Fazeer Mohammed (FP)
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MAYBE IT’S TIME for another change to West Indies cricket’s badge of identity, at least in Tests.
No point bringing back the old one, the original coconut palm motif worn from the pre-Test days and encompassing all the great names right up to the mid-1990s. Apparently the switch had something to do with lack of copyright, as no revenue could be earned from it. So we’ve had the immediately identifiable and much more colourful one for the past 22 years or so.
But since it’s associated with the lowest times and longest period of struggle in the traditional format of the game, how about something completely different, like a washing machine? No, not for the obvious reasons – the literal “getting whites whiter than white” or symbolic “restoring our badly soiled image” – but for the sheer repetitiveness of the experience for more than two decades now.
It isn’t Jason Holder’s fault, because the present captain was still in Pampers (or whichever brand was in vogue) when Mark Taylor reclaimed the Frank Worrell Trophy for Australia in 1995 and provided the precipice for the Kaieteur Falls-type plunge to mediocrity that followed. Yet try as he might, and we can only assume that he is giving of his best, he is now locked into the same spin cycle of shallow phrases uttered by every skipper since Courtney Walsh replaced Richie Richardson in 1996.
Maybe at one time the words meant something. We happily accepted Wes Hall’s assertion, as manager of the team on the 1995 tour of England, that what had transpired at Sabina Park (losing the final Test to Australia by an innings and so the series for the first time in 15 years) was but an “aberration”. Indeed it was in the context of the preceding unrivalled period of dominance.
Since then, though, successive principals in West Indies cricket on both the administrative and playing sides have crowed confidently about an impending “turnaround”.
Brian Lara, arguably our most articulate, eloquent and probably most influential of captains during this period of strife, would often utter something along the lines of “it can’t get any worse” in the immediate aftermath of particularly acute humiliation. No one that I can recall, this writer included, was prepared to challenge him when something even more galling unfolded subsequently.
Look, we even fell for Allen Stanford’s cowboy-style proclamation: “West Indies cricket is back on track . . . Yeehaa!” after Guyana clinched the inaugural Stanford Twenty20 title in August of 2006 under the bright lights of the Stanford (now Coolidge) Cricket Ground. Or was it that we wanted to believe him? Or was it that the greenbacks flowing all over the place tied the tongues of most of those who should have known better?
So if Holder sounds like a broken record, even in an era of iPads and iTunes, in the aftermath of every Test defeat as he goes through the drill of “taking the positives out of it”, “learning from the experience”, “going back to the drawing board” etc., etc., it’s only because this is the way of the beaten West Indies Test cricket captain for years upon years.
There was one time – just one time – when Tony Cozier, who then did all the post-match presentations for television, had just about enough. After Chris Gayle switched on autopilot to talk of “taking positives” from losing to Sri Lanka in Guyana in 2008, T.C. insisted that he specify those positives, prompting stumbling, fumbling and subsequent scowling from a captain clearly annoyed at being expected to justify a statement.
Yet this wide array of hollow platitudes, as amusing as it is to recall, doesn’t even paper over the real issues, which we all know but have no real desire to address.
Barbadian Joe Hoad, son of Teddy Hoad, who captained the first West Indies Test team at home at Kensington Oval in 1930, served briefly as team psychologist 16 years ago. In those few months, he saw enough to identify the real ailment – a malignancy is how he described it – in West Indies cricket, as recounted in Tony’s column here on May 27, 2001:
“The West Indies Cricket Board has been ineffective in dealing with it, stymied by the compliant attitude of some of its individual member boards, and successive managers and coaches have found themselves made the scapegoats. Hoad spoke of a general indifference, of a lack of respect for former players and for sponsors, of low fitness levels and of an aversion to hard and proper practice.”
It’s almost a year since Tony’s passing, and Joe left this phase of existence a week ago in his adopted Australian home. Still, no sweet-soaping or whitewashing will alter these harsh realities for those with eyes to see, ears to hear . . . and even a spin cycle to manage.
Fazeer Mohammed is a regional cricket journalist and broadcaster who has been covering the game at all levels since 1987.