“The three reasons for the outstanding success of the team I was part of were talent, professionalism and pride,” Jeffrey Dujon, a wicketkeeper of the great West Indian cricket teams led by Lloyd and Richards.
With the continuing two-decade plus decline in West Indies cricket, we need to put into perspective an understanding of the formula for success utilised by the greatest cricket team ever, many have deemed it the greatest sports team.
Talent! Since the West Indian entry into Test cricket back in the 1920s our teams have always had world-class talents. George Challenor and George John showed themselves to be in the league of the great players of the period. In the 1930s, Donald Bradman wished for the fast bowling talents of Martindale and Constantine to counter the bodyline attack of England’s Voce and Larwood.
Headley, the three Ws, Sobers, Kanhai, Richards, Lara and Chanderpaul must be counted amongst the greatest batsmen who have played the game. Sobers is indubitably the greatest all-round cricketer of all time. The phalanx of great West Indian fast bowlers lined-up from the 1930s, Martindale, Constantine, Hall, Roberts, Holding, Marshall, Garner has proven to be a most destructive force in cricket.
If in today’s game we don’t see the individual greatness of the past, it’s not that talent does not exist, it’s that talent has not matured to its true potential. Talent by itself, Dujon says, is not sufficient, it has to be converted into consistent quality through the achievement and application of professionalism and pride.
Professionalism in cricket! A rough estimate of the great West Indian teams of the Worrell, Sobers, Lloyd, Richards eras indicates that upwards of 60 per cent played professional four-day and League cricket in England and Australia. Moreover, not always but on occasion many of our pros came back home and played in the inter-regional tournaments, allowing our local players to have the experience of playing with the pros.
In the Packer League, a slack West Indian team, chock-full of the greatest players of the era, was threatened by the no-nonsense businessman that they had to play like pros for the salaries they received, or he would put them on the next flight out of Australia. However, the greatest lesson in professionalism came when Ian Chappell’s Australians disgraced Lloyd’s team Down Under 5-1. Barbadian Dr Rudi Webster, sports psychologist and adviser to the team, said after the series a chastened Lloyd said this must never happen again.
The defeat served to force Lloyd to convert a gathering of very talented players into a hard-nosed professional unit. For the next 15 years, the West Indians rampaged through international cricket in the manner that the great Mongolian leader, Genghis Khan, having unified the previously scattered Mongols, sacked Asia and Europe in the 13th century.
Professionalism in the current era is related to involvement of our players in T20 franchise cricket. Our batsmen have established a reputation of being able to hit the ball into the stands in the last three overs. Having carved out such a profile for themselves, they have not learnt to construct an innings; it has worked against them.
Professionalism has not meant for this group of batsmen big scores in the great West Indian style and tradition, established by the batsmen listed above. To justify their large salaries, they must come in at the death and slaughter the attack with heaves to the stands which send the fee-paying fans wild with delight.
“Pride” is perhaps the most important but elusive of Dujon’s slated points. In an interview with Gordon Greenidge, he singled out “pride” as the most important attribute of the great teams of the West Indian past. Viv Richards said when he walked out onto the pitch he understood that he was representing his ancestors in the sugar cane fields. He said to the effect he preferred to die on the pitch rather than surrender to opposing bowlers.
The issue is how to establish and inculcate these qualities in our West Indian players in this era when professionalism and pride have not been part of the lives of many.
We are a few decades behind the rest of the cricketing world in the quest to establish a professional Cricket Academy where all of Dujon’s identified requirements can be inculcated. The cricketing talent and experience of our retired great players should be utilised in an organised and structured manner; we cannot have talents such as Hetmyer, Pooran, Hope and others go to waste.
Cricket intelligence, the application of the mind in the game, is of vital importance. Our batsmen need to be taught how to construct an innings; cultivated in our bowlers must be an understanding of how to take wickets; how to bowl in the death overs to prevent batsmen from scoring 20 runs per over.
Professional fees should be in line with performance. Potential captains have to be groomed in leadership, strategy and come to understand all aspects of the game.
None of the above is new. Institutionalisation and application have to be attempted in a systematic manner to create a culture of excellence.