TEST cricket from 1980 to 1995 was ruled by one team – the West Indies. During that period, the team never lost a Test series, they either won or drew, no matter where.
There was no points system in place during those years to rank Test teams. Such a system often enables a team to retain the status of top Test team even though it has lost numerous series here and there. During those years, you had to avoid being beaten to stay on top – and for 15 years the West Indies did just that.
One of the great fast bowlers of that period, Joel “Big Bird” Garner, (so named because he stands six feet and eight inches in his socks) was interviewed on TV in Australia yesterday, where the West Indies are now playing a three-Test series and making a pretty big mess of it as well.
Garner, who hails from Barbados, is the manager.
It was interesting to listen to him even if some of the questions posed by Mark Nicholas of Channel Nine were somewhat banal. Thankfully, Ian Chappell was also present for a major part of the interview and he rarely puts his foot in his mouth or utters an unnecessary word.
During the interview there was some footage shown of the famed West Indies fast bowlers of that period getting Australians caught or bowled. There were other clips of bowlers like Curtley Ambrose hitting batsmen on parts of the body and leaving them bent over in pain.
What was most interesting was Garner’s answer to an obvious question – why were the West Indies so good during that period and why had they fallen away so much?
Many people are under the impression that the West Indies just happened to produce a huge number of very good cricketers during that period, players who performed consistently due to their talent.
(After Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose, the West Indies have not produced a quality fast bowler. There have been several who have flattered, only to deceive.)
While Garner admitted that they did have talented players aplenty, he had one reason for the success they enjoyed – hard work and thinking about the game.
Much of the credit was given to Andy Roberts, the first great fast bowler of the 20 years from 1974, a period when there were more great pacemen in the game than at any time in the history of the game.
The names of the pacemen from different countries who left their mark (and on batsmen’s bodies too) are familiar – Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Geoff Lawson, Merv Hughes, Craig McDermott, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall, Wayne Daniels, Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose, Patrick Patterson, Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Richard Hadlee, Bob Willis, Allan Donald and Fanie de Villiers.
Garner said a junior fast bowler would room with a senior paceman on tour and during Tests – and pick up valuable hints about attacking the opposition.
And whenever the pace quartet was about to come up against a particular batsman, they would pick a man from their own team who was as close as possible to that man and bowl to him in the bats.
For instance, when they wanted to devise a strategy to attack Allan Border, they had numerous sessions in the nets with Larry Gomes. And when they were thinking about the best way to tackle an attacking right-hander, they would ask the great Viv Richards to have a turn against them in the nets.
Many people think of Richards as arrogant but he never put his own interests above those of the team. He was simply proud to be part of that team.
And the West Indies of the modern era? They were lazy, said Garner. They did not train and they did not enjoy the game half as much as the teams of the 1980s and 1990s did.
Garner is in his third year as the president of the Barbados Cricket Association, and trying to upgrade the status of the game on the island. Part of his initiative involves the setting up of a museum so that youngsters can be made aware of exactly how much a tiny island like Barbados has contributed to world cricket.
Any initiative which helps to produce a better class of cricketer for the Caribbean team would be more than welcome. The last time the West Indies were competitive against Australia was when they drew a series 2-2 in the Caribbean in 1999, solely due to the efforts of one Brian Charles Lara.