Tuesday, April 23, 2024

FAZEER MOHAMMED: Breaking the mould


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IF THERE IS anyone whose back should be broad enough to cope with the abuse that comes with being chairman of the West Indies selection panel it is Courtney Browne.

Such is human nature that the negatives spring to mind immediately ahead of the positives. So to many throughout the region, he is immediately associated with critical errors behind the stumps from his first to his last Tests – both played at Sabina Park ten years – more than he is remembered for that unbelievable match-winning ninth-wicket partnership with fellow Barbadian Ian Bradshaw in fading light at The Oval in London in the final of the Champions Trophy against England in 2004.

As captain of Barbados, the most successful territory by a long, long way in regional first-class competition, he would have experienced first-hand both the challenges of leadership and the weight of expectation from a demanding and often unforgiving public.

So in accepting the task as successor to Clive Lloyd, and given that he was already serving as one of the selectors previously, he would have known what he was in for, even before the thrashing endured by the West Indies in the first Test against India a week ago in Antigua.

To be involved in the selection process at the senior level in West Indies cricket is really the classic no-win situation: players are praised for success, selectors are pilloried after defeat. However Browne has the opportunity to break that mould and develop a more reliable and credible line of communication between the decision-makers and members of a cricketing public who often suspect a conspiracy of some sort around every corner.

It may very well be that he is a disciple of the West Indies Cricket Board’s well-established culture and feels there is no need to reach out to an audience who may be inclined to condemn anything he or his fellow selectors say or do anyway.

But the dysfunction and disconnect have to be properly addressed at some time, and it can begin with the new chairman of selectors being far more open with the rationale in the decision-making process and the vision that he and his colleagues have for West Indies cricket.

If they are sincere in their efforts, if they have nothing to hide and are privy to a lot more critical information that informs their eventual selections then there should be no real issue with facing up to the public, via the media, as a matter of course. What prevails at the moment, and has generally been the modus operandi with the odd exception for several years, cannot be considered acceptable.

West Indian cricket fans are not required or expected to agree with any and every decision made by Browne, Courtney Walsh and Eldine Baptiste, presumably in consultation with head coach Phil Simmons and captain Jason Holder. However, if the chairman can explain the thinking behind what may appear to be contentious selections or omissions, then at the very least the sceptical public cannot claim to have been left in the dark.

Their selections will never meet with universal approval, but at least there will be an understanding of where they are coming from if the chairman makes himself available to open and direct questioning from the media to allow for an elaboration of the way they are thinking.

These carefully manicured one or two sentences in the shape of WICB media releases about the methodology of selection being “further enhanced by the increased use of statistical analysis along with fitness standards” is the sort of corporate-style nonsense that explains nothing and actually fuels the fire of speculation.

Even the announcement that 19-year-old fast bowler Alzarri Joseph was being added to the squad for the second Test against India that started yesterday in Kingston seemed to create the impression that he was being drafted in more to be in the senior West Indies team environment rather than being immediately considered for selection.

“We feel that Alzarri . . . will now benefit from the professional guidance of our coaching staff and the presence of fast bowling legend Joel Garner as manager,” was the comment attributed to Browne in the WICB dispatch last Wednesday.

Too many organisation and institutions, both public and private, in these territories of the former British West Indies continue to operate on the haughty need-to-know basis of the colonial era. That the WICB is one of the flag bearers of that arcane outlook is no secret. At least three commissioned studies over the past nine years have confirmed that.

If Courtney Browne really believes he can make a meaningful contribution to West Indies cricket as chairman of selectors beyond his best efforts as a player, it must include greater transparency and a willingness to engage the public.

Anything else is just business as usual.

Fazeer Mohammed is a regional cricket journalist and broadcaster who has been covering the game at all levels since 1987.

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