Coaching the coaches

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

FOR Jeff Dujon, keeping wickets to the likes of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall was an easy task, compared to the new assignment of putting West Indies cricket back in shape. It is not that he alone is in charge of such a monumental task, but then he is at the helm of a department which will show the way to the battery of coaches now engaged in reaching the root of the problem.

V. V. KRISHNAN

Dujon is heading the department which will coach the coaches. In fact, he is the Development Officer and is part of the steps being taken by the West Indies Cricket Board now headed by Wesley Hall. In this interview with The Sportstar at St. Lucia, the former wicketkeeper discusses the issues confronting West Indies cricket.

Question: Can you tell us about your new role in the West Indies Board?

Answer: I am the development officer for coaching. I am trying to develop the coaches so that eventually we have one policy of training the youngsters. How we coach and what we coach at each level. The idea is to have some uniformity in the coaching methods in the Caribbean. It'll also help us to raise the standards of coaching.

Was the coaching manual your idea?

Well, it came out of the need of the situation. The development department worked on this manual. We think it's a very good document to enable a youngster understand the game better at the grass root level. We can also pay more attention to quality coaching. And we hope to generate more interest for the game among the youngsters.

How different is the approach now when compared to the earlier ones?

We didn't have the manual before. And this manual will hopefully get things started in the right direction. Give coaching methods a bit more meaning. We hope to improve upon the quality of coaching overall. A structure will come out of that for the rest to follow and hopefully it would strengthen our cricket at the lower level.

What role do you see for yourself compared to your playing days?

As you can see it's a very different kind of role. My role is to essentially put the structure in place and get it working. I hope to make the work interesting for everyone involved with it. It'll take time to take off, but I'm very hopeful it'll work. Later I can look forward to coming back to coaching the players again. For the time being, I've to coach the coaches.

Was it something that you always wanted to do or was it thrust upon you because of the falling standards of West Indies cricket?

It's an area we need to concentrate on right now. No doubt about that. Presently, I'm happy to know that I'm qualified to make a contribution in that area. I'll be happy to see the coaching structure improve. That's my goal at the moment. That's the contribution I need to make right now to help cricket in the Caribbean.

What other areas can you identify to arrest this fall in the standard of West Indies cricket?

We've always had the talent. It's a matter of putting it through the right channels. What we need to look at is to improve the overall standards of the game. I think we need to look at the mental skills of the game. That's one area which we'll be focussed on.

Are you talking of temperament?

Yes. Temperament and dealing with pressure and analyzing situations, tactical awareness, things like that.

Why do you think there is a need for all this?

Cricket is not a simple game. It's a very mental game. I think we were mentally strong and that made a lot of difference. You must have this mental strength, this strong self-belief because only then you can win more games. Players who are mentally tougher are the ones who are more successful and consistent performers.

You never needed this sort of training. How could you cope with it? I mean most cricketers of your era were mentally tough without this kind of training.

I agree but times have changed. I don't think a lot of things have been passed on to the younger generation. The transition period has taken long because of the absence of experienced players. I must also say that at the time we were being successful not a lot was being done at the lower level. So this is very much a belated effort but it has to start at some point. I think now more than ever. We are at a point where we've to address these things.

How does it feel to handle the situation where West Indies cricket is going through its most difficult period?

It's very disappointing to see where we've gotten, but there's always a ray of hope. It's a challenge to find a way out of here, to get our cricket back to the top. We've to approach the job with determination. The same determination that saw us on the top of the cricketing world. We must show the same commitment.

What could be the main reason for the West Indies not getting quality fast bowlers?

The pitches that we have here are partly to blame for that and also because of the thinking of the bowlers that we have now. I think there is less emphasis on control and more on bowling fast. We have fast bowlers who, to me, are not as fast as they want to be. I think they should be concentrating more on control, on line and length but they are thinking like fast bowlers. As a result they continue to be more erratic.

How would you rate the wicketkeeping standards? Do you agree with this emphasis on having a wicketkeeper who can bat?

The emphasis certainly changed a long time ago. We've had quality wicketkeepers the world over for quite a while. Today, a wicketkeeper is treated more like a seventh batsman. I reckon a wicketkeeper should be able to average 30 in Test cricket. The standards of wicketkeeping have suffered because they play too much cricket. The fall in wicketkeeping standards is one of the casualties of playing too much cricket.

Do you think there is no room for a specialist wicketkeeper now?

The days of the specialist wicketkeeper are over. There is pressure on the wicketkeepers to obviously keep wickets better and then go out and score runs. That pressure will always be there. If you've a wicketkeeper who is a poor batsman, then you are left with only six batsmen in the team. Most teams can't afford to have just six batsmen. So, a wicketkeeper has to provide depth to the batting just in case the bowlers do not contribute with the bat at all. A wicketkeeper is a very pivotal man in the order and should have pretty good batting skills. It's all about scoring runs and having as much firepower as possible. It's about getting as big scores as possible. Most of the wickets are batsman-friendly where the bowlers are going to struggle. So it's all the more important to get big scores.

How do you find the new job?

It's very challenging. It's nice to be associated with the game but at the same time I'm still looking forward to getting back out there and doing some coaching. Eventually, I hope to get back into coaching players.