Courtney Walsh is a man of endurance. He came off a long run to bowl. And he could bowl and bowl all day. He earned every one of his West Indies record 519 Test wickets. Walsh was also a man for difficult times, being captain in one of the more turbulent periods of the last 25 years of decline, so in many ways, he’s suited for the major task he’s taken on to revive the West Indies women’s team programme.
This is arguably the pace bowling legend’s most difficult assignment for the Windies. He has taken up the head coaching job with the World T20 champions of 2016 currently submerged in sixth spot in both the ICC T20 and One-Day rankings and on a steady downward spiral since that inspiring April day in Kolkata.
And Walsh takes over at a time when the region’s female cricketers have been largely inactive over the last 12 months. Things have been stagnant. But the problems posed by Covid-19 are not the biggest obstacles “Cuddy” Walsh now faces.
He takes charge of a West Indies team of questionable fitness and one dependent heavily on less than a handful of players to win them games.
It is a team that has become fully accustomed to losing against just about everybody. And it is a side, whose core has been through it all.
Of the 11 women who beat Australia in that 2016 final in India, eight of them — Stafanie Taylor, Deandra Dottin, Hayley Matthews, Anisa Mohammed, Britney Cooper, Shemaine Campbelle, Shamilla Connel and Afy Fletcher — are all still part of the setup and currently in Antigua at Walsh’s first camp.
Don’t expect different results if you keep doing the same things over and over, people often say. They call that insanity. Well, for four going on five years, basically the same Windies women have been taking the field with the same losing results. What do you call that?
So given the chance to chat with Walsh yesterday via a Cricket West Indies media session, I was curious as to what he thought accounted for the years of poor results.
“Confidence, self-belief and improving in all areas has fallen down a bit, it’s obvious to see,” he said. “A lot of work is going to be required to get us back to where we can be.”
Coach Courtney was not worried about whether there was enough natural talent around, but he had other definite concerns.
“Our work ethic has to step up, our fitness level has to step up...our entire approach to the game has to be changed,” he added.
Walsh also felt that the Windies’ decline also had to do with the progress the rest of the world has made.
“Right around everybody has crept and gone above us,” he noted. “So we have now got to play catch-up. We are ranked sixth in both competitions (T20s and ODIs) and I think we can be higher than that, we have to be higher than that. Other teams have gone past us because they have worked on...the whole nine yards. We are now putting that sort of thing in place.”
The obvious question after those frank statements is why has it taken four years-plus for an attempt to be made at some kind of overhaul?
Maybe it is harsh to say attempts have not been made before. Coaches have come and gone. But simply changing coaches is not enough. Only time will tell whether the Walsh appointment is sufficient to spark the kind of comprehensive change that is needed to revive a women’s game that appears on life support. He certainly seems to have a plan.
“It’s not a short-term fix, we’re looking at a long-term fix to make sure we set the standard and we can maintain that throughout...This camp is going to be setting the tone not just for the World Cup qualifiers, but I’m hoping it will set the tone for the next two to three years for West Indies cricket, so if I was to move on after this, whosoever fits in will have a template to work with in terms of the continuity.”
However, one of the immediate difficulties Walsh faces is that he does not currently have natural replacements for the regulars. Quite apart from the dormant 2020 period, in general there is not much organised competition for female cricketers in the Caribbean. Developing young talent is therefore an issue that needs urgent addressing, one that Walsh cannot properly address as senior team head coach.
He laments the small player pool he currently has to choose from, and while Walsh’s intention to introduce promising teens into future camps is good, cash-strapped Cricket West Indies must not only make sure that such camps can happen, but that programmes and tournaments are created to allow for new players to be discovered and nurtured. Coaches with the appropriate skills have to be identified, and meaningful interaction between them and head coach Walsh and director of cricket (DOC) Jimmy Adams must take place.
So while coach Cuddy throws himself into preparing the WI women for the ICC World Cup qualifiers in June/July with all the zeal, determination and patience he used to put into bowling for the West Indies, President Ricky Skerrit, CEO Johnny Grave and DOC Adams must up their own game or the “insanity” in women’s cricket will prevail. Like Guyana’s troubled Essequibo region, it may make take a while yet for things to settle down.