West Indies and Australia between them dominated world cricket for about three decades and were the undisputed kings of the game.
However, at the end of their reigns the standard of their game fell steadily as they went into a grim performance slump. Australia appears to have overcome that slump and in the current Ashes series the team played brilliant cricket to beat England and retain the Ashes in just three Tests. Clearly their recovery strategy is working.
West Indies on the other hand continues to play poorly and in the recent Test series against India and New Zealand their performance fell to a new low. The team is trapped in a vicious failure cycle from which it is struggling to escape. The idiotic exercise of sending the team to Florida to start its preparation for the tours of India and New Zealand did not help and leads one to believe that there is not a sensible or carefully thought out recovery strategy in place.
No rational explanation can be given for such poor preparation. Preparation and desire can at times make up for a lack of skill, but skill alone cannot compensate for a lack of preparation and desire. The Florida exercise also gives the impression that the West Indies Cricket Board’s motives and first important priorities are not in sync with performance on the cricket field. Whatever the priorities, performance on the field must be placed at the top of the board’s list.
MS Dhoni, the captain of India, recently told me that the main difference between great teams and the others is the interval between mistakes. The longer the interval the better the team performs. He explained that when a great team makes a mistake they learn from it and do not repeat it for quite some time. The lesser team on the other hand makes mistakes and keeps repeating them at frequent and regular intervals. The West Indies team and the WICB fall squarely into the latter category.
The life cycle of every champion team is one of conception, growth, optimum performance, stagnation and then decline. But the decline can be prevented or corrected if the team starts a second growth curve or psychological rebirth while it is still playing well. This revival strategy requires attitudinal change, a relisting of priorities, and a change of leadership. It also requires the inclusion of disciplined and hard working players who are hungry for success and committed to mastery of the basic skills. New systems, efficient structures, visionary leadership and competent management of players and the board’s activities are also needed.
The longer the decline lasts the more difficult it is to reverse. Unfortunately most teams wait until they are in full decline before they act.
When the West Indies cricket team was dominating world cricket they did not see the need to start a second growth curve and in the nineties the team went into a steady decline. At that stage they were in a state of denial, could not see the reality of the situation they were in, and believed that things would automatically and miraculously improve. Consequently little was done to change or adapt to the circumstances they faced.
During the last seventeen years the team’s failure spiral intensified as the slope of the decline became steeper. For some time now the team has been near the bottom of the world rankings in Test and One Day Cricket. The decisions, actions and combative attitude of the West Indies Cricket Board and the West Indies Players’ Association are good examples of what not to do in circumstances like these.
At the end of their reign, the Australian cricket team also went into a decline. But, unlike the West Indians the Australians were acutely aware of what was happening and immediately started to put a strategic plan in place. They asked themselves the right questions, made some difficult and unpopular decisions, changed captains, coaches and players, and put different structures, systems and resources in place to arrest the slide and start a second growth curve.
Some boards and administrators find it difficult to start a second growth curve because their mindset does not allow them to see themselves as part of the problem. Some members do not even understand that transformation and psychological rebirth is easier when they start with themselves and set the right examples. And they don’t seem to realise how hard it is for a team to play well on the field with a dysfunctional administrative and management team behind it.
Let us pray that in the New Year the board, the support staff and the players acquire the strength, wisdom and resolve to change their old ways and their disruptive thinking. In the end, success is often more about unlearning and removing bad habits, outmoded traditions and self-defeating attitudes than about learning or adding new ones.
Rudi V. Webster is author of the new book, Think Like A Champion (Harper Collins India).