Why is it that since the retirement of the last generation of our West Indian super heroes (I speak of Lloyd, Greenidge, Richards, Haynes, Holding, Roberts, Garner et. al.) that we have not been able to select a side that even vaguely compares to their predecessors?
Is it that the contemporary cricketing gene pool in the West Indies has in some way been contaminated? Is it that the chromosome which controls mental fortitude has been isolated and infected? Or is it that the selection committees are looking for replacement specimens from only a limited sample? I gather from casual reading here and there that some would suggest there is some level of mental deficiency among the selectors, or even that they have been infected by a deadly virus, known by its scientific name as parochialism.
Be that as it may, in fairness to the selectors, it seems that this is a congenital disease. Ever since the West Indies team was put together someone or the other has been accusing the selectors of territorial myopia. Yet, history demonstrates that whatever frailty West Indian selectors may have suffered they have been able to choose, for the most part, a team which performed outstandingly. It is possible that the cricketing talent in the West Indies was so pervasive that even a chosen team which was less that perfect - and the debates as eternal - was good enough to make the West Indies a force to be reckoned with.
Of course, there is another alternative to explain our current demise, you know. It may well be that other cricketing nations have been improving their gene pool over the years and have now surpassed the West Indian one in quality. Maybe they have been able to create an environment and training programs that effectively serve, Gattica-like, to maximise the potential of their genetic pool of cricketing talent. Here I am only surmising because I am not as involved as to be cognisant of the training programs implemented in the West Indies, though I'm sure there must be some.
Mind you, it would be a terrible tragedy if we blamed our current West Indian mediocrity on the claim that, "they are getting too good for us". What would that say about the foresightedness of our beloved WICBC and those involved in the development of the game in the region? While the rest of the world is making advances in the game of cricket are we the ones who are regressing, or just holding our own? I find that hard to fathom.
I'm not going to weigh all the blame on the selectors, nor am I going to suggest that we have failed to improve on par, as a collective, in the game of cricket with the other cricketing nations. We may look in those directions for only part of the reason for our current below average performance.
I think that the major reason for our current sloppy cricket is the lack of effective leadership. I am not talking about leaders who lack cricketing talents or tactical skills -- that would be preposterous. What I am claiming we lack on the West Indian team is a leadership which can engender the requisite discipline, motivation and hunger for victory that is required of any team to be successful over the long haul. Let's be brutally honest; as one West Indian to another, we need discipline. For the majority of us being disciplined does not come easily. Very few of us are self-motivated. We need some external force to help motivate us to be disciplined -- we are not Germans, if you pardon the undisciplined broad stereotype. Once we are "pumped", however, there are few who can touch us on the cricket field.
Let me briefly elaborate on my postulation concerning the lack of effective leadership on the West Indies cricket team. The general concensus is that, in recent memory, the two most outstanding West Indian captains were Sir Frank Worrell and Clive Lloyd. And they have been considered to be outstanding captains not solely because of their superior cricketing talents, nor their superb tactical skills, but especially because of their strategic ability to lead their men. They were both authentic leaders of men. They had both the maturity of character and gift of leadership to empower their players to find the strength within (to "dig deep" as the Americans love to say) to give 100 percent, or 110 percent as the need arose.
Check it out, you'll find that since the 50s (that's as far back as I want to think!) when the West Indies was not led by such a man we did not perform as well as we could. A notable exception I must state was Rohan Kanhai, who had developed all three qualities mentioned above, but did not have the time to see the fruit of his excellent "turn around" job in terms of a lengthy period of victories. Clive Lloyd built on the momentum generated in the brief Kanhai period. At the other end of the Lloyd era, Richards and Richardson enjoyed the momentum produced by West Indies "winningest" captain but lacked the resources to sustain that momentum.
Let me briefly bolster my argument by pointing out four contemporary cricket captains who are considered by most to be excellent at their job. The first is Mark Taylor; the second is Hansie Cronje; the third is Arjuna Ranatunga; the fourth is Mike Atherton. You may not agree with the last but I was impressed by Wes Hall's appraisal of Atherton's leadership ability at the end of the West Indian tour of England in 1995. Wes Hall was the manager of the West Indian team for that tour.
There is one quality that all four of these captains possess that makes them stand out from the myriad of current cricket captains. To be sure, none of these players would be considered to be outstanding cricketing talents - maybe above average but not superior. Actually, in most cases just average. Look at their records. If judged soley on their abilities with the bat and ball some may not even have a secure place in the Test team! But they are in their teams, and captains, because they are all astute students of the game and exceptional tacticians.
What makes them brilliant and successful captains though is their ability to lead their team. They have the maturity of character and a gift of leadership. They are all able to marshal their forces to more or less maximise the potential of each of their players. When their teams are replete with quality players (not necessarily exceptionally gifted ones) they become a potent force. So Australia and South Africa are the two top teams in the world today. Sri Lanka is making huge leaps and bounds. England... well, what can you say about England except that they are the exception that proves the rule!
Until the West Indies can come up with a leader who can actually lead we will remain in the morass of mediocrity and unfulfilled potential. With the reality of an increasingly competitive cricketing world it is incumbent more than ever before to develop leaders who will lead our cricketing West Indians back to the place where we can all sing with the Trade Winds, or Queen, "We Are The Champions". Maybe this can be accomplished with Carl Hooper, or Jimmy Adams, at the helm rather than Brian Lara... just a thought.
So my contention is not that our cricketing gene pool has dried up, nor that our selectors are using the wrong samples - though I acquiesce. Rather, it may well be that the chromosome for leadership, as I've outlined it, is in drastically short supply. Whether this is a bigger problem in the Caribbean than just cricket is a question for further reflection... Maybe we need to pray and ask God to raise up leaders who are mature enough and gifted enough to inspire and motivate their followers to fulfilling their potential. When this is done we will be successful in all arenas of life.