‘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
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