Sunday, January 21, 2018

Gibson's true challenge


GREAT FORM: In this file photo, West Indies veteran batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul plays the sweep shot against England at Queen's Park Oval on their 2009 tour of the Caribbean. Chanderpaul was Man of the Series in the recent home series against Australia. –Photo: ROBERT TAYLOR

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"That bat cannot be carried on as hand luggage sir. It is considered as a weapon."

"Even if it belongs to a West Indies opening batsman?"

Okay, I know it's another case of knocking the fellas when they're down, but this was an opportunity too good to pass up when Nigel Camacho faced some difficulty going through security at Grantley Adams International on Saturday. Turns out that the goodly dentist and one of the founding members of the Trini Posse had been to Dominica to collect a bat and helmet used and autographed by Australian batting legend Ricky Ponting and donated to the museum of the Queen's Park Cricket Club.

Even the Bajan lady officer who was explaining the situation to the "Doc" laughed at my mischievous query. That brief moment encapsulated how so many of us feel about the protracted travails of the flagship senior men's regional side (as distinct from other representative squads): we hope for the best but expect the worst, and when the final result is somewhere in between – defeat despite being competitive – well, we wonder what if, cuss the umpires and the use of the television technology via the Decision Review System, crack and few jokes and wonder how we will fare in the next assignment.

Usually that next assignment is another home campaign. This time though, there is the small matter of three Tests, three One-Day Internationals and a solitary T20 over a five-week period in England before the squad returns home at the end of June to take on New Zealand.

And while we are expected to have a better than fighting chance against the Black Caps, none of the positive spinning of head coach Ottis Gibson, captain Darren Sammy or anyone else has diminished the expectation that the Caribbean squad will be pulverised – certainly in the Tests – by a top-ranked host side revelling in familiar conditions while the visitors struggle to cope with the icy blast of an English spring and the wobbling new ball delivered by James Anderson and company.

Look, let's put all this talk of a new spirit and a new attitude in its proper perspective.

Weren't those same tunes being sung when the Australians were last here in 2008? As in the first Test this time around at Kensington Oval, the squad then led by Ponting was on the back foot at 18 for five – yes, 18 for five – in their second innings in the series opener at Sabina Park before Andrew Symonds got his second half-century of the match and the tourists eventually rallied to prevail by the comfortable margin of 95 runs.

As in the final Test last week at Windsor Park Stadium, Australia rallied from a difficult position in their first innings and the West Indies went down fighting to a 2-0 series loss, Shivnarine Chanderpaul compiling half-centuries in both innings as the home side went down four years ago by 87 runs after being set the improbable target of 475 in Barbados.

So for all the tra-la-la about a new team ethos and a much-improved work ethic, none of that has translated into improved results on the field…yet. And it remains to be seen if Gibson will be allowed to build on any perceived gains from the series just ended, especially as those calling for his head already will become increasingly strident and emboldened by a few more bandwagonners if the annihilation over the three Tests in England comes to pass.

For that is really the challenge facing the former Barbados and West Indies fast-medium bowler and England bowling coach. Whether or not they were capable of turning things around, none of the coaches who preceded him over the past decade – Gus Logie, Bennett King, David Moore, John Dyson, Hendy Springer and David Williams – were ever fortunate, for a number of reasons related to events both on and off the field, to have a settled squad to work with.

Uprooting the deeply-embedded ills of West Indies cricket and replanting and nurturing a culture of professionalism, with all the dedication and discipline it entails, takes considerable time.

Given that he has already rubbed so many of the star boys who used to be regulars of the side the wrong way, any tide of discontent against him may swell to an irresistible tsunami if the feared seismic events at Lord's, Trent Bridge and Edgbaston come to pass.

In the same way that Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has rehabilitated Carlos Tevez and, as now seems likely, Mario Balotelli for this afternoon's potentially decisive English Premier League home derby showdown with defending champions Manchester United, the pressure of immediate circumstances can often result in succumbing to the quick fix.

It may bring about the desired result, and even result in City lifting English football's most valued trophy from the hands of their phenomenally successful neighbours.

Still, it is unlikely that in this era of instant gratification, Mancini or any other coach of a prominent football club anywhere will ever have the leeway enjoyed by Sir Alex Ferguson, who went more than six years before claiming his first league crown in 1993, but has since established a culture of success and a Manchester United dynasty unparalleled in the English game.

Oh by the way, Dr Camacho was eventually able to carry his "weapon" on board after explaining the situation to airline officials. Gibson may have to be much more persuasive to convince skeptics that West Indies are heading in the right direction after the England Tests.