Friday, December 15, 2017

Good times going?


improved side: West Indies captain Darren Sammy, left, and coach Ottis Gibson.

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It would have been real interesting if we could have put a microphone inside Ottis Gibson's brain and listen in during the flight down to Australia last week.

That would be my wish, to 'maco' Ottis, because the West Indies coach left the Caribbean with his future in the game all but clear.

On the one hand, there was the West Indies Cricket Board via its media arm saying that, "the Board approved the recommendation to offer a renewal of contract to team manager Richie Richardson and head coach Ottis Gibson, pending completion of negotiations which are expected to be concluded shortly."

On the other hand, Gibson is on a shortlist of candidates for the director of coaching job at English county Warwickshire and was reportedly due to be interviewed by the club last week as well. What is going on here people?

By its offer of a new contract, the West Indies Cricket Board evidently wants to keep Gibson. But by the fact that he was shortlisted by Warwickshire with a view to being interviewed, it is also clear that Gibson has his doubts about staying in West Indies cricket.

I have to say I was surprised by the Warwickshire developments.

It was back in August last year at the Pegasus Hotel in Jamaica that I had chatted last with the coach. It was the day after West Indies had beaten New Zealand in the second and final Test match. The interview was ending when I asked whether he wanted to stay in the job. It took a rephrasing of the question before I got a direct answer but eventually coach Gibson said: "Of course I want to stay on. I don't think the job that I've come

to do is finished and I would want to be here to finish the job.

"When I signed the contract in the first instance, it was a three-year

contract at which time the Board will review the things that I said I was gonna

do. I think we are somewhere towards achieving what I said we could do."

At the time of the interview, the World Twenty20 Championship was still to be played. West Indies went on to win it of course. But I'm sure that winning that tournament would not have amounted to "achieving what I said we could do." So what in the space of six months has changed?

Gibson has said nothing publicly, so there is nothing save for speculation to go by. But included in that speculation is the suggestion that the Windies coach had grown tired of the internal politics of West Indies cricket.

That I could understand.

In my dealings with the man, Gibson has always struck me as a straightforward fellow, perhaps too straightforward in this age of mass media. And unfortunately speaking plainly and honestly does not always win friends.

Gibson also clearly realised that if he was to make meaningful improvements to the West Indies team; it could not be business as usual; that a culture shift was needed. Culture shift? Well prepare for war!

So it has turned out.

In his three years at the helm, Gibson has been the source of criticism directly or indirectly from senior players Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan.

The utterances by Gayle and Sarwan resonated most. And it did not help that their issues with Gibson were tied up in wider disputes with the WICB, which in Sarwan's case ended up in a lawsuit. Meanwhile, prime ministers, including Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica got involved before the Gayle matter could be settled.

As per usual, these sagas have many different sides. But Gibson for the most part has refrained from responding publicly to the accusations. However, he did say this back in August about Sarwan: "I've never had an issue with Sarwan. Never once in my three years here have I had an issue with Sarwan. I was very disappointed to hear the stuff that Sarwan said because I don't know where there was an issue.

But I've always said we can't go where we want to go without our experienced players."

Sarwan is now back under Gibson, as has been Gayle for the past nine months (time has flown). But how much of a toll have the controversies taken, one cannot say. Maybe Gibson has found out that trying to establish a new ethos in the dressing room is not just a matter of dealing with players. Their representatives, the players body WIPA could get involved; directors from various territories can weigh in; each group trying to protect its interests while representing its actions as being "for the good of West Indies cricket."

It was always therefore always a concern of mine whether the coach would get the necessary support to see his plans through. Cannot say at this stage whether he has or not.

The evidence on the field however is that Gibson--with support from Darren Sammy as the captain--has improved the side. The World T20 trophy is proof that Gibson has got results. The clean sweeps in Test series of New Zealand and Bangladesh and the improvement in performance over time of players like Sammy himself and Ravi Rampaul as a new ball bowler provide further evidence of a coach who is making some kind of difference.

To lose Gibson now would be a body-blow, if not tragic. It would be the kind of setback--like player/board disputes of the recent past--that could so easily and critically stall the progress of the international team yet again. But it would not be a surprise.

In WI cricket these days, the good times come and go quick.