Losing, failing, not winning; the same thing

Sporting purges hardly occur when teams are successful.

Of course, definitions of success might vary from sport to sport, administration to administration, or team owner to team owner.

For many winning is everything. Second place is reason for dismay, third place doesn’t cut it, and fourth place really spells failure.

For personages such as Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, it’s win or nothing. In 2008 Chelsea manager Avant Grant led his team to second place in England’s Premiership and to the final of the Champions League where they were beaten by  Manchester United. Two worthy second places. Grant was fired by the Russian billionaire.

There is a misnomer often repeated with naïve relish, that winning or losing is not the most important thing, but what really matters is the spirit in which the game is played. This sounds especially great for the winning team but is rather hollow for the losers.

In the 1987 World Cup with a semi-final place at stake fast bowler Courtney Walsh took benevolence to the extreme when he refused to run-out Pakistan’s Saleem Jaffar for unfairly gaining yards by backing-up outside of his crease. West Indies lost and Walsh was a hero from Balochistan to Karachi and beyond.

Victors love losers. Much is often made of the rousing send-off which the Australian public gave Frank Worrell’s 1960-61 West Indians on their departure from Down Under. The Australians were enthralled by the brand of cricket Sir Frank’s men played. But Australia won the series 2-1 and one wonders what would have been the nature of the send-off had West Indies won the series. We will never know.

Professional sport is about winning.  The spirit of the game, giving it one’s best shot, the immeasurable “did my best”, and any number of failure absorbents are more palatable in amateur sport – barely. However, where millions of dollars are spent in salaries, facilities and amenities, training, medicals, insurance, travel, accommodations and security, failure has a horrid taste.

Of course, the common denominator for both amateur and professional sport is that intangible pride; mostly to be found among the fans. The pain associated with losing does not diminish for those with nationalism beating in their bosoms because of the paid or unpaid status of the sport. While those participating may often become numb to failure, especially when they are still well paid for their futility, those on the side lines, in the stands, on the mounds, suffer each loss until disenchantment becomes their saving grace.

The current West Indies team is in transition. It has been lost in that transition for almost two decades. Managers have come and gone. So too captains. And coaches. And selectors. Frequently there have been great expectations that the team has turned the corner, only for passionate observers to realize our lads have continuously turned into

We have reached a juncture where regional politicians, unable to run their own countries, unable to satisfy the mandates by which they were elected, seek to divert attention from their domestic failures by suggesting they have the answer for West Indies cricket. Some would perhaps be better served turning – metaphorically – to Chalkdust’s Kirpalani.

Our players of the last 15 to 20 years have been charged with the responsibility also once given to Headley, Weekes, Walcott, Worrell, Sobers, Lloyd, Richards, Holding, Marshall, Croft, Greenidge, and countless others of previous vintage. Win on the field of play. Today, our cricketers are better paid, have greater opportunities for wealth creation, are presented with better amenities and general conditions, accorded greater exposure and charged with the same responsibility. But they continue to be abject failures with the aberration of Twenty20 trophies suggesting a road through the culs-de-sac.

And so rather than focus on the field of play where batting, bowling, fielding and thinking still combine to win games, a façade has been created that the leadership style of president of the West Indies Cricket Board Dave Cameron is the root cause of all that is wrong with West Indies cricket. That is not drowning and catching at a straw; that is really the final stage of climbing atop that straw.

The West Indies brand has diminished because the players have been failures. The brand is no longer attractive. England, once eager to stage five-match series in their summer, now grudgingly accommodate two or three in cold April. Australia now baulk at the thought of hosting the West Indies for a Boxing Day Test, far less endure them – and empty stands – for five. The WICB didn’t do that; the players did.

Cricket is a business, an expensive undertaking, and one that players should be doing their utmost to ensure remains viable. The political ranting of Grenadian Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell will do nothing for the brand. St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Dr Ralph Gonsalves’ verbose will not fill empty stadia. West Indies winning matches will do that.

At the recent WICB retreat in Dominica, Mr Cameron pointed to the fact that the senior team’s performances in Test matches and ODIs were among the “business risks” faced by the board. These are risks because the West Indies are losers in the formats – Tests especially – and unattractive overseas and at home. No one cares to watch losers.

The West Indies fired its coach Phil Simmons after one win in 14 Tests, poor ODI results, and of course that T20 trophy. His tenure was in all honesty a perpetuation of our 20-year losing culture. Does his dismissal merit angst? Or prolonged debate? The answer is to be found in our results.

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