The State Of West Indies Cricket
Address To Queen’s College Alumni Associations, July 4, 2010 Grand Reunion Ball, New York
Thank you Mr. Master of Ceremonies, Presidents and members of the overseas chapters of the Queen’s College of Guyana Alumni Association, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I am thrilled to have been invited to address you here this evening and would first of all like to congratulate both Chapters on the fantastic work you have done and continue to do for our alma mater.
I was asked to speak to you tonight about “The State of West Indies Cricket”. Now, for those of you who have still managed to keep an eye on West Indies cricket, you would know that we have long fallen away from the lofty standards we had set in the late seventies and eighties, through to the mid-nineties.
At the moment West Indies cricket is in a state of disrepair. From being the best team in the world for a period in excess of 17 years the West Indies team is now ranked 8th in world in Test cricket out of 9 countries, and 8th out of 12 in the 50-overs format and 8th again, out of 19 in the Twenty20 format.
Recently I was told the story of an eight-year-old boy who had his parents arrested for child abuse. He said that they beat him everyday. The judge asked him if he wanted to live with his grandparents but he said, "No. They beat me too". So he was asked who he wanted to live with and he said he wanted to live with the West Indies cricket team because he heard that they don’t beat anybody.
Now, this is not just a case of the West Indies team performing badly as so many will want you to believe. Of course, I believe that the team is capable of performing better, but, you see, this is the manifestation of the poor quality of our cricket at all levels.
When the West Indies dominated world cricket over those 17 years we did not implement systems to ensure that we would continue to be at the top of the world game. We did not ensure that we established programmes that would develop the abundant latent talent into the finished articles we expected to see when our team represents us internationally.
Instead we sat back and just expected it to happen. Well, it didn’t happen, and will continue not to happen, until the right structures and programmes are put in place. What amazes me though, is that a number of people involved in running the sport believe that the success enjoyed by the West Indies team of the 1970s, 1980s & early 1990s had nothing to do with structure or programmes but was just about “natural talent”.
They like to say that there wasn’t any coaching back in those days, but how wrong they are. Back in the old days, a lot of coaching took place. Fathers and grandfathers were often a kid’s first coach introducing him to the game and teaching him the very basics.
Then at primary school there were teachers who organised the sport and offered some coaching. At high school, there were Games Masters and Masters responsible for specific sports, like at Queen’s College, who took a serious interest in the game and the players and nurtured the talent as best they could. Some schools also had coaches employed to train and prepare the players for competition.
At clubs, the senior players who were often former national or international players, ran the nets, and fulfilled the role of the coach by passing on their technical and tactical knowledge and sharing their experience, while insisting on a high level of discipline.
So, in fact, a lot of coaching took place and even though it may have been informal to an extent, there was some structure to it, in that it happened at all levels and built on what was done at the previous level.
Now, one also has to remember that the mental side was being shaped at home to start with. Discipline was instilled by parents & grandparents. Youths were brought up to respect their elders and therefore listened to them, and so had the opportunity to learn from them. Work ethic was something that young people understood because we were brought up to earn what we wanted. We were also taught the importance of patience and persistence.
A direct result of the good schools’ cricket programme and highly competitive club structure was a very strong, first-rate, regional competition - the Shell Shield. This meant that when players were selected for the West Indies team they had already experienced tough, highly competitive cricket. Also a number of our players played English county cricket. But ultimately, the territories took the responsibility to develop quality players.
If you want to get a true perspective of the strength of West Indies cricket when we were at the top, then just think of the number of quality players that did not play for the West Indies at that time - those that could not make the team. A high percentage of them would have played for most of the other international teams.
But let’s look at what obtains now:
- The schools' cricket system is almost non-existent in some territories (it is very poor in Guyana).
- The standard of club cricket is atrocious in most territories and the older experienced players are no longer there to pass on their knowledge, experience and values.
- The regional competition is relatively weak because there aren’t enough quality players in each of the territorial teams to make each match a really tough and testing encounter.
- The warm-up games on tours are very few or non-existent, and there are no territorial games against touring teams during home series either. So players do not get much exposure against international opposition prior to making the West Indies team.
- Very few, if any, of our players get the opportunity to play (English) county cricket.
- The territories keep looking to the WICB for everything and do not fulfil their obligations to seek and nurture latent talent and develop high quality players.
If we are to regain our place at the top of world cricket, then we have to recreate the model we had in the past that was so successful, recreate it in a formal and structured manner. Where necessary, we have to improve on it and add to it but we cannot circumvent aspects of it and expect to succeed long term.
To build anything that is big and tall, you need a huge, sturdy base, a solid foundation. For skyscrapers, as you know, they actually spend a lot of time digging down to great depths, to establish that foundation before they start to build upwards with confidence and speed. On the other hand the Egyptians built their super structures, the pyramids, with an extremely broad base.
A successful international cricket team could be likened to a skyscraper or a pyramid but in either one, the base or foundation is most important and a lot of time and money needs to be spent to develop it.
While I was at Queen’s College, I played a lot of cricket, inter-form matches, inter-house matches, inter–school matches, inter-zone matches and Wight Cup matches against clubs. The QC cricket team even toured Barbados one year. Those years at QC were a great part of my cricketing foundation. That was the platform on which my career was built.
If West Indies cricket is to re-establish its place at the top then schools like Queen’s College will have to play its part in helping to provide that base, that foundation that was mentioned a little while ago. Schools should provide the talent pool, the reservoir for all sports and especially cricket. It is therefore critical that we have sports back in schools in Guyana and at Queen’s College in particular.
What we have to remember is that this is not just crucial to the success of our cricket but it is critical to the rounded development of our youths and Guyana on the whole. Through sport, including cricket, we can teach our youths:
- team work,
- to communicate better,
- to be self-confident,
- to relax & have fun, and importantly,
- to keep fit and healthy.
So anything that can be done to get Queen’s College back leading the way in sports once again is most welcome and the sports pavilion & ground refurbishment project is an important part of the plan.
However, we have to change the culture that exists in Guyana’s school system and especially at Queen’s College - a culture that encourages and delights in students writing 14 subjects at the CXC exams in Fifth Form.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think that it is fantastic to have all of those certificates. But when it turns out that the student really only needs about 5 or 6 of those subjects to pursue the career of their choice and the 14 certificates came at the expense of the holistic development of the individual, then something is not quite right. A balance has to be struck.
In the Caribbean as a whole (probably with the exception Jamaica to an extent) we are far too reticent as far as enlightening our youths about the terrific opportunities presented by sports. Sport is one of the biggest growing industries in the world and provides significant career and life changing opportunities. You live here in the US. So I do not have to belabour that point.
Schools should prepare youths for a successful career and life thereafter. They should get all-round exposure so that they have the opportunity to discover where their real talent lies. But if the opportunities to participate in sports and some of the arts are not available, then the school system is not fulfilling its responsibilities.
We have to sensitise parents, students, teachers and everyone in the school system to the real value of sport, and we have to make them aware of the numerous opportunities available through sport. I think that we can grab the attention of both parents and students by making them aware that academic scholarships are easier to come by if the student is good at both academics and sport. That is the approach that I think should be used.
In closing, I would like to congratulate the alumni associations on the great work you are doing and the tremendous support that you have given, and continue to give, to Queen’s College. The goal should be to see Queen’s College maintain its place as the leading school in Guyana academically, and regain its place as the home of sporting excellence.
It is very instructive that the first verse of the Queen’s College school song, when translated reads:
Praise and thank we godly men
Who at our foundation
Did decree that work & play
Should be our salvation
Strive must we with hand
Never the twain dissever
Wooing wisdom cheerily
Queen’s, Queen’s forever.
Thank you & God bless!
Roger Harper Attended QC 1975 - 1981
D’Urban “D” House