Cricketers have a tendency to assume that a player or former player will always know best when it comes to analysing the reasons for a team's failures. So it would appear, given the severe criticism that Courtney Walsh has been subjected to by a former West Indies fast bowler, Colin Croft. The entire blame for the disaster against Pakistan is being attributed to one of the few gentlemen to emerge from the game in the last decade. Walsh may not have been the most imaginative of captains. But the blame does not lie at his door alone.
The West Indies cricketing authorities made the initial mistake by making it clear that Walsh was an interim captain. If any bunch of selectors is foolish enough to make this apparent, it is bound to bring about dissension within a team as there would be many who will be vying for the leader's role. And when the team in question is the West Indies, which has been a very difficult side to lead, the problem is even worse. Historically, this team has been torn apart by rifts and it is only a couple of men who have been inspirational enough to hold it together and motivate the players to give of their best.
I remember well the time when Walsh made his debut alongside Michael Holding in Australia in 1985. For him that was enough -- to be bowling along with the man who had been his hero for a long time. This is just one indication of the simplicity of the man. He can never be accused of not doing enough for his team. One can fault him for not getting the best out of his men. For that one needs a man with leadership qualities -- and in the case of the West Indies, one needs a man with remarkable leadership qualities. Let us remember that even Vivian Richards, with all his talent, failed to lead the West Indies to the semi-finals of the only World Cup they played in under him. Sometimes even the supremely talented fail when it comes to leading a difficult team like the West Indies.
Walsh did have a tendency to overbowl himself and bring on others rather late in the innings; one should put this down to poor captaincy rather than anything else. It takes some doing, this business of captaincy; Michael Bevan's career as a Test spinner began when Mark Taylor, in a moment of inspiration, threw the ball to him during the Test series against the West Indies. It was a captain's move and came from one who has proved he is a leader of men. That, Walsh is not.
Clearly, this question of who would be the next captain was preying on the minds of everyone in the team for some time. Some of the players knew they stood a chance; Brian Lara's behaviour ensured that, after a while, he did not look like the automatic choice either. There were arguments between the selectors and the board and that made it worse. The board went one way, the selectors the other. Morale in the team was at an all-time low. Was Walsh alone responsible for this state of matters?
Series after series, there was speculation that Walsh would be replaced. The only time that the question was answered was a few days before the series in question began when the squad was named. No selector or board official came out and made a definitive statement. This would have done wonders for the confidence of the captain. Why expect anything from him apart from leading the team in the way a masthead does a ship?
Sachin Tendulkar is no ordinary player. Yet he gave up the captaincy for one reason -- officials were not allowing him to have the team he wanted. He had to yield to the dictates of regional politics. Finally, when the blame for the poor showing of the team was being shoved on to him wholesale, he could not take it any longer. Walsh was stuck in a similar situation. Did the selectors give him the teams he wanted? Indeed, did he have any say in the final selection of the team?
One is bound to agree, though, that the appointment of Lara will not end the drought. Politics has come to the forefront of West Indies cricket and it will be some time before cricketing ability makes its way out. For that, there will have to be efforts of which the present outfit does not seem capable. Individuals are not important in this team any longer; a disparate collection of brilliant individuals cannot put the West Indies back on the throne they occupied in the 1980s. It will take a bunch who pull together and play for each other and the team to do that.