inside three days. We want to put that behind us.”

DO: “That was a circus. The last tour was the Tendulkar Circus, and WI were the clowns.”

RP: “And we prepared by going to Miami, instead of going to India to get aclimatised.”

DO: “I remember you on this show, Reds at that time, before they’d even set foot in India, saying ‘what on Earth are these boys doing in Miami? You watch and see what happens’.”

RP: “Well, I think it’ll be different this time. Lloyd has been a very strong influence. I don’t think he’ll tolerate nonsense, and he’ll work on the pride and mental toughness.”

DO: “Reds, I know your TV show is back on tonight at 8pm: Winner’s TV’s Sports Talk with Reds Perreira on LIME channel 80, and FLOW channel 55 in St Lucia. And for the rest of us, we can go to our computers and stream it live at http://www.winnerstv.com. If I can get to my pc ahead of my wife when I get home, I’ll be tuning in. And thank you for timing your show not to clash with Mason & Guests! It means we can get home and watch. But now it’s time to go Around the World in 2.”

DO: “Let’s go to the phones and open up the lines. Good evening, and welcome to Mason & Guests.”

Caller 1: “We’re talking loyalty to WI cricket. Was there loyalty during the Packer era? Players’ careers are short. In the Packer era there was loyalty too – but to whom?”

AF: “The players were fighting for salaries and wages.”

DO: “Let’s not prevaricate. You ask was there loyalty then? The answer is no, not initially. That’s why it was a bigger scandal than anything that has happened with the IPL. History has looked back and said the players were right, and that Kerry Packer was right. At the time, administrators couldn’t see that and they played the loyalty card. But the point was that then the players were mere surfs within the game, and were paid a relevant pittance. Their lot is a great deal better now. I’m sure they’d want it to be ten times what they earn, and as international sportsmen they compare themselves to tennis players or golfers and ask ‘why can’t I earn like that?’ The issues are similar to the Packer era, but because the players were right then does not mean that doing similar now, is necessarily right now. All of us, if we were put into the position of trying to maximise our earnings, to put our kids through university, have a nice lifestyle and have financial security – yes, we would go off and play in the IPL. But there comes a point at which you ask ‘have I now got enough money?’ and ‘can I do more for my nation?'”

Caller 2: “I think commentary in the Caribbean has gone to a new low. All we can hear is a lot of talk of politics, hotels and irrelevance.”

DO: “I enjoy the commentary. I like my radio commentary – whether here in the Caribbean, or in England listening to Test Match Special – to incorporate things other than the cricket, as long as it doesn’t miss the cricket. I get far more annoyed when I listen to commentary or watch the television and miss some of the cricket because they’re at adverts. That drives me round the twist. I take your point, but this is not the week to ring in and make it. You should be taking that up with Andrew Mason himself.”

Caller 2: “David, I wonder if I’ve done the right thing, seeing as Andrew is your boss!”

(Laughter in the studio).

DO: “No, no, no, no!”

AF: “The weakness in our commentary comes more in the short form of the game. The vocabulary of the commentators is something we need to work on. I know Danny Morrison is the king of excitement, but even our commentators get a bit too excited, and our descriptions leave a lot to be desired.”

DO: “I felt very strongly about foreign commentators when we watched the CPL. An email here says: ‘The WI doesn’t need foreign commentators, apart from the guest from their opponents. They definitely don’t need the likes of Danny Morrison.’ There’s a place for enthusiasm and there’s a place for Caribbean joie de vivre to express itself. If people were listening to dull, boring and dour radio commentaries they’d soon switch off. This is the Caribbean. I want to hear Andrew Mason’s enthusiasm, even if it is Brathwaite and Chanderpaul batting!”

Caller 3: “When Reds Perreira was on earlier, he thought that Shiv Chanderpaul should retire. On what criteria?!”

DO: “On his behalf, what he was trying to say is that Chanderpaul is 40, and he probably won’t go on forever – but he’d be reassured if he knew the selectors had some sort of succession plan in place. It’s more than likely he won’t have the same powers of hand-eye co-ordination at 42-43. I don’t think Reds for a moment was saying Shiv should retire.”

Caller 3: “We’re watching a phenomenon. Most beings rapidly lose their hand-eye co-ordination at this time. But Shiv isn’t losing that spark. If I’m a hundred years old and I’m still jumping around and performing, why do I need viagra?!”

(More studio laughter).

Caller 4: “I want to congratulate the WI Women, but not the WI men, because I don’t consider them to have beaten anyone.”

DO: “Interesting that you’re congratulating the WI Women on beating New Zealand. A year or so ago people were having a similar reaction when WI men beat NZ over here. I remember the estimable Dr Christine Cummings being totally underwhelmed on this show. They’ve since managed to lose to them. They are an up and coming side and have got better, and I wouldn’t be surprised if NZ become a top 4 side in the next 2-3 years. I don’t by implication mean to say that Bangladesh are going in that same direction, but as Tony Cozier said the other day, ‘a win is a win’.”

Caller 5: “This thing about the coach. People are making too much of a fuss. They get over-coached and we are over-complicating the game. Cricket is a basic game: See de ball, hit de ball; Bowlers – see de stumps, lick dem down; Fielder – see de ball, catch de ball. It’s foolishness!”

DO: “I know one person who’d disagree with you caller, and that’s Winston Stafford who said last week on this show that there’s far, far more to cricket than just bat and ball. He talked at great length about developing not just the cricket skills of players, but their personal skills as well. So much of the game is in the mind and in motivation, and that’s where the coach has a role to play.”

Caller 5: “You need a mentor more than a coach. Clive Lloyd was so successful because people looked up to him. They would go to ‘Uncle Clive’ if they had a problem. They need someone they can look up to who has status and has an avuncular role who would serve as a mentor.”

DO: “Whatever you’re going to call it, whether a coach or mentor, you need some sort of father figure, or senior figure. If Curtly Ambrose is confirmed as the bowling coach, there’s no reason why he can’t take on that kind of responsibility too, as an immensely respected cricketer and man.”

Caller 6: “People keep calling for Chanderpaul’s head. In the past WI got rid of all of the greats – Greenidge, Haynes, Richards. We’ve got to get the youngsters in batting with Shiv so that by the time he leaves they’re seasoned Test cricketers.”

DO: “The Caribbean seems to like to call for people’s heads – and they need to always have a head to call for. In the last year we’ve seen Sammy’s head be chopped as Captain; Clyde Butts was chopped as Chairman of Selectors; Ottis Gibson the Coach was chopped.”

AF: “Whose head do we get next? The President?”

DO: “I don’t think Dave Cameron should be on the list just yet. It’s very unfair for anyone to suggest Chanderpaul should be the next to go.”

Caller 7: “Why don’t they use Tony Cozier anymore?”

DO: “I’ve not heard Tony on the TV or radio this year. I do wonder if he has retired, or whether somebody has retired him.”

Caller 7: “Well, England wants to bring back John Arlott and let him commentate from home on his TV.”

AF: “I think you mean Richie Benaud.”

DO: “They’d struggle to bring back John Arlott. He’s been dead for over twenty years.”

AF: “It would be a miracle.”

Caller 7: “Why don’t our batsmen score ones and twos like Chanderpaul? You can’t hit every ball for four. These boys don’t move their feet. It’s not T20, it’s five days.”

AF: “Some people are stuck in the past and remember us dominating. But what we’ve had the last few years is players who can hit two or three fours in an over and then go back to the pavilion. They haven’t got the defense and concentration to bat for long periods. Shiv is trying to teach the guys this lesson. If you stay there the runs will come and you can wait and put away the bad ball. This is the type of cricket we have to play in Tests to survive. Batsmen who can build an innings. These modern day ‘ball-beaters’ are just not cutting it.”

DO: “Brathwaite is learning fast. And I also liked Johnson in this Test. I know it’s only Bangladesh, but you can only play what’s put in front of you. You can tell a lot about a cricketer when they make that step up. It’s not just who you are playing against, but it’s the stage. To make an analogy – if you’re an actor in local rep, you might be a very fine actor, but when you go onto a big international stage in New York or London, some freeze, however good an actor they are. And the same applies to top sportsman. They might score hundred after hundred in local competitions, but then fail when they step up. Others blossom. Johnson looked like a Test cricketer.”

Caller 8: “Mr Forde – what is your forte in sport?”

AF: “I’m a cricket lover like many others. I’m a doctor by trade, but I watch all sports. And I’m President of the Body Building Association.”

Caller 8: “You mentioned in South Africa they have swinging wickets. Tell me where in South Africa there are swinging wickets? There is no wicket in the world that is a swinging wicket! A wicket doesn’t swing. A bowler swings the ball, not the wicket. A wicket doesn’t swing by itself!”

DO: “Caller, I think all of us knew what Andrew meant. I think you’re being deliberately obtuse.”

Caller 8: “Mr Forde mentioned a lot of inaccuracies about commentators. These commentators in the Caribbean are poor. Very poor! You’ve sat there and defended them this evening, and tried to give the Barbados public and people of the Caribbean that they ‘do this’ or ‘do that’…”

AF: “I think I did mention their inadequacies…”

Caller 8: “No you didn’t!”

AF: “I also mentioned their lack of analysis. Your ears may be inaccurately hearing things. But we appreciate your call.”

Caller 8: “When it comes to cricket and commentating, I’d beat you in any form, in any PhD, whatever. And you can’t win me! You know why?”

AF: “Because you’re an expect at it, I suspect.”

Caller 8: “Very much so!”

AF: “I gather that from listening to you, caller. You sound like a man who knows what he’s talking about.”

Caller 8: “You know what, I’ve been listening to you, right. And I tried to call, but they say, ‘don’t let me call’! But when you mentioned about these swinging wickets, it shows to me that the knowledge disseminating from you, where cricket is concerned, I really don’t understand it.”

AF: “But tell us, you are a guy who knows a lot about cricket and I’m sure I’d appreciate your guidance and knowledge. We’ve just had a series between Bangladesh and WI – is there any light you can shed on that? Anything you can tell us to illuminate what’s happened?”

Caller 8: “Listen Mr Forde, in order for a ball to swing the bowler’s got to swing it. The wicket can’t swing by itself.”

AF: “I think you’ve repeated yourself, unless there’s something new you have to say, caller? Say something else.”

DO: “You’ve made your point, caller. We appreciate your insight as a pedant, but not necessarily as a cricket expert. But thank you very much for calling into the show and sharing your views. Andrew, the last caller seemed very passionate! The word ‘expert’ was used. I don’t think we’ve ever put ourselves forward as ‘experts’. We had an expert on this show earlier, in Reds Perreria.”

AF: “Well, we’ve had Ambrose, Clive Lloyd, Roland Butcher…”

DO: “I’d identify experts as people who get paid for their insight into the game. Andrew Mason is paid as a broadcaster, therefore you can call him an expert, or a professional. Graeme West, the High Performance Centre coach who’s often on this show, is a professional. I don’t think you or I have ever dared consider ourselves as anything other than enthusiasts.”

AF: “Fortunately not. I couldn’t earn a living as an expert. We’re armchair enthusiasts.”

DO: “I’m very sorry that caller was offended at us having opinions.”

AF: “The important thing is that commentators do a great job, but nobody’s perfect.”

DO: “Except for my wife.”

AF: “Of course. Everyone’s learning their art. In all things we can always improve. That’s a fact, and we strive to do that. That’s what living is all about.”

DO: “Well Andrew, I’d like to thank you for joining me here in the studio this evening, and thanks also to Reds Perreira, who joined us on the phone from St Lucia. I’ve been your host this evening, David Oram. Next week, Andrew Mason should be back in the chair. It certainly won’t be me, because I’ll be in Chicago with my wife, Christine. And speaking of Christine, I just want to congratulate her on the appointment of her new job she got this morning.”

AF: “Fantastic!”

DO: “Fantastic news, and I’m ever so proud of her. But that’s enough from us for this evening. Thanks for tuning in, even if you didn’t like hearing what we had to say!”

AF: “Well, we had enough callers – that proves people were listening, David!”

DO: “The Mason & Guests show will be back with you at the same time next week, and in the words of Andrew Mason himself: ‘Here’s hoping for a brighter tomorrow’. Goodnight!”

David Oram

We had a little bit of feedback again from the guys at Caribbeancricket.com, and you can read their comments 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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