TONY COZIER: West Indies need to start fresh
THE WEST INDIES’ unconvincing performances in yet another World Cup, culminating in their elimination in the quarter-final, is a certain, unsurprising signal for the urgent need for reconstruction with fresh, young recruits.
Friday’s appointment of Phil Simmons, the former West Indies opener, as the new head coach and the impressive development of 23-year-old captain Jason Holder on his challenging initiations in South Africa and the World Cup come at an appropriate time. They coincide with the reality that several of the long-established players are on the wrong side of 30, most nearing the end of their careers.
Chris Gayle, for more than a decade the leader of the batting from the top of the order, is 35, a veteran of 103 Tests and 266 One-Day Internationals (ODIs). A chronic back problem kept him out of a Test against Bangladesh last September and the subsequent three Tests in South Africa in December; it required constant medical attention to get him ready for yesterday’s quarter-final.
Sulieman Benn is 33 with similar back issues that affected him during the World Cup. Marlon Samuels, also 33, has been in the team for 15 years. Darren Sammy and Dwayne Smith are 31, Lendl Simmons, Denesh Ramdin and Jerome Taylor 30.
At 40, the reliable Shivnarine Chanderpaul has uncharacteristically struggled for runs in the first season of the first-class West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) Professional Cricket League (CPL). His highest score in 12 innings for the champions Guyana was 77, his average 38.
The clock is ticking for them all.
As it is, Sammy and Simmons, a marginal player in the longer game, have retired from Test cricket, Smith from all first-class cricket. Like Gayle, they remain tied to contracts in Indian Premier League (IPL) that directly clashes with the three home Tests against England in April and May. It is a situation that conflicts with the recently stated West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) policy of “West Indies first”.
Current Test captain Ramdin and Taylor, who has returned after a lengthy layoff through injury to reclaim his position as main strike bowler, are the only over-30s who might retain their places through to the 2019 World Cup.
Simmons, an esteemed national coach of Ireland over the past seven years, returns to find West Indies cricket in a state of deterioration unrecognisable from when he played his 25 Tests and 143 ODIs between 1988 and 1997. His tough challenge is to improve its status.
It will necessarily take time; his contract is initially for three years. There is just a month before he assembles a preparation camp for the squad prior to the first of three home Tests against England.
He will be under immediate pressure from a public already disenchanted with the state of affairs for his team to deliver against opponents themselves seeking redemption after their first round exit in the World Cup.
It is essential that he immediately earn the confidence of the Test and ODI captains, Ramdin, a fellow Trinidadian, and Holder and liaises closely with chief selector Clive Lloyd. He also needs to let the board realise that he is in charge and it should not meddle in his work.
Simmons arrives nearing the end of the first season of the PCL with its expanded season from one to two rounds and the installation, for the first time, of 90 full-time professionals from the six traditional teams.
A few promising young batsmen have emerged through the tournament to press others, such as Leon Johnson, Jermaine Blackwood and Jonathan Carter, who didn’t make full use of their chances against Bangladesh, South Africa and at the World Cup.
After 27 of the 30 matches, there were 20 hundreds, a significant increase. This is counteracted by the continuing dominance of spinners (seven among the ten top wicket-takers) and the dearth of genuine fast bowlers in a region where, it seemed, any number could once be seen on any beach hurling down 90 mph thunderbolts.
There is one further point for Simmons to make, perhaps best through the WICB’s cricket committee that includes five Test players. It is for more attention to be paid to the organisation of regional tournaments.
The WICB added the Under-19s and Combined Colleges and Campuses (CCC) to the six territorial teams for the 50-overs Nagico Super50 in January; to accommodate sponsors, all matches were scheduled in Trinidad and Tobago.
The eight were divided into pools of four each, leaving just three matches for those eliminated in the first round, a maximum of five to the four which advanced. It was clearly inadequate, especially after the weather led to the abandonment of three matches.
The split of the PCL into two segments, the first November 14 to December 8, the second February 6 to March 23, meant a disjointed arrangement.
The climb back for West Indies cricket starts from the bottom. It will remain stuck where it is without better planning at the regional level.