THE West Indies has had a phenomenal number of exceptional cricketers in its history. The captains have been mostly middling. I restricted the playbooks to those of Frank Worrell, Richie Benaud and Mike Brearley simply because they were known as thinking men; able in both the technical and “man-management” aspects of the game.
They are all from a different era; but human nature remains essentially the same and this is at the heart of what I have been trying to get at these past few weeks. Culturally, the West Indies teams of today are not very different from their ancestors. As I watch more cricket, it becomes easier to see the similarities.
I came across this observation from CLR James from a talk he gave in 1963. It strengthened my feeling that we haven’t changed, and it reinforced my belief that this discourse is relevant and instructive for a future direction (not only in cricket). James had made some brilliant points about the individualistic flair of West Indies players.
“This originality, the distinctive creative style which makes them so effective when a difficult situation is met, can go to pieces entirely. It can repeatedly show itself, show fine form and yet lose match after match. It has to be held in check, disciplined and, where it goes wrong, brought back by some very careful captaincy. And this time they had that captain in Frank Worrell. Frank Worrell has said: ‘I don’t lecture them, I tell them what is wrong, if anything is wrong. I tell them what is right and leave it to them.’ He has great confidence in them and they in him.”
They say that excellence seems effortless—so fine is its execution. This is what those captains brought. Could they have developed the skills they needed without experience, thoughtfulness and guidance? Brearley has described coaching as a combination of mentoring, mental toughening and facilitation (alongside training and so on). In this neck of the woods, I don’t imagine that the connection is made between a nurturing approach and mental toughness; it has not been part of the culture—and it would require a fine degree of maturity to try to instil it into an environment defined by machismo.
This is a space where a delicate touch is interpreted as weakness; a space where people are not encouraged to talk about their feelings. Communication skills are poor, and people resort to angry and sometimes violent outbursts when they can no longer hold their feelings within. Here, compassion is compressed.
If you can reach into the mind, you are more likely to be able to help someone develop the capacity to deal with their personal issues—and to build that mental toughness.
It is about finding some point of balance.
But a leader has to have sufficient emotional intelligence; not just technical ability.
Here’s a look at some figures that might tell a story. When Frank Worrell was made captain, he was 36. Brearley was 35. Benaud was 28. Back home: Clive Lloyd was 30, Viv Richards was 32, Brian Lara was 29, Daren Sammy was 27. They had all been around for long enough to have put in those ten thousand hours.
Each had different approaches, but each brought something and was able to spread their own gospel. When Jason Holder was made captain of the ODI team in 2014, he was 23, and at 24 he was the Test captain.
He couldn’t bring anything to leadership because he was now learning what it entailed. Was he exposed to any management training? What coaching did he have?
Benaud described Worrell as a father figure to the team, suggesting this was the approach they needed. “When they are captained otherwise they tend to move back to the excitable individual state of years gone past and there is less responsibility in their cricket.” He referred to the tense moments of the tied Test and how Worrell kept “telling his men to concentrate and relax”.
“He concentrated on building up a team performance rather than one from a series of outstanding individuals, though he wanted the individual efforts also. How well he handled the whole thing was shown later in the tour when, under a variety of pressures, the West Indies never collapsed as has been their habit.”
Horses for courses. Viv Richards preaches this. You have to know the horses and you have to know the courses before you can select the most appropriate combination.
Can anyone from within Cricket West Indies look at the current squads across the spectrum and assess the individual characteristics of the players? How do their strengths and weaknesses work for them as a team?
Worrell, Benaud and Brearley were exceptional leaders and that is why I wanted to put some of their ideas into our current space. They were not just fine cricketers; they were thoughtful men.
It would be unreasonable to expect such characters to come along often—they wouldn’t be exceptional if they did—but there is always something to learn, isn’t there?
To go back to Brearley: “You can’t transform mediocre players into great players but you can transform them into good ones. Which makes a difference.”
We can at least think about it.
—Vaneisa Baksh is a writer, editor and cricket historian.