Home Letters Response to Sir Vivian Richards’s observations on West Indies Cricket pitches
Recently, we wrote to you describing West Indies’ myopic view of itself as an organisation. Following publication of that letter, we have received nearly 455 responses via phone messages, texts, email, and social media shares.
The letter was published only on 20 January 2022. We believe that is a good indication that the letter was having the intended effect. As such, we will use this opportunity to highlight a few other issues that are constantly being discussed in rum shops, on cricket grounds, on social media, and among friends, professionals and fans.
First, I want to respond to Sir Vivian Richards’s portrayal of the organisation’s failure. I am confident that Sir Viv did not intend to criticise the West Indies Cricket Board for its failure to monitor, supervise, evaluate and recommend as necessary actions to improve the pitch conditions. Yes, he suggested that the problem NOW is that our wickets are the REASON we are not performing.
I wonder how Jimmy Adams and company feel about Sir Viv’s comments. I am equally confident they are angry as hell about Sir Viv’s observation, and wish he had not said those things.
What do you think is going on here? Sounds like Sir Viv is blaming the men who prepare the wickets. One cannot blame the low-level groundkeepers for preparing bad pitches. In fact, preparing pitches is a science, and requires significant knowledge and experience. Curators they are called, and countries like England hire only the best in the business.
Here is a look at what a curator must know: type of soil on the wicket; the nature or composition of such soil. Is it pure silt, dirt, black, red or blue? A curator must also know other characteristics associated with mixing water, or growing grass on the surface. He must have experience about the soil’s ability to retain moisture under various conditions. For example, how much moisture will this wicket retain during the course of the game? Can players expect the pitch to completely dry out in the first hour? Or will the players find the ball turning in the second half? Other knowledge a grounds-man must-have includes WATERING, soaking, and seeding the soil for grass. And when watering the wicket, a curator must follow specific formulas that maximise a combination of soil, water, sunshine, humidity, and rolling.
Thus, knowing the composition of soil is critical. Which rollers to use for maximum effect? Curators of golf courses are similarly trained and educated, so that they can deliver the best conditions on the golf course, which often resembles the surface of a pool table.
In golf, there is a formula to calculate how quickly or slowly a golf ball would roll on the green.
Finally, Curators in top cricketing nations are paid handsome salaries in exchange for their years of experience and education. Let’s compare how our people of the Caribbean stack up against their English counterparts. Or perhaps we should just let the readers explore that for themselves.
My observations about ground staff in the Caribbean is that most of the staff are running onto the field BAREFOOTED, or pants torn, cut, ragged clothes, some with rubber slippers. Is this an indication of how we treat our grounds-people? Do these images not convey that they are poorly paid? Do these images convey a sense of professionalism, like the English, who are in uniform?
My observation leads to this question: Where are these individuals coming from? Have they been handpicked from bystanders on the street corner to come and do a day’s work? I cannot imagine they are part of an organised team of grounds-staff. Could they be?
Following these observations, the readers will then ask, “What is the structure of the ground staff? Who is the director? Who supervises the director? Does he have a job description? Are education and experience requirements outlined? What are the accountabilities and deliverables he is responsible for? What are the expectations in terms of creating a playing surface that ensures satisfaction from both teams?
Again, I focus on standards and benchmarking to evaluate these performances. Are we even aware that such metrics exist, and can be used in monitoring day-to-day operations? My bet is that he is a contractor to the West Indian organisation? I will examine how we select curators below.
If I were Sir Viv Richards, I would have had intimate knowledge of how the West Indies Cricket Board goes about hiring and selecting people to manage the cricket grounds. Notice Sir Richards only touched the surface by sharing his view of the issue. Why has he not shed any light on who’s responsible for the failure? I would have preferred to hear him say that West Indies Cricket Board does not have any formal requirements for identifying or selecting individuals for managing grounds and preparing wickets. Equally true is that nowhere in the region do we have the selection criteria for local club grounds.
To suggest the wickets are not prepared properly also SUGGESTS THAT West Indies’ management is ultimately responsible. Yes, or no? Ask yourself, if you have a gardener who is doing a bad job with your lawn, will you continue to use him? Or if you do decide to hire someone new, I am sure you would explain that the previous gardener did a bad job. Moreover, you would ESTABLISH SPECIFIC EXPECTATIONS, or deliverables before hiring the new guy. Correct?
Sir Viv and several others, like the incoming Chairman of Selection for Guyana cricket, Rabindranaught Seeram, share this ill-conceived notion that poor wickets are the main cause for poor performances. In a video conference call last week with Mr. Seeram, he was unable to elaborate on the root causes for bad wickets. Like Sir Viv, Seeram had no solution to the problem. It is not clear how and why prominent individuals continue to identify problems of West Indies cricket but do not offer solutions. Is that not a strange thing?
For 30 years, the West Indies organisation has been doling out high-level positions to notable individuals because of their cricket history, but NOT because they KNOW HOW TO DO THE JOB. WE continue to see individuals given responsibilities in management without any management education or experience. Most embarrassing is that most of these individuals cannot communicate effectively when pushed by the press for answers. And in those roles, their lack of education and experience quickly begins to show.
In the absence of any policies or protocols for identifying, selecting and recruiting qualified curators, it is easy to “slip” the contract to friends of friends, men who are prominent in the communities, business associates. This, I am afraid, is the root of this problem: validating, and verifying their ACTUAL EXPERIENCE in grounds’ management. Instead, we get “businessman” with access to a lawnmower, some weed whackers. He manages to do a good job with the bush and tall grass on grounds, and is soon rewarded with an expanded role in the overall maintenance of the ground. I want to remind your readers that cutting grass is completely different from the duties of a curator. But who cares, right? Give di man di jaab! Now you see where the real problem originated.
Unfortunately, Mr. weed wacker man knows nothing about pitch preparation. He heard that “all yu gatto do is wata di ting and roll it”. Remember what curators need to know to deliver excellent cricket pitches?
Now you know why our pitches are not meeting international standards. Mr. weed wacker knows nothing about soil composition, moisture and evaporation, nor how humidity and weather conditions, drainage and irrigation affect the preparation of a good cricket pitch.
In management, one walks around to learn what the workers are thinking, feeling. When do West Indies management get involved at the granular level to evaluate the pitch problem they have known about so long? Have you ever seen a team of management experts at your local ground talking to ground staff? No. Sitting in your offices and staring at the lovely ocean will NOT deliver the information that would lead to change.
And speaking of change, to regain the support of millions of fans, West Indies management MUST change from the inside out. Resignations should be pouring in, or heads should be rolling. Competent people who care about our cricket are out there. Find them. It’s time to end this global embarrassment. Let new people establish management standards, policies, protocols that drive accountability and improved performance. Begin to tie performance at every level with compensation. Team failures mean management failure.
Finally, we must stop placing blame, for players are only partially responsible for any success or failure. Statisticians, analysts, psychologists, coaches and captains MUST ALL TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for their own jobs. Everyone mentioned here plays a part in the end result.
Gopaul S Rampersaud
Chapel Hill, NC USA