Transcript: Couch Talk with Graeme West, West Indies U-19 Coach

Couch Talk 185 (Play)

Guest: Graeme West, Coach, West Indies Under 19 Team

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello, and welcome to Couch Talk. The guest today is the coach of the under-19 World Cup winning West Indies side – Graeme West. He talks about moulding a side of young individuals from the different regions of the Caribbean as a unit, the game plans, the Keemo Paul Mankading incident and the fall-out from it, and looks ahead to the future of the under-19 players, among other things.

Welcome to the show, Graeme!

Graeme West (GW)– Thanks!

SJ– It is my pleasure having you on! Congratulations on successfully coaching the West Indies side to their first under-19 trophy.

I want to begin with your task as the coach of the West Indies U-19 team. The players come from different territories, and you didn’t have as much time gelling as a time as much as other sides like India or Pakistan or England, where the players had many months together. So, how did you go about the task of moulding them as a unit, as a team?

GW– Certainly, a challenge that probably until you have been to the Caribbean you won’t be able to appreciate. What we were able to do was to get the guys together on a fairly regular basis within the school holidays and work with them. We didn’t play as much cricket as some of the other sides, but we did get to spend time with each other in the camp, working together and kind of get in the grove to gel, play against each other regularly etc. There is good relationship in there. it was very important going to Bangladesh when they knew one another, they understood each other when those needed a bit more space or time, or needed a bit more support. Those things were very crucial in our preparation.

SJ– At the same time, when you have people from different backgrounds coming together, if they are professionals or any arena, they have a job to do and they do it. Essentially, what you have are high school kids and teenagers have their own issues. How does that work? You haven’t had them for a very long time, even as a team – they move on from under-19 to play professional cricket or whatever else they choose to do. So, how was it to handle them, and the emotional side of things?

GW– The reality is that for many of them, they may not play again until they play in a senior West Indies team or an A-team, which would be a great achievement for them. That is the reality. As you said, with school boys, you have a number of challenges. A lot of them have exams coming this year, there is a lot of pressure in terms of studies, and making sure that they are keeping up with their homework and revision. At the same time, you have to keep them focused on the cricket. It is a difficult balance. But, once we got to Bangladesh, the player understood that they have to get their heads down and work hard. We were playing catch up, we haven’t had as many matches as other sides had. Every session ,every practice that we had in Bangladesh was really crucial in terms of getting ourselves prepared for the first game in the competition, which was against England.

SJ– It was obvious as the tournament unfolded that the strength of the West Indies team was in the pace bowling. But, going to the subcontinent, there may have been preconceived notions that it might be slow bowling spinner who have a greater role. But, the conditions there gave enough support, especially in Mirpur, with seam, pace and bounce. How did the original game plan change, if it did, and how did it evolve?

GW– When we were picking the squad in December, we were looking for a balanced attack with spin and pace options. Our difficulty was that we didn’t have the quality of spinners that we felt going into the World Cup that we wood need. Therefore, we would have liked to take the left arm spinner, but we didn’t have one of good enough quality. We had Kallicharan as a variation with his leg-spin. We had three guys that all bowled off-spin. As the tournament developed, and we were fortunate that we got some wickets that encouraged good fast bowling. What we found that the opposition was very strong playing spin or comfortable playing spin, and therefore it was a challenge for those teams, and obviously the three sides that we played in the knockout stages were all Asian sides. We felt that the quick bowling on a surface that gave a little bit of assistance was likely to give them more of a challenge than our spinners.

SJ– When I first announced on social media that you were going to be our guest, a lot of the people obviously sent questions regarding the Mankading incidence, and I am sure you have talked about it a lot. I want to touch on it from a philosophical point of view, and what the players might have to wrestle with after the incident. First, i want to know if there had been talk among the team members with you prior to the Mankading incidence happening against Zimbabwe by Keemo Paul, or was it a spur of the moment? I know that your skipper (Shimron) Hetmyer may have given warnings to the Zimbabwean batsmen in the penultimate over of the match. But, could you set the picture straight on that, how it came out spontaneously or otherwise?

GW– I can say that I have never been involved a as coach or a player with an incidence such as that. It was not discussed prior to the game, or planned. It was very much down to the situation itself. There was some observation in the penultimate over that the batter was looking to get a little bit of a head start. There was an observation, nothing more than that. But, the bowler Keemo Paul was aware going into the last over about what happened in the previous over. Hence, he hadn’t entered into his delivery stride at all when he brought the stumps down. It was very much in the spur of the moment, first time I had witnessed. Therefore, my initial reaction was a little bit of shock, in terms of not being prepared for something like that, given the nature of the situation as well. We fought back in the game magnificently, got them 9-down, and we were in a position to win the game. But, with 6 balls to go and 3 runs to win in what was the game of the tournament will probably be only remembered for that one moment.

SJ– It is interesting that you say that you were in shock and you weren’t prepared for it, but another way of looking at it was that your players were alive to the opportunities which also came to the fore in the finals when (Tevin) Imlach stumped Rishabh Pant in the first over, and he was one of the better batsman in the tournament. Was that sort of thing also discussed that Rishabh Pant can be dozy standing outside of the crease?

GW– I think Imlach is a very smart and aware keeper. I have seen that in a couple of occasions in the competition, where e had thrown the ball at the stumps, not with the same success. He has a close eye on that. That dismissal was very significant in the finals, as you mentioned. He was a class player and had done very well in the competition and was out first wicket. It kind of allowed everyone to settle into the game. It was a pivotal moment that early in the game.

SJ– I want to go back to the Mankading incident. I want to talk about your captain, Hetmyer, because there was a brief delay where the field umpires went to the TV umpire to see if the batsman was out of the ground. Was there any pressure – real or perceived – for Hetmyer to withdraw the appeal, because he had 30s to a minute to decide whether to stick to it or not. You must have had chats with him? If you did, how did the chats go after the game? Can you shed some light on that?

GW– The referral to the third umpire came after the umpire had actually said to Hetmyer if he would like to proceed with the appeal. He said Yes straight away, the team 100% behind that particular action. The discussions after the game were kind of two-fold. Firstly, I don’t think anybody on the field was aware of the reaction, the likely reaction, that was going to follow. The first thing that we had to make the guys aware was that it is going to be out there, you don’t need to make any comment. You played within the laws of the game. The unfortunate situation with this is the perception of the law and interpretation of the law. You have not done anything that infringes on that, you can move forward. The only thing that we did say that in future, if a situation like that occurs, when you see that the batter moving early, you involve the umpire. Make the umpire aware that you have seen it and you have made the batsman aware that you have seen what he is doing and that way at least if you do carry out a run out in that fashion, the umpire will support the fact that you have warned the batsman and you made it clear what was going on.

We advice the players after the game. we travelled very early the next morning, which was a good thing because it allowed the players to move on, not dwell on that. We knew that we had Pakistan to play in the Quarter Finals and that was going to be a huge game for us – they had won the group and were unbeaten. We needed to move on. although we had a couple of days to train and prepare for the Pakistan game, we had to do a lot of work still after the Zimbabwe game because there were areas where we hadn’t performed well in that match.

SJ– I find that the advice that you gave your team – interesting that they should warn, even though that is not required by the laws of the game. These are teenagers still trying to figure out the ways of the world around them. They are doing nothing wrong, and well within the rights to run the batsman out even without the warning. But then, there were sections of media and fans and observers of the game that came out hard on Keemo Paul, that I thought was unfair. Was there a discussion on this philosophical disconnect – the dichotomy – where you are doing something right and legal but at the same time you are made to feel guilty about it?

GW– This is anomaly within the laws of the game. interestingly, every time it happens, this tends to follow. Therefore, young players have seen such incidents and they are into the visual type of things and that is how they learn and get their ideas from. A number of players have seen this not just on the international stage, but also in the domestic stage in the Caribbean. They are familiar with it. that was one of the reasons why they felt the way they did. We have to make it very clear to Keemo and to the rest of the team that they have not said anything wrong, despite – if you do read the comments – you feel that you have done something terrible. When you say there was a case in the game where the ball clearly came off the bat or glove through to the keeper and was not given, if you want to the spirit of the game, clearly that would infringe on the spirit of the game far more. Those are the things that happen in the game, you move on with it. Some days those things go for you, some days they go against you. Ian Bishop spoke very well after the game in terms of re-enforcing the law and regulation is what is going to uphold the game.

SJ– I remember Ian Bishop’s comments quite well. There were other cricketers that weighed in on this. It seems like a lot of the current England internationals were appalled by it. but, more interestingly, it was the current West Indies skipped, Jason Holder – he took to the social media and he was quite vocal and forceful in support of what had happened, and in support of the players moving forward in the tournament. Did any of Jason Holder’s comments make its way to the side and did that renew their confidence in themselves and the processes and the goals?

GW– We were very grateful for the comments that came particularly form the Caribbean in support of with happened. We didn’t sit the players down and get them to read the comments, I am sure they were available to them and they would have seen them. Having come from England, their perception would be slightly different in England and to the Caribbean. That is one of the reasons why you get the disparity in the reaction. We got back to the same thing – the rules, the laws of the game are such that it is within the laws of the game. Maybe the culture in some countries is slightly different, it was interesting in the Murali Kartik incidence also, re-enforcing the situation with the laws of the game. there has been another incidence also, recently.

SJ– Oman, in the T20 Asia Cup.

GW– I have read today in the newspaper that there has been a discussions with the captains before the T20 World Cup, in terms of what would happen in a similar scenario, and the match referee encouraging the players to not carry out such an act. Again, you are questioning the laws of the game here. It has to be brought to the public again. There will be another discussion between those who make the rules, shortly.

SJ– I hope bowlers keep running out the batsmen if the batsmen keep backing up too far till the end of time, till the batsmen don’t leave the crease early. That is where I stand.

But, this incident sort of seemed like a spot of inflection for the squad itself. Was there an “us vs them” or “us vs the” world mentality? Especially with the skipper, Hetmyer, even though he wasn’t directly put under the spotlight, he must have felt some amount of responsibility for sticking with the decision, but also he ran into some sort of batting form going into the knock-out stages. Can you talk about his role in the squad itself, and the calming influence he seems to have had?

GW– There are a number of things that when you look at the campaign that you could talk about as turning points or beautiful moments in terms of galvanising as a group. I don’t feel that that was something that necessarily made a great deal of difference. We were under a lot of pressure to get into the knock-outs stages, there was no doubt about that. That reflected in some of the cricket we played. We identified Hetmyer as captain in August, in the regional under-19 competition camp, because we liked the way he went about in the field – he did things a little bit differently, he was very positive and the players looked up to him. At the time, he was a stand-out batsman in that tournament and he had some big scores. Unfortunately he got injured in the first day of our campaign in December and couldn’t play a part in what we did in Grenada before we went to Bangladesh. We didn’t have a lot of opportunities to work with him on the field to develop his captaincy skills. He is certainly a player who is naturally very positive and seize the positivity. There was a challenge between him and some of hte bowlers that he wanted to do things a bit more positively than they needed. He wears his heart on his sleeve when he gets frustrated and you can see it, and it is one of the things that we have spoken to him about, to cope with situations a little bit better and not show some of those signals. In terms of passion and enthusiasm, you can’t fault him. It was very much down to him, the way our strategy evolved, going with our seamers and not spinners in the latter stages of the competition.

SJ– In the latter stages of the competition… vs Pakistan, you opened the game very well and got them down to 50-5 or so. You had that game in hand, although you had to make a good chase because one of the Pakistani batters had made a century. In the Bangladesh game, you were playing the home team. These two teams – what was the mood? Did you see a maturing of the players in understanding the game situations and the pressure of a knock-out game?

GW– What we talked about – one of the things was that Corey Collymore mentioned to the boys in regular basis is the importance of start and end of each innings. you try and break it down into various sections. For him, the key message that he passed across was very important – to start and finish the innings well. the two games against Pakistan and Bangladesh – we started very well and positiively. That was the key to the success there. we started with the ball well in the finals against India, not so with the bat. But, chasing a smaller score, that wasn’t as vital as in the two previous games. Against Pakistan and Bangladesh, you know you are getting a lot of spin, so the first 10 overs were very important in the chase. We hoped to score very quickly. Immediately, we managed to bring the target down to something more comfortable for the middle order. Just within the space of 5 or 6 overs. That was very significant.

Also, the quality the new ball bowlers demonstrated, with the introduction of Chemar Holder for the Pakistan game, we found a partner for (Alzarri) Joseph, and he seemed to turn around our fortunes quite quickly, with the two of them being quite aggressive and having also control and swing. That is where all of the top order batters of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India struggled to deal with the threats that those two guys had.

SJ– Lets talk about the finals – vs India. we talked about how India was reduced to 5-down for almost nothing on the board, and Sarfaraz Khan played one of the better innings of the tournament, yet India was bowled out for 145. You had a very small target, but a couple of wickets early and you are 70-odd for 5 with another 70 odd to get. But, what are your thoughts at this point, sitting outside the boundary?

GW– Personally, it was a game where my emotions were like a roller coaster. You go into the game as underdogs, you are playing against a good side. your expectations are playing around that. you have them at 50-5 and you think “Wow, this is a great position. Lets finish the job here.” When Sarfaraz was there, we were reluctant to get too far ahead of ourselves. But then, to knock india over for less than 150, you are suddenly the favourites. It was the first time in the competition that we were the favourites. We knew a good start in chasing a low total would have been excellent, and we would have been half-way there.

But, we had lost a couple of wickets and (Gidron) Pope didn’t have the effect that he normally had. We got o 67-2 and again, we were in charge of the game, Hetmyer was playing really nicely and his dismissal was the most disappointing because he had the game in his pocket. He was dictating and scoring fairly freely. That was a frustration, and the two wickets that followed within the space of 5 overs got the game to turn on its head. For me, you are now starting to think the worst, although you have 5 wickets left, some good players left to come. India must have thought they have gotten themselves right back into the game in that situation.

SJ– After this win, a lot has been said and written in the Caribbean that it has brought some much needed pride back to the Caribbean cricket and this could be the turning point for cricket in the region. Your thoughts on that – are people reading too much into this?

GW– The response certainly overwhelmed me on our return to the Caribbean. It is difficult to know from a distance how the people are feeling and how much support you are generating. On arrival back in Barbados, it was very clear that the cricket fans in the Caribbean had gotten behind their team, stayed up all night for the last couple of games and it was very well received. I think everybody has been looking for a positive, for something that they can look towards to turn the fortunes of their senior team around. Clearly these guys are not going to do that overnight. You have Alzarri and Hetmyer that have played first class cricket prior to the competition and have them for the games.

You now have to look at the pathways for the players to ensure that over time they can realise their potential that they have shown in abundance in the competition. The franchises are going to play a significant role in developing the likes of Joseph, Hetmyer etc. For me, the standout performers like Keemo Paul and Shamar Springer need to get the right support from their territories to then continue to progress, make their way into first class and list-A cricket. Most of the boys are 17 or 18. By the time they are 24-25, they would like to think that they have been given everything that is available to make sure that they move forward. Hopefully, by then, they are starting to push their way to the senior team. That is some way away.

What we are really working towards in the high-performance programs is producing a pool of players that will start to knock on the door for senior team and A-team cricket, by professionalising first class cricket. What we will start to see in the next couple of years – the benefits the players would have had physically and mentally, and the techniques and tactics. Interestingly, this season, only the second season of professional cricket, there are more batters are averaging between 40 and 50 rather than 35, which was the case when I first came to the Caribbean. That is the quality of signs. It will take time for the players to gain experience and be well prepared for the international arena.

SJ– Finally, Graeme, I want to talk about your background. You come from England. Are there any challenges to that, in trying to be a coach in the Caribbean – a national representative side – as an Englishman?

GW– There are challenges for every coach in every new team or any new environment. A coach coming to the Caribbean, the biggest difference I found was the players’ background, what coaching support that they have received before they came into contact with me. In England, there is a system, whereby you have a coach from a very young age at the club or school, and then your counties will pick you up and develop you and feed into an academy. There is a consistent coaching support in the development of a player, which is paramount for the player development. at the moment, in the Caribbean that is not the same in some areas more than the others. So, the players are not as comfortable initially with a coaching support. They make have pretty much found their own way to apply when you are working with them. They are their own coach or mentor and have developed a style that has produced some success.

My biggest challenge was developing relationships with players so that they can understand where i was coming from, and information that I could offer them would be valid, that they would take it on, listen to it, try it out and see how it suits them. That was a big learning curve for me. With this particular team, it is a very young and inexperienced side. myself and Corey spent a lot of our time in Bangladesh talking to them about the game, making them aware of the situations, getting their thoughts on how they would play in that situation. The 6 weeks that we had allowed us to share information and allowed the players to take a look at their preparation and the reading of the game. i think that was one of the big learning that came out for me. In that amount of time, the players could develop very quickly, with the right people around them. That is a great time moving forward. there are some good coaches in the Caribbean, but many experienced players with a great wealth of knowledge that can, given the right opportunities can pass that down, which will be important for the cricket in the Caribbean to move forward.

SJ– Alright!

On that note, Graeme, thank you so much for being on the show! Wish you the best!

GW– Thank you so much!


Transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman