Transcript: Couch Talk with Andy Roberts

Couch Talk 166 (Play)

Guest: Sir Andy Roberts

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ): Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest former west indian fast bowling great, Sir Andy Roberts. He talks about the lack of good fast bowlers in the caribbean, the declining standards of West Indies cricket and what needs to be done, and also about his role as the mentor of CPL franchise St Lucia Zouks, amongst other things.

Welcome to the show Sir Andy.

Andy Roberts (AR): Yes, Good day. How are you?

SJ: I’m doing well, thank you. It’s a privilege speaking to you.

You had mentioned in an interview couple of years ago about fast bowling that it takes total commitment to the craft, to be a good fast bowler since it is a tough, hard job. I want to ask you in relation to the drop in the number of fast bowlers from the Caribbean from the 70’s, 80’s and the 90’s. Do you believe the bowlers coming out of caribbean lack that requisite commitment and that’s why there hasn’t been many genuinely quick, fearsome fast bowlers from there in the last 10-15 years?

AR: The majority of the fast bowlers in the Caribbean are afraid of the hard work that’s ahead of them. Nothing comes easy in life. Fast bowling is like the marathon of athletics. You have to be prepared to put in the hard work. That’s what makes someone a top quality fast bowler.

You need to do a lot of running because that’s what you do on a cricket field -running. You need to strengthen your core which is a lot of hard work. The fast bowlers these days are not prepared to put in that. I think majority of our fast bowlers spend a lot of time in the gym than they do on the track. When I say track, it is on the field, in the beaches, on the hills trying to strengthen their legs and their whole core, which is required for fast bowling. There is a lot of laziness.

SJ: The modern coaching philosophy is that they send the bowlers a lot to the gym instead of the natural building up of the body, running miles everyday up and down the hills. You think that’s the reason or that people (in the Caribbean) are not that interested generally in becoming fast bowlers and not interested in becoming Test cricketers?

AR: I think it has a lot to do with modern-day coaching. Their main focus is the strength in the {bowler’s) body. But, strength in the body for what? Fast bowling is in the legs. I think [running] is the best way of doing it. Yes, you need strength in the body and you may go the gym, and do one or two things that can strengthen your legs but nothing compares to actual running. The modern-day coaches do not want their bowlers to bowl more than X number of balls in the practice sessions. If you check over the last 10-15 years, that is why there’s been an amazing number of injuries to fast bowlers.

Cricket didn’t start in 2000. It’s been around for well over hundred years! You have had more injuries in the last 10-15 years than in all the time prior to that. So, there must be something wrong [in how the fast bowlers train]. People still actually bowl in the same way, nothing has changed there. Why don’t [the coaches] try to emulate what was done in the past? Everyone is coming in with their own philosophy, and send bowlers to the gym. Yes, you need to be strong but it isn’t strength that allows you to bowl fast. If it were, then, all the bulky muscular looking people would be able to bowl fast, but they can’t. You wonder why a guy who is 5’8” is able to bowl faster than a muscular guy of 240 pounds. Why? Because the 5’8” was born to bowl fast and you can’t make someone bowl fast [by sending them to the gym and making them strong].

SJ: When you look at Test cricket in the Caribbean, it is not just the problem of [lack of] fast bowlers. You also have seen the drop in the quality of the batsmen. If you look at the great WI teams of the 70’s and the 80’s, yes, you had terrific set of fast bowlers but the batting line up with Clive Lloyd, Sir Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes etc., was, if not the best, among the very best to have ever played the game. What would you attribute the significant drop in batting quality to?

AR: Well, it is because of the quality of cricket in the Caribbean. The quality of pitches, it is not the same any more, which affects the style of play and I think it is also due to the work ethic of the players. The batsmen aren’t any different to the bowlers. They are all laid back, expect that greatness is going to happen overnight. You have to work to become a great player. The work ethic is poor and it starts from the very top. You need better administrators who understand what it is to be a top class sportsman. First get that, and then you can use that as a stepping stone for the players coming up. If the administrators don’t know what to do, how can they tell the players what to do?

SJ: You look at the recently completed series against Australia, West Indies were completely outclassed and outplayed. If you were given the singular job of building a very competitive West Indies team, where would you begin? Would it be with putting a competent batting line up together or would you look for bowlers who can get you wickets in all conditions?

AR: I would begin with the bowlers that can get me wickets in any condition. Batting doesn’t win you matches, it is the bowling that wins you matches. I would look for the best possible fast bowlers and the best possible spinner, and put them through a program of development. I’d also develop groundsmen who can provide the sort of playing surfaces that suit the sort of bowling you have – Good pitches where batsmen can play their shots. Then I’ll go on to other factors. I’d get some of our best players – I’m not saying coaches because I’d leave the best possible coaching for the youngsters at an early age, make sure they have the proper technique. If [the younger players] come to the camp with a technique of their own, the coaches need to work along with that instead of changing it. We have too many coaches who want to change players in to what they think the players should do and not what the player thinks he is capable of doing.

SJ: You mentioned briefly about the quality of first class cricket in the caribbean, in that it not being satisfactory. In your time, English county cricket served as a sort of finishing school. Players from Caribbean went there and were rounded in to shape and then went on to be terrific international players. Do you see the lack of county experience as one of the major reasons why the quality of WI players has gone down, too?

AR: First and foremost, is that we needed to be a high calibre player for the county to select us. We just didn’t go there. The counties had to find us. During the time I played there, Gordon played there, you could see the number of English-born players that came through – not many, but we came through. It shows that it was the commitment that we had to make ourselves better players. In those days, we didn’t have coaches. We had to go to nets and work things out ourselves. Not many English players did that. We were committed.

Also, when I played first class cricket in the Caribbean, our domestic competition was probably one of the best in the world, with the calibre of players that we had then, because we used to play every day. It’s just not the same today. You have to be calling up players now to go to practice. That never used to happen in the past. A lot of the problems we are facing in our domestic cricket is because of the players themselves.

SJ: I want to ask about your bowling career, and it is a question from a listener David Oram. He asks: You could appear to be bowling the same delivery, but actually the ball would arrive at varying heights, angles and speeds, where you were using the width and depth of the bowling crease – irrespective of what else you did with the ball in your hand. Did you learn this from other bowlers, or did you develop this intelligent approach himself? Was there a mentor?

AR: Well, I figured out most of it – not all of it – myself. Fast bowling is a body thing and I realised that if I jumped higher, I would bowl a faster delivery. People would ask why, because you don’t deliver the ball while in the air, but it’s the momentum that’s transferred in to the delivery.

SJ: I spoke with Michael Holding and he talked about the significant role in his development as a fast bowler, guiding him and tell him things about fast bowling when he roomed with you. Do you believe that sort of thing still exists such as a senior pro taking the younger player under his wing, guiding them through the process of becoming a professional international cricketer?

AR: One of the problems that has happened in the last 20 years is when they introduced single rooms for the players. I have no problems with the senior players in the team getting single rooms because they have earned it. But when you have junior players coming in to the team, and some of these players are traveling outside the region for the first time, I find it difficult to understand why they do not have someone to share the room with, so that they can communicate with the other person and talk about different things in life. It doesn’t mean you have to talk about cricket but you can talk about different things life and you can learn from that. You could learn about the other person from that. “Look, this person is not the same as he was yesterday.” You learn such things when you room with them. But once they introduced single rooms, I have found that our cricket and our winning habits have decreased. Because people are now in to themselves and they are accustomed to being with anybody else. That’s why there is so much selfishness in West Indies cricket at the moment.

SJ: Now Phil Simmons has come back to West Indies as the head coach, Richie Richardson is the manager and Curtley Ambrose is the bowling coach. What kind of impact would these guys, who have experienced a very high level of success in their playing career, can have on the team?

AR: None whatsoever. If it don’t work out by the players themselves, the coaches are not gonna be able to make much impact on the performances. The players themselves have to be prepared to do the hard work. Yes, coaches can come up with ideas but if the players don’t buy in to it, what good is it gonna make? The younger players are not ready for international cricket. If you are accustomed to score 60 or 70 runs every time you play, how difficult is it then to score a 100 or 150?

We need to get our domestic cricket right first. Sure Phil Simmons may make a difference [at the West Indies level] but he needs to make a difference at the Under-19 level. He is the senior team coach but he also needs to be U-19 coach as these younger players are going to be coming right along. We always are putting the cart before the horse. We all want to see West Indies back to winning ways but it’s not going to happen overnight. I have been saying this since 1999. Until we fix our domestic set up, we are not gonna get back to the top and I have been proven right so far.

SJ: I want to talk a bit about your role as a mentor with the St. Lucia Zouks. What does a mentor to a T20 franchise do and how much of an influence can you have on the team’s performance considering it is a fast-paced format tournament that runs for only a few weeks?

AR: Basically, I am more specialized looking at the bowling aspect of the Zouks that the batting. Yes, I would talk to batsmen but I believe my role is more to mentor the fast bowlers. If you don’t good bowlers, you can’t win. No matter how many runs the batters score, you can’t win if you don’t have the bowling to defend it. That’s the part I am playing. We may not reap rewards this year but 2-3 years down the road, what I tell these guys is [absorbed], then it will bring to fruition.

I am a forward looking guy. I am not one that look only at the present moment. I look to the future. The mentoring role is a long term process. If the Zouks are going to succeed as a franchise, we need to have the calibre of players that we can call upon next year because you retain a few players from a season. We hope we can retain some players who will be with Zouks for next 2-3 years.

SJ: But still, sport is a result oriented business. Zouks have had bad seasons in 2013 and 2014…

AR: Tell me about it.

SJ: Where do you see St. Lucia going this year?

AR: On paper, I believe we have one of the better teams. Our team’s [success] is based on us winning our home games because in St. Lucia we probably have the best and quickest pitch in the region. So we have got ourselves some quality fast bowling. We are hoping that we can win our home games. We are hoping, because that’s all you can do. You may have a good team and yet they may not perform. I believe we will perform [well] this year.

We just are getting in to camp. It started yesterday (at the time of recording). The feedback we are getting is that our guys are fed up with bringing up the ladder. We need to put in some good performances.

We have Kevin Pietersen for the full season. Ross Taylor is going miss only two matches. We are hoping that we will win the first two matches so that when Ross comes in, it will be smooth sailing. Darren Sammy will play an integral part in the line up and also in guiding the younger players because they all look up to him.

SJ: Finally, the CPL has provided an avenue for a lot of the former WI great players to be back associated with cricket in the region.How do you see that as an influence not just on the players in the squads and on the fringes, but also the followers of the game in the Caribbean?

AR: Well, I see it as a positive influence because I see people in the Caribbean coming to me and saying, “Put your whites on!”

SJ: [Laughs]

AR: Don’t laugh. They say, “We need to see you out there because we are fed up with the quality of cricket we are getting from the West Indies team.” They are yearning for some positive cricket. They believe that with our influence something positive will come out.

What I’d really love the CPL to do, as I have said from the first year, is to assist with the development of the younger players. I’d love to see that. They can get the former players get involved in developing – and mentoring – the younger players. Not only the Zouks team but if you want, organize a camp in St. Lucia, and a lot of the former players can come in and help develop the players in St. Lucia and Windward Islands. That’s what I’d love to see. It may just be 10 or 15 players but they could become the nucleus of the Zouks team.

SJ: On that wonderfully positive note, thank you so much for being on the show Sir Andy. It was pleasure talking to you.

AR: Thank you for having me.

SJ: Cheers. Bye.