EXCLUSIVE: No Holding back – West Indies coach and board must sort their act out
21:00 GMT, 23 May 2012
It takes a lot to rile Michael Holding. But you’ll know when he’s riled. In 1976, he responded to England captain Tony Greig’s promise to make the West Indies ‘grovel’ with a quietly furious fast-bowling performance to rank with any.
Four years later, he kicked over two stumps – elegantly, of course – in Dunedin out of frustration at some shameless home-town umpiring against New Zealand.
More than three decades on, when we meet in Newmarket – his home for half the year while he indulges his love of Flat racing – to discuss the plight of the current West Indies team, it is clear the fire has not left him.
Winning smile: Michael Holding has a home near the gallops at Newmarket to indulge his love of Flat racing
Legend: Holding was a mainstay of arguably the greatest Test team ever
He smoulders. And Michael Holding could smoulder for Jamaica.
West Indies, a team which in Holding’s day went 15 years following that unhappy trip to New Zealand without losing a single series, can now barely win a single Test. And Holding’s sights are trained unerringly on the West Indian administrators and coach Ottis Gibson.
‘We have a chief executive, Ernest Hilaire, who thinks he owns West Indies cricket,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘He has the wrong attitude. He’s very arrogant. He thinks he is always right and he doesn’t listen to anyone.
‘Ottis Gibson needs to understand that the West Indies cricket team is not a boot camp. He needs to learn how to man-manage.’
This last issue is at the heart of Holding’s beef. Few press conferences on this tour have passed without Gibson or captain Darren Sammy being asked about the players who are not in England. The list is heartbreaking: Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Dwayne Bravo, Sunil Narine, Jerome Taylor.
For some of them, the lure of the IPL dollar has proved too great, and Holding says there’s little the West Indies Cricket Board can do – although he would like to see more players make compromises, as Marlon Samuels has done by giving up half his contract with Pune Warriors to play in the Tests.
Time for change: West Indies' board and coach have hindered their progress
THE 5 MISSING
Age: 32 Tests: 91
Runs: 6,373 at 41
Wickets: 72 at 41
Destructive opener regarded by the board as a destructive presence in the dressing room. Hopes to play in the one-day matches which follow the three Tests.
IPL deal: 357,000 with Royal Challengers Bangalore
Runs: 5,842 at 40
Wickets: 23 at 50
Former captain made the scapegoat for last year’s World Cup failure. Says Ottis Gibson’s coaching left him not knowing ‘which was my back foot and which was my front foot’.
County deal: believed to be on a six-figure salary at Leicestershire
Runs: 2,200 at 31
Wickets: 86 at 39
All-rounder who wants to play Tests, but can’t make the team because of Darren Sammy. Now an IPL regular.
IPL deal: 128,000 with Chennai Super Kings
Runs: 629 at 15
Wickets: 82 at 35
West Indies’ most promising fast bowler since the glory days has been sidelined by management. Destroyed England in Kingston in 2009 but hasn’t played any senior cricket in over a year.
Mystery off-spinner who recently bamboozled Australia in a one-day series, but couldn’t afford to turn down a lucrative deal to play in India.
IPL deal: 446,000 with Kolkata Knight Riders
But it is the ongoing failure of the administrators to make peace with their star players, whom they view as troublemakers, and what Holding regards as the dictatorial methods of Gibson, that have persuaded him to speak out.
‘A lot of the senior players who should be playing in England have a very bad relationship with the board,’ he says. ‘They are unhappy with the treatment that has been meted out to them. It’s about time the board realised that the people they are dealing with are human beings – they are not commodities. They need respect. They need to be treated properly.’
Gayle, the most talented of the absentees, remains hopeful of playing in the one-day series that follows the Tests. It would be the first time he has represented West Indies since March 2011, when he upset the board with some critical remarks in a radio interview.
Since then, he has been a Twenty20 bat for hire – and it needed the intervention of the Prime Ministers of St Vincent and Antigua to get the board and Gayle talking again.
‘Chris Gayle has to know there are repercussions if you’re critical of the board in public,’ says Holding. ‘But the board have behaved like schoolboys. Instead of sitting down with him and trying to sort things out, they keep condemning the man and asking him to apologise.’
Gayle, Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were all implicitly criticised by Gibson following West Indies’ disappointing exit from the World Cup last year. ‘The fact is,’ said Gibson, ‘the senior players haven’t performed.’
Sarwan is now playing for Leicestershire, where he has made some caustic remarks about Gibson’s coaching methods.
And Holding says Chanderpaul, the world’s No 1 batsman and scorer of 87 not out and 91 during the five-wicket defeat in the first Test at Lord’s, only ensured the continuation of his international career by threatening to sue the board after demanding an explanation for disparaging remarks made by Hilaire about the senior players.
‘I have no issue with Ottis trying to get discipline back into the team,’ says Holding. ‘But it is the way he has done it. As soon as someone says anything he doesn’t particularly like, he doesn’t want them around.’
Holding applauds Gibson’s harmonious relationship with Sammy but, like many in the Caribbean, questions the captain’s place in the team.
‘They want Sammy as captain, irrespective of whether it’s good for the team balance or not,’ he says. ‘West Indies cannot afford to carry anyone while they are struggling in Test matches.’
But he reserves some of his most scathing criticism for the treatment of Jerome Taylor, the fast bowler who took five for 11 to help dismiss England for 51 on his home island of Jamaica three years ago, but has not played for West Indies for nearly two years.
Holding believes Taylor was unfairly branded as a troublemaker who failed to stay fit, prompting the board to issue a press release in May 2011 stating that Taylor had to complete a full season of domestic cricket before he could be reconsidered for international honours.
Looking up: Holding (right, with Lawrence Booth) hopes West Indies can progress
The basic annual salary for a top, contracted West Indies player. They receive an additional 5,000 (approx) per Test and 3,000 per ODI, plus bonuses. Their English counterparts are on 450,000 a year plus 5,000 to 10,000 per Test match.
‘That is the bad handling I’m talking about. Instead of that press release, why not just say, “Jerome, we’re not satisfied with your fitness levels. You will not be selected to play for West Indies until you have proved you are fully fit”.
‘Don’t give the man a time span that is going to ruin him. They want to get rid of him, because that is their foolish way.’
If, as expected, West Indies lose the second Test in Nottingham, and with it the series, they can’t say they haven’t been warned.