FORMER WEST Indies opener and captain Daren Ganga speaks to The Indian Express about the dismal loss at Rajkot, the systemic issues affecting West Indies’ Test cricket and how the pathway to redemption is a long, winding one. Excerpts.
Is this the worst you’ve seen them play in a while?
What I saw in Rajkot was a contrast to what I saw in the Caribbean. The last five Tests played by the Windies were actually good in terms of their form in this format, where they won three out of five and lost only 1 to Sri Lanka. I saw progress in a lot of the players. This was a meek surrender. They capitulated. I have seen it years upon years, when the Windies don’t start well in a Test series, it goes downhill. It’s very difficult for them to recover.
It’s even led to some questioning their Test status, or the damage they’re doing to it.
I can understand the reactions. India has set a standard for themselves. This series is not adding any value to the No.1 Test team in the world, more so when they have been defeated by a strong England team in England and they have the challenge of Australia ahead. We also need to consider this Indian team has dominated all opposition over the years at home. Let’s not forget that India is a performing team while Windies are a forming team. That will amplify the gap between the two squads. While people on the outside only see these 12-15 players representing the West Indies, they don’t see the back-end of what is happening with our cricket and the systemic issues around it.
What are these systemic issues in your opinion?
For starters, the believe of losing cricketers to other sport in the Caribbean is a myth. We won the World T20, under-19 World Cup and the women’s World T20 all in the same year and it breathed new life into cricket in the Caribbean, albeit in the shorter formats of the game. There are many other deficiences that have a corelation to the quality of cricket we produce at the highest level. Our coaching education program and the coaching certification program haven’t been in existence for many number of years. When you think about how that’s not been consistently addressed over the years, you realize there’s been over a generation of cricketers who’ve been coming out of the grassroot levels, who have not interfaced with quality coaches, not learnt the proper technique or approaches, who are currently going through a process of unlearning and therefore developing into substandard cricketers. The coaching education should ideally be in alignment with the player development pathway. That is a fundamental issue. It’s a hit-or-miss situation. Then there’s no academy or finishing school like the Australian Institute of High Performance, which I and Ramnaresh Sarwan attended and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Michael Clarke and Shane Watson.
Then there’s also the issue of your higher-quality players leaving for greener T20 pastures.
Teams like India, Australia, England and South Africa have the resources to ensure that their players don’t need to compromise on their marketability, and that as a professional they can continue to earn what they will from the open market even after lining themselves with the national team. They can support their players and satisfy their earning ability at home unlike us. Back home, a lot of it is left to the players themselves to ensure that they become world-class. I draw an analogy with the corporate world. If I have invested in a product, there’s no way I am going to leave the quality of the product to chance. If CWI, as stakeholders, continue to invest in West Indies cricket, they must have a more hands-on approach to the quality of cricketers we produce.
There’s also always a lot of unrest when it comes to administration of West Indies cricket.
The adminstrative arm and the vehicles that administer the game, I speak directly about the territorial boards, the constitution and framework is archaic and outdated. And they’re charged with the responsibility to support a modern, dynamic game. There are lot of things being done to change but there is an old guard that continues to hold on to power, like the incumbent group of executives in Trinidad & Tobago who continue to inherit power. Those in control are not willing to relieve them because their self-interest comes in between with the greater good of the game. That’s a direct negative in the quality of play that we showcase to the world. There’s one train of thought that these Test players are more like the leftovers or those who aren’t skilled enough to get themselves lucrative T20 league contracts.
We’ve had a nucleus of players who have been groomed for Test cricket, and we have been able to win Tests against higher-ranked teams in the last year. Our record isn’t that bad. These are not peripheral players who have been isolated into the Test format. The problem is the young players who are sacrificing first-class cricket to play T20 cricket. Like Evin Lewis who burst on to the scene and dominated T20 and ODI has gone off the boil a bit. There should be a dialogue between the powers that be and these youngsters. There is a disconnect there that is not helping Test cricket. I would love to see him go along the same way like David Warner or Jos Buttler, who started off similarly like him.
Do enough people still care about Test cricket and does a loss like the one in Rajkot set the alarm bells ringing back home?
The alarm bells are still ringing. But they’ve been ringing from 5 to 7 to 10 years, you get jaded hearing them ring. That’s been the case in the West Indian setup. You no longer get a jolt from the performance like Rajkot. Some people are disenchanted while others have given up interest or don’t have the energy to fight for reform and put things right because progress has been so slow. There are a select few who aggressively pursue the betterment of West Indian cricket and they’re trying to address the deficiences. Progress cannot be in a vaccum though. There’s a great desire for the fortunes to change among the great players of the past. But many of them aren’t influential and that’s the most frustrating thing. The process of them getting into the leadership positions isn’t democratic. So it ends up being a lot of lip-service. And breaking away into regional outfits isn’t a solution, it’s just a statement made after such heart-breaking defeats.
Theres seems to be a severe lack of quality in first-class cricket in the Caribbean unlike when you started.
The quality of players aren’t anywhere near those in the 1990s when the Laras and Ambroses would play in our first-class cricket. Every region has 15 centrally contracted players dedicated to playing all-year-round but that security of tenure doesn’t make them better cricketers. The backend of their program of development is non-existent. It’s left to chance. You don’t know what’s happening in Guyana as against Barbados as against Jamaica. Because we have a small pool of quality players the competition isn’t great. So players are being selected on potential for international cricket and not performance.
You were part of a West Indies team where the downfall had begun and it had set in by the time you quit. But has the pride of a West Indian cricketer from even 10 years ago.
When I played my first Test in South Africa in 1998 I played with Ambrose, Walsh, Lara and Hooper, and there was still a lot of pride. Now the young players in this team do not have anyone like that in a position of having been there and done that. It’s very hard to mature in an environment where you’re not winning. That’s the kind of depreciation that took place from the 1990s to now. Who does a Shai Hope look to for guidance? Who does Shannon Gabriel turn to when his back is against the wall when his fellow pacers have played 2 Tests between them? It’s like the blind leading the blind in a case of trial and error.