West Indies cricket lacks discipline. Very much so.”
Plain talk. Bad manners.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, dizzying heights were achieved. ‘Pace Like Fire’ was synonymous with our approach to the game. At the summit, it was a stance not adopted, but one that came natural. The broken bones, bruises on the opposition and the dented helmets were more than adequate testimony.
Michael Holding. Michael Holding. The late, great Malcolm Marshall. No pretenders to the throne could ever touch them. The fantastic four would be completed. A man knighted last February.
A giant. Sir Andy Roberts.
One who speaks candidly. But as his blunt words crossed over the threshold of politics and interspersed into his thoughts on the evolution of contemporary cricket, it’s undeniable—the reason in his voice.
Roberts was harsh on the youngsters in the game today as he felt they accounted partially for the plunge the region has taken. The criticism came at all levels—youth, regionally and internationally. His concern that this plummet regressed into a steady free-fall was all too apparent, even in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL).
“West Indian cricketers have myself available to consult. It’s great to see older players coming back in as mentors and coaches in the CPL. Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greenidge, Ambi (Curtly Ambrose) and (Courtney) Walsh as such and it’s good for the CPL for the youngsters from the region to learn from us. Even in the West Indies fold, we’re finally being welcomed. Sad to say it took so long for us to be invited in. We always wanted to offer advice and work with the new generation. But as I say these things, I ask – are the younger players appreciating us?”
Roberts said that in his second year as mentor to St. Lucia Zouks, it continued to baffle him that the younger players didn’t approach him regularly. He wondered if it was nervousness, shyness or maybe pride and arrogance. It worried him. He felt mentors were being underutilized and wanted them to be more hands on a la coaches, as opposed to temporary advisers. This was not a vacation for anyone. It was work. “That role (mentor) needs to be defined. They (CPL) need to set the role of the mentor and what they must do. My role should be to assist the fast bowlers. That’s where I specialized,” he lamented. He once more referred to young players contacting the older heads on refining their game. He felt this was a strategy they ignored and perhaps a mentality harnessed by the West Indies Cricket Board’s (WICB) reluctance to incorporate experienced heads into the fray.
“I don’t know why the board took so long. They were hesitant because what…they were scared?” a puzzled yet pensive Roberts asked.
He stretched into another issue that troubled him—the depreciation of fast-bowlers in the region.
Shannon Gabriel? Jerome Taylor? Ravi Rampaul?
“No, I mean genuine fast bowlers. Bowlers with raw pace,” he contended.
“Fidel Edwards is genuinely fast but these quickies are few and far between. I am not satisfied with the quality of pacers we possess. We have a number of promising ones who need help and guidance from now, from an early age. We as a region tend to lose our Under-19 players for some reason. Between 19 and 22, we lose their promise and the potential shown. We must hold them and hone their crafts. This is their trade to ply and we have to properly supervise them and work along with them,” he pleaded on the possibility of a pace resurgence. He mentioned Ray Jordan, a 19 year-old from St. Vincent, as a big prospect and added that the WICB needed to re-focus on making pace a major part of the cricket again. West Indies need to inject fear into opponents once more.
When pressed as to whether Twenty20 (T20) cricket may have eroded the pace in the modern game, with spin prevailing at its expense…he was adamant that was not the case. The affable gentleman, 63 years of age, said that was no excuse. Pace diminished because teams allowed it to. However, he saw beacons of hope lighting again in Mitchell Johnson and Dale Steyn, which proved bittersweet, as not a single West Indian could be held in similar esteem.
“T20 isn’t necessarily a spinners game. It depends on the pitch you’re playing on, the type of fast bowlers you have and just how aggressive the fast bowler is. If you’re a real and genuine fast-bowler, you should have no problem as you can upset any batsman in any format of the game,” continued the Antiguan. Roberts said one thing he noticed was that younger players in the Caribbean nowadays seem too intimidated and easy to rile up.
“These T20 games offer the potential for night cricket and for players to thrive on the pressure of crowds. They shouldn’t fear it. We as pacers never did. This night-franchise cricket is a good atmosphere for these players to be in. Players are mixing and mingling with stronger players from other territories and from abroad too so it’s reinforcing the region. Don’t crack under the pressure,” he said. He once more reflected on discipline being the pillar to helping allay these concerns. While shaking his head, he insisted, “I’ve spoken to Tino Best too many times and what more can I say? The boy just doesn’t listen,”—as the legend touched on players now using sledging to compensate for poor execution on the field. “Back in my day, I didn’t sledge. None of us did as West Indian pacers. We’d retort now and again but never instigate. We’d just scare you with a glare and let our bouncers do the rest of our talking,” he joked. Sir Andy confessed Kieron Pollard, winning captain with the Barbados Tridents, also apologized to him over a hotel fracas with Best but by then, Roberts was already at a loss for words.
Expounding on discipline, he referred to his surprise and relief over Denesh Ramdin’s career. Roberts was disappointed with the Viv Richards fiasco from the wicketkeeper but said his ability did warrant big things, especially as he matured into a formidable leader. But Sir Andy admitted he would have gone younger for Kraigg Brathwaite and upset the order a bit. Why? Once more, Sir Andy used that word ‘disciplined’ and felt the Bajan was an exemplary student of the game with sound tactics under his sleeve. He confessed that Ramdin though was the region’s primary strategist and was more than satisfied with him taking up the mantle.
On the domestic front, Roberts also expressed curiosity at the WICB’s paradigm shift. He wants to see stronger regional displays and maintained that within the islands, improvement is a must. “The cricket in the Leewards and Windwards where the majority of players are homegrown isn’t as strong as in Guyana, Jamaica, Barbados or Trinidad. Hence, we need a little more time to prepare for cricket as we come from different islands. Even six or seven days together isn’t enough time to prepare,” he conveyed with a long, drawn-out breath.
Ultimately, his view is that the Caribbean needs to get its house in order within the islands before peeking out into the world. Inculcate this discipline in-house and that’ll be the first step down the proverbial yellow brick road.
When asked for one more recommendation, he coyly added, “Now, if only we can get more players to avoid playing too much T20 cricket abroad and help reestablish our domestic game or play some more county cricket, that would be a big step forward for our Test team.”
That sentiment is sure to raise some eyebrows…as his ensuing smile indicated.