Andy Roberts talks about flawed coaching methods, the problems with the domestic game in the Caribbean, and mentoring St Lucia Zouks.
Subash Jayaraman: You once said that fast bowling takes total commitment to the craft. Do you believe the bowlers coming out of the Caribbean lack that commitment and that’s why there haven’t been many genuinely quick, fearsome fast bowlers in the last 10-15 years?
Andy Roberts: 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. 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. I think the majority of our fast bowlers spend more time in the gym than they do on the track. When I say track, it is on the field, in the beaches, in the hills, trying to strengthen their legs and their whole core. There is a lot of laziness.
SJ: The modern coaching philosophy is to send the bowlers a lot to the gym. Is that the reason why people in the Caribbean are not interested in becoming fast bowlers?
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. Running is the best way of doing it. 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 100 years! So, there must be something wrong [in how the fast bowlers train]. People still actually bowl in the same way, nothing has changed there, so why don’t [the coaches] try to emulate what was done in the past? Everyone is sending 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.
SJ: What would you attribute the significant drop in batting quality to?
AR: It is because of the quality of cricket in the Caribbean. The quality of pitches – it is not the same anymore – 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 top. You need better administrators, who understand what it is to be a top-class sportsman. If the administrators don’t know what to do, how can they tell the players what to do?
SJ: If you were given the singular job of building a competitive West Indies team, where would you begin?
AR: I would begin with the bowlers that can get me wickets in any condition. Batting doesn’t win you matches. I would look for the best fast bowlers and the best spinner, and put them through a programme of development. I’d also develop groundsmen who can provide playing surfaces that suit the sort of bowling you have – good pitches where batsmen can play their shots. If [the younger players] come to the camp with a technique of their own, the coaches need to work along with it instead of changing it. We have too many coaches who want to change players into what they think the players should do and not what the player thinks he is capable of doing.
“I see people in the Caribbean coming to me and saying, ‘Put you whites on! 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'”
SJ: In your time, county cricket served as a sort of finishing school. Do you see the lack of county experience as one of the major reasons why the quality of West Indies players has gone down?
AR: We needed to be players of high calibre for the counties to select us. It showed our commitment to make ourselves better players. In those days, we didn’t have coaches. We had to go to the nets and work things out ourselves. Not many English players did that.
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 call 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: David Oram, a listener, asks: You could appear to be bowling the same delivery, but 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 yourself? Was there a mentor?
AR: I figured out most 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 into the delivery.
SJ: Michael Holding talked about how he developed as a fast bowler and the advice he got when he roomed with you. Do you believe this sharing of knowledge still exists – senior pros taking younger players under their wing?
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 into the team, and some of them 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 only talk about cricket. Once they introduced single rooms, I have found that our cricket and our winning habits have decreased. That’s because people are now into themselves and they are not accustomed to being with anybody else. That’s why there is so much selfishness in West Indies cricket at the moment.
SJ: What kind of impact would the experience of Phil Simmons, Curtly Ambrose and Richie Richardson have on the team?
AR: None whatsoever. If it isn’t worked out by the players themselves, the coaches are not going to be able to make much of an impact. 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 into it, what good is it going to make? The younger players are not ready for international cricket. If you are accustomed to scoring 60 or 70 runs every time you play, how difficult is it then to score a hundred or 150?
We need to get our domestic cricket right first. 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 the U-19 coach. 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 going to get back to the top, and I have been proven right so far.
SJ: As the mentor to St Lucia Zouks in the CPL, 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: My role is more to mentor the fast bowlers. If you don’t have 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 two or three 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 looks 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 the next two or three years.
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. You may have a good team and yet they may not perform. I believe we will perform this year. 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 to 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: The CPL has provided an avenue for a lot of former great West Indian players to be back, associated with cricket in the region. How do you see that as an influence not just on the players but also the followers of the game in the Caribbean?
AR: I see it as a positive influence because I see people in the Caribbean coming to me and saying, “Put you whites on!” 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 involved in developing and mentoring the younger players. Organise 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. It may just be ten or 15 players but they could become the nucleus of the Zouks team.