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Changes to WI selection panel show promise

Published: 
Sunday, August 17, 2014

Selecting any cricket team anywhere is very difficult. When it comes to West Indian teams, the process becomes so fraught with insinuations, innuendoes, even insider politics, that an already thankless job becomes almost impossible. Whatever selectors do, they will never please everyone everywhere.

Like predicting stock markets, selectors should follow their intuition and reliance on situations which are not always obvious or even existent.  They have to take bold chances and choices, mostly believing heads more than hearts, using foresight, very hard tasks indeed. But the changes published by West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) that former WI captain Clive Lloyd will head a revamped WICB selection panel, as I had predicted, is cause for reserved hope.

That panel will also include two former WI opening bowlers Courtney Walsh and Eldine Baptiste, vastly experienced campaigners, along with retained former wicket-keeper Courtney Brown, which gives a tantalising taste that the process will be handled much differently than has transpired over recent years. It also shows that fast bowlers are not as dumb as many think. Those spinner selectors were terrible.

Head coach Ottis Gibson, also a former fast bowler, has a vote on this panel, while team captains will contribute opinions but no actual vote. That latter part of that equation is seriously flawed, backwards even. Captains must have a vote too. Cricket is not like football, where a coach alone selects teams, sending them out with nominal captains, outfield players doing their only job, kicking balls around, nothing significantly different by any of them. Like only goal-keepers, cricket is a game of individual specialists. Each bowler is unique, batsmen’s functionality all-together different, while all-rounders can do both. Wicket-keepers, like goal-keepers, are a breed apart.  

Necessary bowling changes can only come from captains on the field, not coaches on sidelines. Since active substitutions are not yet allowed in cricket, cricket coaches’ jobs are superfluous; that is expendable. Meanwhile, cricket captains always lead from the front. Only cricket captains on the field could use those unexplainable inner feelings, based on present assessments, to manipulate and make appropriate bowling changes to secure wickets, hopefully, ultimately, gaining success. 

Therefore, captains must have much more than just an input. They must have active votes on players they want as company on the field, with the understanding that confidence in, and chemistry with especially bowlers, make tremendous allies in getting the best performances out of those who trundle. Ironically, it was Lloyd himself, appointed WI captain for 1974/5’s tour to India, who brought that neo-modern belief that captains must have final words as to whom should be selected. Also, there is no doubting Lloyd’s excellent eye for unheralded talent.
 
His first out-of-the-box selections, on his first tour as captain, were young, aggressive, untried batsmen Sir Vivian Richards and Gordon Greenidge, now batting legends in our cricketing firmament. Greenidge made 93 and 107 on debut, Richards made 192 not out in his second Test, history eventually confirming Lloyd’s brilliant vision on that duo. Lloyd, singularly focused as captain-cum-selector, also saw a young, speedy, relatively raw Sir Andy Roberts emerge. Roberts had played only one Test before somehow bowling so quickly and so well that he got 32 wickets in five Tests, in India 1974/75; a stupendous statistic!

With maturing captaincy, Lloyd understood that he needed players he could depend on to always give 100 percent, that armor and ammunition necessary to win.  Luckily, he got those too. He unearthed the diabolical pace of 21 year old Michael Holding, only three First Class matches for WI’s tour to Australia 1975/6. West Indies lost that series badly but not before cool “Mr T” had shown his budding greatness, immediately combining with “Fruit T” Roberts to form half of a great pace quartet.

The skipper was responsible for the other half of that still talked about quartet too, with inclusions and emergence of Joel “Big Bird” Garner, after three First Class matches and myself nicknamed “Bomber”, after four First Class matches, completing “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, the best pace attack ever. Obviously, with those superlative selections, Lloyd knows talent when he sees it. One hopes that he is allowed to parlay with present players, only as head selector, as was done when he was also captain.

However, his biggest problem in this modern era is not if there are enough cricketers playing the game here, for there are thousands more now plying their game in the Caribbean than 35-40 years ago. The problem is that, mostly, our regional cricketers have been ordinary, with few luminescent slags sufficiently striking enough, right now, to warrant suggestions that they will become supreme. 

Knowing our manipulative Caribbean, that gnawing gut also feeling remains that this appointment is slightly more politically adroit than meets the eye; pigeon-holed, silhouetted shadows for the future. It is obvious that, having previously had ambitions to be president of WICB, Lloyd expects, perhaps even deserves more clout in WI cricket than this appointment of being just chairman of selectors allows. So, we shall see how things go these next two years of the appointments. It will not be easy! Enjoy!