It’s impossible to not think about how intimidating Joel Garner was with the ball even 29 years after his retirement from the game. Once sighted at the West Indies training session on Monday, it took some courage to walk up to the former fast bowler and ask for an interview. He readily agreed. In a long chat with HT, Garner discussed what ails West Indies cricket, spoke out against former players for only criticising and not doing anything about it and how a two-tier Test system could introduce unwanted elitism to cricket.
Looking dead serious throughout the interview, the Big Bird finally broke into a wide grin when asked to choose the best batsman and fast bowler ever. “Boy you put me in a difficult situation. In my time there were so many great players. For me it’s going to cause a lot of discussion. Marshall was my pick among bowlers. Richards was the best batsman. In my team those were the best,” said the West Indies manager. That was the only time Garner took time to find a suitable answer.
Excerpts from the interview:
How long do you think it will take to get West Indies up there once again?
You will get the results only when you are prepared to put the work in. Yes it’s a young team but the coaches are working to make the fellows more professional. I don’t think we play enough cricket in a year to be where we want to be. This is the first or the second year when we are playing 10 first-class games in a year. But are 10 first class games enough to produce cricketers? No I don’t think so.
Hardly anyone plays county now. Is that a reason too?
That is where we became professionals. The workload is different. Everything about county cricket is different. We played 22 or 24 games in a year, one-day cricket whether that’s 40-over or 50-over, or 55 over. There used to be five intense months of cricket but these days I don’t think anyone plays county cricket.
Do you agree with the general consensus that playing for pride has taken a backseat to playing for money?.
I am not going to get into that. If you get a million dollars for six weeks’ work are you going to work for a year for a million? It is a question of common sense. First you have to love the game, you have to want to play the game and enjoy it. If you are doing it for the money then I don’t think is the real reason why you will play. The money’s good? Yeah. At the end of the day did you enjoy the game? Do you think you made a contribution? Those are the questions the players who play the shorter version will have to answer for themselves. I can’t answer it for them.
But do you think that the CPL can help players get better at Tests in any way?
I don’t think so. Test cricket is the ultimate and it’s five days of cricket. However you look at it it’s a case of skill. CPL…yes you go and play for hour and a half maybe? Yes you entertain the crowd but what is there? What have you done or achieved? You know I think it’s a money-making affair.
What do you make of this Indian team?
It seems to be a fairly well-organised team. I have been away from the cricket scene internationally for a little while. I spent most of my time looking after the local cricket at Barbados. Your team seems to be young and organised and a team for the future.
How much did it hurt to lose the 1983 World Cup final to India?
It wasn’t difficult. We lost because we played bad cricket. You win some or you lose some if you look at life. Life is full of good and bad, happiness and sadness, challenges, ups and downs. We played bad cricket on the day. Actually we played bad cricket in two games. In two matches we lost to India in the 1983 series if you remember. All I think was it was overconfidence on the part of the batsmen or on the part of the team that we lost the game. I don’t think 183 was a difficult total.
West Indies sort of avenged the World Cup defeat in the India tour right after it. Do you regret missing out on that?
I had an accident for which I had to take six months off. Actually that accident sort of curtailed my career later on. I gave up cricket. In 1987 I just retired from cricket because I constantly had shoulder problems.
The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman are taking big decisions like who to appoint as the chief coach. Rahul Dravid is now India A coach. Isn’t it possible for the players belonging to the golden generation of West Indies do the same?
The first question you got to ask is how many players of the 80s are involved with cricket, directly in the local associations. Everybody’s just being critical and wants to talk. If you look at it, maybe I’m the only one from my generation who is still actively involved. I could have pursued a career in journalism, television or whatever. But I am still involved with cricket locally in Barbados. That is where I think my contribution will come. To each his own, people pursue the goals they want. That is the way it is, that is their choice. As for me, my joy is in watching the juniors and develop cricketers at the local level.
Why is that we don’t see as many athletes in cricket now as in the past?
We don’t do a good job selling cricket to the youngsters. You will see all the youngsters are competitive up to under-19 cricket. After that they fall away. We have to show them that cricket is a game that you enjoy, a game that builds character, a game that gives you a future. You don’t just look only at the T20 or the glamour attached to it. At the end of the day, cricket is still the most popular game you could see anybody play. And I think we need to sell cricket as a profitable profession, as opposed to just a sport.
But do you think West Indies have enough coaches at the grassroots level to make that possible?
That brings me to another point. You build the places to play the cricket but any day you look at it, you examine what is spent on cricket at junior level. My budget in Barbados is maybe 6.5 million dollars. If you put all the other islands together, I don’t think their budgets can add up to that. We get a lot of noise from the government, the ministers but the question is what is your impact at the developmental stage? What is your effort at schools or the community level? The association can only do so much. We are lucky with the support we have had. But when you go to the other places, it’s non-existent.
What is your take on the proposed two-tier Test system?
I think it will be a mistake. Cricket is supposed to be a global sport. The two-tier system is going to breed elitism. I don’t think you need that in cricket. If they want to improve cricket they have to see how to fund programmes worldwide as Fifa has done with football. If you have equitable distribution of wealth across the table then we can improve. We don’t money to spend on frivolous programme. We want to spend money on programmes that develop youngsters to bring them up to a level that will make world cricket very strong and therefore you will not need a two-tier system. There will be all the best teams in the world competing against each other. If the competition is strong, people will come back to watch cricket.