I read Vaneisa Baksh in last week’s Saturday Express (Page 13) with interest but mixed emotions. Vaneisa is an experienced journalist, a cricket historian, lover of the game and someone whose articles are generally well respected.
On this occasion, she has been sweepingly critical of the book Mastering of the Craft, a biography of the late Sir Everton Weekes. She comments “I had never seen a book so full of error—errors of every possible kind— fact, grammar, punctuation, spelling, nothing was spared.” There is certainly much about the book’s preparation that warrants criticism, but hers was excessive, given its powerful content which offers so much that is of genuine value to the game.
The 18 pages of Chapter 3 offer the most valuable guidance on cricket and specifically batsmanship that I have encountered in any comparable biography I have read (and Vaneisa, I have also read quite a few). It addressed the greatest shortcomings in our otherwise promisingly endowed batting talent—discipline and strengthening the mind.
We talk and talk about the importance of these qualities, which are in short supply amongst our cricketers, but these remain only good intentions. In fact we walked away from doing something positive about it some 12 years or so ago when everything was in place to start our long-discussed academy in Barbados. Everything but the will of the incoming administration of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). They simply let it die, and like the burial of Sir John Moore, not a funeral drum was heard thereafter.
Cricket academies have demonstrated in all the leading cricket countries of the world the type of finished professional product they turn out. Look at the results from most of them—Australia, England, India, New Zealand have moved up while West Indies, at least with comparable talent, has moved down. Are we going to stay there?
Mastering the Craft offers a significant reminder. Chapter 3 does an excellent job in reminding us that there is no substitute for starting with the basics. With no formal coaching as a young player, Sir Everton’s preparation came from the Village Academy whose judgments were vocal and severe, “Get behind the ball”, “Use left shoulder and feet in the right way”, “No playing across the line or swiping to mid wicket”, “Start with discipline that is respectful of technique and method or suffer the most severe tongue-lashing from the Village Academy professors”.
Then he addresses getting the left shoulder around, elbow out and viewing the ball over the left shoulder, with as exaggerated a stance as comfortable, how you modify stance to deal with different types of bowling.
He postulates going on the front foot to a ball travelling at 80mph will result in the ball reaching you sooner than if you move on to the back foot. If you push forward, you are getting to the ball quicker, making it even faster than if you were to play back. The longer the ball is in the air, the more time you have to watch and play it, especially if you wanted to play your favourite shot.
He looks at his weaknesses and strengths as a batsman. His mental adjustments in a long innings, and there are so many practical thought lines. But I hope I have made the point.
Sir Everton addresses the link between instinct and the mind from the first-hand experiences of the man the legendary Don Bradman described as “the best batsman ever to come out of the West Indies”. A man whose determination, confidence and discipline were classically exemplified by the fact that the only time he departed from his credo of keeping it on the ground was to hit a six in international cricket against a no-ball.
Of course, much of this discussion may be thought to have little relevance to following the money trail in the T20 and shorter versions of the game where hitting and innovation dominate. But that is another discussion. As long as Test cricket remains the final arbiter of International performance, the development, strengthening and thoughtful approach to the game will continue to dominate. Even now, it is not too late to fill this major gap in our preparation.
So, Vaneisa, whatever your embarrassment about its grammatical and biographical shortcomings, Mastering the Craft is a most important addition to our cricket literature. Its strengths far outweigh its shortcomings. I warmly recommend its content, and particularly those 18 pages, to all who care about the serious development of our cricket.
Former West Indies Cricket Board and Queen’s Park Cricket Club (QPCC) president