A new mental construct; a return to excellence

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles’ commitment to regional cricket and the embrace of an ethos of excellence cannot be questioned. That within the last two decades he has spoken on the subject of West Indies cricket with both pride and pain is a matter of public record. His words have often echoed the joy, excitement, pride, angst, frustration, bewilderment, anger and other emotions that have been the experience of millions of regional cricket fans.

Yesterday at the launch of the Sagicor UWI High-Performance Centre at the Usain Bolt Sports Complex, Sir Hilary spoke on the state of West Indies cricket, its historical importance to the region, its future and the prospects for returning it to that state of excellence with which it has been previously associated. He did not speak of West Indies cricket in abstract terms and pointedly looked at the necessity for players to benefit financially from their involvement in the sport. But he was uncompromising in the need for balance and for a mental construct among players that acknowledged that their Caribbean society should not be sacrificed or relegated to absolute nothingness in the pursuit of self-fulfillment.

Though not identifying specific individuals, Sir Hilary touched on the vexing subject of cricketers “cherry-picking” specific series or tournaments for which they made themselves available and compared their attitudes and commitment to representing the West Indies to that of players from other nations. He had this to say: “Can you imagine in Australia, in England, in India, the selectors picking a team of their eleven best players and four or five of them say: ‘I am not available because I have other matches to play’. Because those are societies that take the citizenship seriously, the nation takes its identity seriously and the citizen represents the nation,” Sir Hilary said.

We have had examples in the past of players such as off-spinner Sunil Narine opting to play for his Indian Premier League franchise after being requested to return to the Caribbean to play in an international series. We have also had previous instances of batsman Darren Bravo declining to play limited overs cricket for the West Indies with the excuse of wanting to recover his form in the four-day format for Trinidad and Tobago, but yet not playing a single game for the country of his birth. Recently, following an impasse with Cricket West Indies, and subsequent reinstatement into the regional set-up, Mr Bravo declined to play for the regional side with the excuse of wanting to play for his Trinidad and Tobago franchise in the Caribbean Premier League. Gone are the days, it seems, that the call to play for the West Indies was the pinnacle of a regional cricketer’s desires.

Of mental meltdown of that sort, Sir Hilary opined: “You cannot have young men who walk out of the team and cherry-pick when they are going to play from when they are not going to play. We are the only team that does not put our best eleven cricketers to represent the nation because the citizen sees himself as superior to the society, that his personal cause is superior to the cause of his country.” In all of this, he stressed that everything must be done to find a balance between maximizing the income-earning possibilities for players and their representation of the West Indies team.

Sir Hilary noted that the players of the past two decades were highly talented, perhaps as talented as those of the region’s golden era of the late 1970s, 1980s and very early 1990s. But there has been a missing element in the modern cricketer and much of it has to do with a mental detachment from the history of the game and its importance beyond the boundary. The ethos of the game has moved from enhancing Caribbean excellence and pride to mainly personal aggrandizement.  The balance of which the eminent historian spoke has been damned.

Sir Hilary, who has been linked to cricket at some level for more than four decades, noted: “I interviewed many of our stars that were associated with the collapse and they were all skilful cricketers and you must remember that the West Indies team was filled with stars when they were losing every match, when they were being humiliated, they were filled with stars, all very competent, technically sound cricketers. But the rest of us sat back and saw that there was no resolve, there was no passion, and there was no fight. There was a breakdown in the mental construct and our job is to fix the mental construct.”

The educator, nevertheless, like many others who are passionate about the game, believes that what has been lost is retrievable.  He indicated that the University of the West Indies stood ready, through its High-Performance Centre and any other avenue through which it could make a contribution, to help in the reconstruction process. We believe that reconstruction process has already started.

It should be noted that the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, has excelled in every sporting discipline with which it has been involved over the past few years. This would suggest that not only does Sir Hilary knows what he is talking about, but also that the template being employed at that institution is bearing fruit. Perhaps, it can be fully extended through the consciousness of all regional sportsmen and sportswomen in the years ahead.

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