They just want to play cricket

The West Indies team ethic is perhaps, and ironically so, reinforced by individual self-interest. And over and above is the realisation that everyone wants to "play the cricket" and that they can't do so by absenting themselves or by bickering among themselves, writes TONY COZIER

THERE were fears of a disruptive backlash from the upheavals that have split West Indies cricket and cricketers over the past year but they do not appear to have unduly bothered Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

"To have everybody back is a big boost," the captain said as his team regrouped with players who pulled out of the previous series in Sri Lanka.

"The guys have got over all the problems and we're now trying to pull together and move in the same direction," he said. "Everybody wants to help each other and that's all you can ask."

Such harmony did not seem possible when 10 of the 13 originally chosen for the Sri Lanka tour last July withdrew over long running disagreement between the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA) and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) over two clauses in the match/tour contract. It left Chanderpaul to lead a team mostly comprising novice replacements and facing criticism from WIPA president and chief executive Didanath Ramnarine.

"It's rather unfortunate to have the players making a principled stand and the captain of that side going in a different direction," Ramnarine said at the time. "It tells a story."

With the impasse now turned over for mediation to the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Federation of International Cricketers' Association (FICA), those players are back.

"I just think the guys wanted to play cricket and they decided they would put everything aside and play cricket," Chanderpaul said. "They said we'll forget about these things and let others deal with them in a different way and sort them out."

"I don't think anybody is putting his mind on that right now," he added. "Everybody just wants to play the cricket."

These are early days and signs of team unity have been encouraging. However, the strains in relationships are sure to surface as the Test series against Australia progresses. The leadership of Chanderpaul, coach Bennett King and manager Tony Howard also comes under close scrutiny during the series.

However, the most important question about Chanderpaul pertains to his style of captaincy.

"I'm a person who goes out there and tries to get the job done," he responded. "I go and talk to them (players) when I find we're straying a bit (from the game plan) and try to help them as much as I can."

King noted that the West Indies have used 39 players in the year since he took over as the first foreign coach.

"Shiv has been in charge for three-quarters of that time and he's done a pretty good job under trying circumstances," he said. "The players are right behind him."

"He has really opened up and the captaincy has brought out a side in him that hasn't been seen before," King added.

"He leads by example and he's been a very consistent player over a long period. Brian (Lara) has been good with his input and Ronnie (Sarwan) has put in a lot of work."

Sarwan, reinstated as vice-captain of the West Indies, reckoned Chanderpaul is not as attacking a captain as Lara. "Brian is more of a gambler. Shiv is more or less a very conservative person, that's how he is but he brings his experience and his batting abilities to the team and he's been very helpful for us," he said. "I'm sure that's going to continue."

As Lara observed in an address at a charity dinner in Sydney recently, the problems for West Indies captains are more off the field than on it.

Lara, who had two troubled stints at the helm, said he told Shaun Pollock and Graeme Smith, who led the respective World teams in the recent SuperSeries against Australia, that "they now have a little understanding of what it is like to captain a team whose players come from different countries".

"In the West Indies, you have guys with different passports and cultures and you have to try to bring them together over a three-month period," he noted. "I know you can say the West Indies teams of the 1970s and 1980s did that but times have changed," Lara added.

"If you were in Brisbane when the West Indies team arrived, you would have seen the Jamaicans heading to dinner in one group, the Guyanese all together in another group."

They are the kind of insular divisions that have been with West Indies cricket since a group of players from the scattered British colonies of the Caribbean and South America came together for the first tour under the banner, to the United States and Canada in the late 19th century.

Occasionally, it has managed to rise above such pettiness but it has taken formidable leaders — H. B. G. Austin, captain and founder member of the West Indies Cricket, in the formative years, Frank Worrell and Clive Lloyd in more recent times — to achieve it.

In this regard, Chanderpaul, a captain by default, propelled into the post last March by Lara's second voluntary departure, may seem to face an almost impossible mission.

Ironically, it could be individual self-interest that strengthens the team ethic on this tour and beyond, the realisation that everyone wants to "play the cricket" and that they can't do so by absenting themselves or by bickering among themselves.