'There's too much cricket'

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

HE is a reserved man, and obviously shy and quiet. To spot Joe Solomon in a gathering should not be a task. The one who would speak only when spoken to must be Solomon. How could such a mild man have been such a tremendous fielder? They say he was the most athletic and it was not possible to take a run from him. Such pleasant and softly-spoken sportsmen come rare and Solomon was one of that tribes.

V.V. KRISHNAN

Solomon was known as a batsman difficult to dislodge. His fielding was his strong point. His best series was against India in 1958-59 when he compiled 351 runs in four Tests. Hailing from Berbice, Solomon played 27 Tests.

He was at the Everest ground, looking after the needs of the players, ensuring they were in total comfort. One first met him at the reception hosted by the Indian High Commissioner in Guyana. He smiled and greeted everyone with such enthusiasm. His humility struck the Indian cricketers. The man who forced the first tie in Test cricket with a sensational pick and throw would not even talk about his deed.

After much persuasion, Solomon just said "I've always said it was an accident. I didn't do it deliberately. We all knew it was one last run. Everyone was alert. The captain had everyone on his toes. I just picked and threw. (Conrad) Hunte ran a batsman on the third run. That was fantastic."

When Solomon, now 72, came to the Bourda for the first Test, he was keen to watch Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. And of course the rest too but these two held all his attention. Lara disappointed him but not Tendulkar. Sitting in the stands, Solomon enjoyed every moment of Tendulkar's batsmanship.

When talking about the rapid progress made by cricket and cricketers, Solomon was very forthcoming. "The players are more scientific in their approach than we were. This kind of approach helps you to be more aggressive on the field. You can play better cricket shots even though the pitches are slow."

What sort of approach would he recommend on such slow pitches. "You have to wait for the ball because the pitches are slow. So that's why the batsmen have to be innovative. They have to keep looking at their mistakes and sort them out quickly before the bowlers sort them out."

Does he find cricket still exciting to watch? Solomon smiled "cricket is still, and will always be, an exciting sport. Players like Sachin, Lara play all their shots. Always. And they make the game exciting."

Solomon was known for his discipline and hard work. How would he rate the current crops of cricketers in general? "There are some very good players around the world. By and large the players have to be committed. These days, a lot of talented batsman get out in 30 and 40s. They need to concentrate more and put their heads down."

And how does that happen? "Concentration can be built only through practice. You have to train hard. There is nothing like match practice, playing long innings in the middle to prove. You have to be mentally and physically fit. Cricket may have become far more demanding but I think it's become very enjoyable too."

Often the old timers talk of too much training making the cricketers stale. Solomon believes in it too. "Too much training could be bad. If you over-train you tend to feel overconfident. It also tires you mentally and physically. If you are too confident, then you play too aggressively, which can be bad for your game. You got to play yourself in, get the eye in and get the pace of the pitch and then play the shots."

Cricket was so very different when Solomon was young. "It was very exciting," as he said, "even though there were very little monetary gains for us. We used to play for pride and honour of the country. That is something which is lacking in today's cricketers. I am sorry to say that. I think more or less they look for gains from the game. You can't leave your country's pride behind."

This apart, if there was an aspect of the game that made Solomon sad, was the amount of cricket being played these days. "I think there's too much cricket. Too many injuries to the players cannot be good for the game. The players have three to four tours a year which can be tiring. The players need adequate rest. We used to get rest between the tours to recuperate and get yourself going. But if you play too often, you tend to become carefree and don't really put everything into it."

Solomon also lamented the steady decline of the West Indies. "When they were on the top of the world, nobody thought of grooming the players, to take the place of the older players when they retired. Today they are stuck with a big player. There are little experienced players around. It'll take time for us to recover. It's been a long slump really.

"There have been a lot of coaches trying to help. It will not happen overnight. A beginning has been made though. We are trying. We have an academy at Grenada where we get the young fellows ready."

The lack of competition worries Solomon. "Cricket has become too easy. You make 30 or 40 and get picked in the West Indian team. There is no challenge. The competition has to be tough for you to have tougher players. Can't survive with mediocre players."

Solomon wanted the game to preserve it's tradition and keep a check on player behaviour. "The players today are more professional. They feel despondent when they are given out and then they react strongly. It's not good for cricket at all. Should be cut down. At the academy, we are trying to groom the players in various aspects of the game and behaviour on the field is top priority."

What would Solomon have done if he had the authority to run the game in the Caribbean. "If I had the authority," he smiled, thought for a while, and said "I'll try to get the talented players together at a seminar and have the great cricketers of the past to talk to them. Explain what they can do to improve their performances."

The West Indies was going through a tough time, agreed Solomon, but there was a ray of hope. "It goes in a cycle. Great players come and dominate and then you see no one can match them. This is one area we have to look at. Keep an eye on the replacements."

The glorious days of the 1980s look something of a dream today. The West Indies was a superpower once. "In the 1980s," emphasised Solomon. "The team had some great batsmen. Haynes and Greenidge, Richards and Lloyd and all those fellows. And four or five great bowlers. Holding, Garner, Roberts, Croft.. all those fellows. They would take five wickets before they would come off. Then they would come again fresh and get the opposition out. Fast bowling was the thing at that time."

What would he expect from the current bunch to put the West Indies back to where it belongs - at the top. "If you want to do well, commitment and proper training is must. You have to sacrifice a few things. You cannot depend on people to give you everything on a platter. Cricket today is hard work. Sport as such is about hard work. To improve, you have to work hard. I would like every youngster, Indian or West Indian to remember this."