Has West Indies cricket turned the corner?

HAS the West Indies turned the corner after their fine win in the recent one-day series against India?

This is the main talking point in Kingston-Jamaica where I have been coaching for the last three weeks.

The locals certainly think so, and point to Marlon Samuel's century in the last and deciding match in the ODIs and the fact that they have five other Jamaicans Jermaine Lawson, Ricardo Powell, Wavell Hinds, Darren Powell and Chris Gayle as the reasons why certainly the West Indies played wonderfully well in the ODIs. They thoroughly deserved their victory but it would have been more convincing, if they had done this in the Test matches for this is a much tougher and realistic testing ground.

I would also like to think they are on the way back for we need the Windies at their best for the sake of world cricket.

If they are now a challenger for top billing, it has come more by accident than good management and team selection.

Since 1998, 49 players have been given the opportunity to represent the West Indies in Test cricket. They have had four captains, 17 fast bowlers, 10 opening batsmen, four wicketkeepers and 22 batsmen.

Obviously, this is far too many players and it smacks of desperation with the West Indies selectors picking any one who might have made a few runs or taken a few wickets and not giving consideration to the future, but desperately trying to snatch a lone victory.

I recognise the symptoms well for when I accepted an invitation to coach Australia in 1985, there were then 44 players in Sheffield Shield cricket.

This was obviously too many for there has never been a time when there has been 44 players good enough at the one time to represent their country.

And particularly when you consider Australia, like the West Indies, have a main competition consisting of six teams.

That is just 72 players. The few players who hadn't been selected must have felt very unlucky.

Australia solved this problem with the selectors backing their judgement and choosing, but not announcing publicly 16 players who they thought had the qualities to represent their country.

This gave the Australian team a stability they hadn't had and a core of five hard nosed players, Allan Border, Craig McDermott, Steve Waugh, David Boon and Geoff Marsh to build around.

It didn't come easy and took time to complete the jigsaw puzzle which saw Australia heading back to the top of world cricket.

The West Indies selectors must be strong and patient and adopt a similar policy. It won't be easy.

Australia is a close proud country. The West Indies on the other hand is but a geographical area made up of six separate countries.

Cricket is the only thing they do as a combined unit, all other sports and in business they represent their own country and their countries interests come first.

Parochialism comes first and the selectors will be first judged by these countries on how many players in the Windies team come from "THEIR" country.

Good or bad results are generally judged by the same insular thinking.

West Indies cricket has only been truly comparable in two successful eras.

Firstly, under the Great Sir Frank Worrell, when he united and controlled a diverse group of young talented players, headed by Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Wes Hall and Lance Gibbs in the early and mid Sixties and then under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards in the late Seventies to the middle of Nineties.

The glue that held them together was success. While they continued to win, the isolationists in the various countries held their tongue.

Unfortunately in both eras little was done to cement the future.

No development or coaching programmes were introduced and countries quickly lapsed into another isolationist period.

This is exactly where the West Indies cricket now stands.

Sure, there is still much natural talent around, particularly in the batting, but the hard tough core which was so evident during the Lloyd, Richards era is now missing.

In many ways the West Indies long success may have backfired.

Youngsters grew up watching the great West Indies team cruise to easy victories.

It seemed as though a continued unending group of champions were just waiting to be discovered.

And there was such a stream, who won recognition not because they were talented but because they were tough, worked hard and forced their way into the Test team because of the weight of runs or wickets.

It all looked easy. But unfortunately, the youngsters thought that all they had to do to be successful was to be born a West Indian.

And here in lies the problem of West Indies cricket right now and the reason why 49 players have won selection in Test teams in the last five years.

This problem will not go away. Coaches and administrators must work with the players to instill a work ethic and common sense to their cricket so that they will know how to plan and play a innings which will be of discipline and concentration and not be marred so much by poor judgment of length and undisciplined shot selections.

Bowlers must learn to bowl to a plan which will vary with each batsman and have the confidence, control and cricket nous to do so.

And what of the selectors? They need to be strong, compassionate, thoughtful and above all patient and not to take it personal if individual players or the team do not perform as well as they would have liked.