‘We can’t force people to play Test cricket’

West Indies coach Stuart Law, who will quit his job after the series against India and Bangladesh, stresses on the need to accept changes to attain success.

West Indies coach Stuart Law addresses the players at a training session in Rajkot on Monday.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

 

Touring sides are usually picky about interacting with the media. The conversations are mostly restricted to the mandatory press conferences these days.

But this West Indies team has chosen to be different. Ever since coming to India, the players and coaches have been quite open to interactions. But things changed after the side lost the first Test against India at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in just three days.

While the Indian players went on a two-day break before assembling in Hyderabad for the second Test, West Indies — under the watchful eyes of its head coach Stuart Law — hit the nets on Monday. As the Caribbean players braved the heat, Law — who will quit as West Indies coach after the series against India and Bangladesh — spoke to Sportstar on a range of issues.

Excerpts...

How do you react to this defeat?

We knew it would be difficult to beat India in its own backyard. They are the No.1 Test team in the world, so you got to bring your best. What we saw from our players during the first Test was not the way they play, maybe the expectation of playing against the No.1 Test team in the world gets to you mentally. The spirit (in the camp is good).

Did you do anything special to lift the morale?

The boys had a good chat (on Sunday). They stayed away from the coaching staff and had a good chat (among themselves). They came up with some plans on how they would approach the next Test match and moving forward into the series. We have been through this before as well, we had a bad start in the UK and lost the Test against England. But we came back strongly and beat them in the second Test. It is not about changing tactics or game plan. It is about trusting what we think is right and going ahead with the positive mindset. It is important to stick to it.

Windies has been a side in transition for many years. Every time it looked settled, some or the other senior player pulls out. Has that affected the team?

If you live inside West Indies cricket, you will realise there is a hell lot of things (happening). In the two last two years, I have understood what goes on and what’s been going on a little better. I would not probably know 100 per cent, but what I have understood is that, these guys are performing as well as they can. We have got some great performance from this group. Take Kraigg Brathwaite for example, he is a world-class player, his stats suggest that. Shanon Gabriel is a world-class fast bowler. The system is not just about playing cricket, it is also about the development of the game, which adds up over a period of 15-20 years. And if that’s not sustained then the environment tends to trickle out products rather than rushing them in. The board is possibly doing everything right to improve the level. People are working tirelessly to make the system better. The players are doing as much as they can to become the best they can be. It is not going to happen overnight.

Everyone wants quick success these days and it has been a long time for West Indies cricket, but you got to understand what goes on inside. People change things. As soon as the changes are accepted, success will come.

Do you think that at least one of the senior players should have travelled with the team for the Tests? It could have helped...

Well, that would (have). But we can’t force people to play Test cricket. We got to make sure that we have young fellows in an environment where they are able to open up and speak truth. Also, the coaching staff understands that they might have to be there a lot more than what you would have done in other set-ups. These guys are great, they are responding and are understanding the game. That’s part of the battle — you need to understand what you can or can’t do. The more you understand that, the easy it is to develop.

Stuart Law feels the current Windies players are doing the best they can do.   -  SHAYAN ACHARYA

 

What have the players learnt from the first Test?

They are understanding that you bat differently in India than you do in the Caribbean or in England. Everywhere, it’s different. In India, you are not just playing cricket, you are playing the crowd, the media and the noise. It is a great experience. It is different than what we are used to.

You have introduced a new style in your almost two-year long stint. With the World Cup scheduled next year, is it the perfect time to leave? A new coach may well introduce a new style, leaving the players confused…

Look, people making comments about my decision should know what’s going on inside. There are only three people who possibly understand it wholly, solely and totally. They are my wife, my son and myself. I am not saying what I am doing is 100 per cent right. The new coach might not strip it down and start again but take it and add other things to it which might not be seen at the moment. That might be the icing on the cake. I just want to develop an environment where the players are comfortable and they talk to each other, talk to the coaches. They are a great bunch of men, I am going to miss them a lot. I have been looking after the young men for a long time, it’s time I look after my own (laughs).

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So, what’s the plan now?

My son is 16. He does play a bit of cricket. He was playing football as well, back in Australia — playing the AFL and is good at it. He is six feet four. He is a big boy. I always tell these boys that whatever happens in life, family comes first. If it doesn’t come first then you got to make something happen. I have spoken to my wife and son and they are the reason I am leaving.

Jason Holder pulled out of the first Test leaving everyone surprised. Even in the pre-match media conference, no one could understand that he was unfit. What went wrong there?

Jason had an ankle problem. He rolled his ankle while bowling at a practice match in Dubai. He tried to get up for the first Test. On the morning of the first Test, he came in for a fitness test and bowled, but felt that he could not get through. It was disappointing to lose him straightaway. We counted on Jason as captain and the most experienced player. We gave him all the time to see if he could get ready. He just pulled out on the morning of the game. It was difficult and then, we had a couple of inexperienced bowlers, bowling in India to some of the best players in the world.

What’s the update on Kemar Roach, who missed the first Test after his grandmother passed away?

Roach is currently resting in Hyderabad. He reached India this weekend and has straightaway gone to Hyderabad rather than coming here for a day and then flying out with the team. To have someone of his (Roach’s) quality to come up with (Jason) Holder and (Shanon) Gabriel gives our attack a bit more strength (for the second Test). Shane bowled beautifully, Keemo Paul also bowled and batted pretty well. They are the two guys for the future and they have got a long road ahead. I am not taking away anything from India. They have players in every facet. They batted beautifully and for long. It was a learning curve for us to understand that batting in India is just not about hitting fours and sixes. It is about batting for long hours and test the bowling attack.

Your team called up local wrist spinners from Rajkot on Monday. With Kuldeep Yadav wrecking havoc, has the focus shifted to wrist spin?

We are working on the things that the players wanted us to do. They came up to us (the coaching staff) this morning and said, this is what we want to do (play spin). ‘We want to rough up that end.’ So, I got bowlers (spinners) bowling at them and we set the field and try and accommodate stroke play that’s going to benefit and help us score runs. That was part of the deal.

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You spoke about maintaining a good dressing room environment. But you come from the Australian cricketing structure, which is known for toughness…

I came from a strong dressing room in Queensland where Allan Border was my team-mate. He was known as ‘Captain Grumpy’ by his Australian colleagues. I can testify that he was rather grumpy at times, not because he was a man of perfection but because he was the man who gave people their role every time. Be it practice or a dinner — he was a respectable figure. I have played club cricket with him, when I was 15, so I have known him for a long time. But it took me three or four years to earn his respect on the field. Once you do, he gives you hell of a lot (respect).

Our group had a really tough environment, but that toughness has given us the mental edge to go and achieve what we did in our careers. I may have not played enough international cricket, but it was a pretty tough era to break into the side. It was harder to get in to the side than getting out. I am one of (those) in the long line who should have played longer for Australia. Whatever does not kill you makes you stronger, they say, but dealing with that sort of pressure and disappointment, day in and day out, (was tough). You are constantly told you are not good enough, that eventually gave me the strength to prepare for long.

Who told you that you weren’t good enough?

The selectors not picking you indicate that you are not good enough, otherwise, you would have been picked. So, it was not directly but indirectly spoken. It cost me a few friends but once you get built-up mentally — after season in and season ou t— something does happen. I learnt not to trust too many people. People try to be close and if I took them in, they turned on me and that hurts even more. I can perhaps trust a handful of mates, probably three or four them. That’s what this life has really taught me.

Who are the four people you trust?

I can’t tell the names, mate. Life teaches you lessons. I am still learning. No way I am the perfect coach, no way I am the perfect human being, but you still learn and try to be the best you can, every day. Once you try and get that going, you can start learning better things. The dressing room, time back in Queensland, was amazing. The best times of my life!