‘West Indies in cri­sis? We never had it so good’

Des­mond Haynes be­lieves Eng­land’s tour is a huge chance for young ta­lent, as he tells Tim Wig­more

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Cricket -

It can feel as if a gen­er­a­tion or two of West Indies crick­eters have spent their re­tire­ments lament­ing that Caribbean cricket is not what it once was. Des­mond Haynes, who scored 35 in­ter­na­tional hun­dreds as an opener from 1978-1994, takes a dif­fer­ent view.

“There are bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties now than when we started,” he says. “You could be a guy that never played for West Indies and you could still make a lot of money from the game, be­cause you could be in­volved in IPL, or get a con­tract to play pro­fes­sional cricket some­where. There’s a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties out there.”

Yet Haynes’ com­ments en­cap­su­late the West Indies’ quandary: how to use T20 leagues to ben­e­fit their play­ers, with­out these play­ers choos­ing the leagues over in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments. It is a bal­ance that the West Indies have sel­dom struck since the In­dian Pre­mier League’s for­ma­tion in 2008, even if there have been signs of a rap­proche­ment in re­cent years.

“Play­ers are al­ways go­ing to be at­tracted to the IPL and so on. I don’t think we’ll ever stop them,” he says.

A more prag­matic path, charted since Johnny Grave took over as chief ex­ec­u­tive of Cricket West Indies two years ago, is to re­duce fix­ture clashes with leagues while en­cour­ag­ing play­ers – no­tably Dar­ren Bravo, Kieron Pol­lard and Chris Gayle – to re­turn to the in­ter­na­tional fold. More en­cour­ag­ingly, the new gen­er­a­tion of gal­li­vant­ing T20 stars, like Rov­man Pow­ell, Evin Lewis and Oshane Thomas, have avoided the poi­sonous re­la­tion­ships with the board.

“We are not do­ing par­tic­u­larly well at the mo­ment but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have the ta­lent. We’ve got a lot of ta­lent that needs to be har­nessed,” Haynes says. “There’s the nu­cleus of young play­ers you can build a team around.” He cites old-school Test opener Kraigg Brath­waite, the ex­plo­sive Shim­ron Het­myer and Shai Hope, whose twin cen­turies un­der­pinned the West Indies’ heist at Head­in­g­ley in 2017 and who has since evolved into an all-for­mat player; Brath­waite, who has just turned 26, is the old­est of the trio.

“It’s im­por­tant that you try and be the best that you can be – if it means hav­ing a per­sonal coach, if it means talk­ing to past greats, if it means work­ing a lot harder.”

Haynes sug­gests that the play­ers draw up a covenant for how they should rep­re­sent the West Indies. “I’d re­ally like us to fo­cus upon how we can get our play­ers to play with a lot more pride play­ing for the West Indies. Let us have a si­t­u­a­tion where we get the play­ers to agree to a covenant – they agree to give 100 per cent while play­ing for West Indies. The pub­lic in the Caribbean don’t mind the team los­ing, it’s how they are los­ing – they won­der if they are giving 100 per cent or not.”

The tales of West Indies’ decline, of course, are rather sim­plis­tic: they have won two of the past three men’s T20 World Cups. “We’ve al­ways had some very good six-hit­ters, we’ve had some­one like Chris Gayle who was very good at the front, we had guys who could work the ball around in the mid­dle. So we had the com­plete pack­age for T20. In our bowl­ing we had [Su­nil] Narine, who was a mys­tery spin­ner when he first came in, and a lot of bowlers with va­ri­ety. And we had peo­ple like Pol­lard who was fan­tas­tic in the field,” says Haynes.

Other for­mats, alas, have been more chal­leng­ing. The West Indies’ Test re­sults have im­proved lit­tle since the miracle of Leeds – their last Test was an in­nings and 184-run de­feat by Bangladesh.

Their ODI record is even worse: they are now ranked ninth, and needed rain, and a shock­ing lbw de­ci­sion, to edge past Scot­land and make this year’s World Cup.

Haynes sug­gests that, far from mir­ror­ing their T20 ap­proach, they need to bat more shrewdly in ODIs.

“Fifty-over cricket is 300 balls and you’d need your bat­ting line-up to re­flect that. You can’t just put in a bat­ting line-up that is suited for T20.

“You’ve got some­one like Kraigg Brath­waite – he bats time and bats very well. If you de­cide to give him a role and get oth­ers to play around him that should be an op­tion as well. Ev­ery­one is say­ing that 300 runs plus is the par score for 50-over games but if you’re play­ing in Eng­land in early June, and the ball is mov­ing around a bit you might be look­ing at some­body who is go­ing to oc­cupy the crease.”

The Caribbean has moved on from the cricket that Haynes and so many oth­ers grew up with. “There wasn’t an iPhone, there wasn’t iPads. So even though we only played three or four first-class games be­fore we got into the Test side, we were still play­ing so much cricket in the vil­lages. That’s where we learnt our cricket. That cul­ture cre­ated a way where you were learn­ing the sport there and then. We didn’t get a lot of coach­ing per se. We had to work out things for our­selves.”

This grass-roots cul­ture can’t be repli­cated: “You can’t play on the beaches as much as you could, you can’t play on the streets be­cause you’ll get hit by a car.” In­stead, it must be adapted. “You can cre­ate var­i­ous acad­e­mies in the Caribbean. So ev­ery ter­ri­tory had their academy and then the main West Indies academy, is for the creme de la creme from the other acad­e­mies. If you have the mini­a­cademies, that will be able to in­stil in the young­sters who we have had be­fore so that ev­ery young­ster would know about Garfield Sobers, Wes Hall, Michael Hold­ing and Viv Richards. We need to know our his­tory.”

Haynes hoped his own deep in­volve­ment in Caribbean cricket, com­bined with his be­lief in the power of data and tech­nol­ogy, would con­vince the board to ap­point him as the new head coach. In­stead, he will con­tinue as chair­man of the Cricket Leg­ends of Bar­ba­dos, charged with look­ing af­ter former crick­eters.

“Come and visit us and then you’ll get the op­por­tu­nity to come and have a drink with Sir Garry, my­self or any of the cricket leg­ends in Bar­ba­dos,” he chuck­les.

Free-flow­ing style: Des­mond Haynes in ac­tion for West Indies against Aus­tralia in 1989 at Syd­ney and (be­low) at Bridgetown when fac­ing Eng­land in 1990

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