CW : Hi Ian, You were one of the aggressive fast bowlers ever to come from the West Indies. However in the commentary box, you are pretty soft spoken and very articulate, like one of those guys next door. How was the transition from playing cricket to wielding the microphone?
IB: I think commentary is difficult in its own way in my point of view. Being able to carry over or translate the message of what's happening on the field or what should be happening, being able to analyze, I suppose, be critical in your analysis in its own way its very very difficult because once you've said something that's it. Whereas in playing, you're very much in control of your own destiny.Facts and figures speak for themselves, so I wouldn't say that commentary, for everyone, is easy. It's an art in itself, and it takes a lot of time to perfect it, and it's an ongoing perfection. I don't think I have reached a perfectionist attitude still, everyday is a learning curve, It's not easy though.
CW: What was your first assignment as a commentator?
IB: Basically, I fell into commentary by accident, I mean when I finished playing I didn't really think that I wanted to be anywhere near the cricket field. It was just a radio assignment, I think, during the Zimbabwe series in 1999-2000 , and then one radio stint led to another, and it just evolved from there.
CW: Ian, on to West Indies cricket now. You have traveled quite a bit; have been following the ups and downs. You have been part of a really successful team that dominated the world, and you were also part of the team that was on the decline, we have had serious defeats after defeats. Every time there is a disastrous performance, there are talks that "This is the lowest ebb the West Indies have reached" And every time that is said, the West Indies try to hit a new low. What do you think needs to be done to stop this consistent downward spiral? what or who do you think is the biggest problem today facing West Indies cricket?
IB: Well, the decline will have many reasons, but no one can deny that the structure in the Caribbean has been absent for a long time really, and it has taken many years for that absence of a proper structure the full force of it to be felt. And so that is where we have to start looking at the administration of West Indies cricket. I'm talking about the WICB, not only the WICB, but the territorial boards, the Barbados Board, Trinidad & Tobago Cricket Board. They have to put things in place now that would facilitate The Under 19s, who performed very well the Under 15s, who performed very well on the world stage. Even our "A" teams are managing to compete, but there's a gap between them and the Test team, players a struggling to make that jump in terms of the discipline, the on-field discipline, the off-field discipline, the technical perfection, the technical skills. Their reading of a game is struggling. So the high performance Center is one component, the "A" team tours are one component, but our first class cricket and our coaching instructors need to help. If we can get all of those things right, I think the talent that we see from time to time will become more consistent.
CW: When we are talking about the thought process of today's players, I specifically remember an incident involving you, when you were playing and it happened right here in Kensington Oval, 1997-98, versus India. India were chasing 120 runs to win the game and Sachin Tendulkar was batting, For all other players there was a fielder in the covers and you delibratley removed the cover fielder and put him in the slips. You shaped the ball away from Tendulkar and he got out, caught Lara, bowled Bishop for four, I vividly remember the incident and that was probably one of the best thought out plans to get a master batsman out. That brings me to the players of today for example, Denesh Ramdin playing the same cut shot again and again and getting out, Chris Gayle playing the same across the line shot again and again, Dwayne Bravo playing his favorite flick over midwicket. What's going through their minds? Do they not think for themselves or what's absent? what's so different today or what was so different in your era?
IB: It's a good question because we made mistakes as well. We made many mistakes in our times coming through, so I don't think none of us can claim to be perfectionists. But I think the continuation of the eras has been one of the disappointments. And you are talking about guys who obviously have talent, Ramdin has made a hundred, Bravo always made hundreds you know, Chris Gayle has proved that he can, he can bat and he can be a world class player and I think that is where it goes back to the melting pot, maybe the melting pot is not the appropriate term but the structure and the system here in the Caribbean and that encompasses the entire setup, administration setup, the leadership that the guys get into territories that the cricket that they have learnt at first class level. I don't think it facilitates them consistently stretching themselves, consistently going out and performing with excellence and I have a little bit of sympathy to the players because they have grown up in that atmosphere where all they have known really is maybe a level of mediocrity or not a level of excellence. So that is what we see reflecting here and that is why I am saying as an administrative body where they would be territories or the West Indies Cricket Board you are the parent body and if you lead these guys like children, like your own children and you teach them the right ways then they would come up trumps eventually. But we haven't had that leadership beyond the boundary and therefore the team is a reflection of that. Laughs at the end of the answer "The credit to dismiss Sachin should really go to Brian, He was the one who suggested to make that move, I just bowled to his field", I'm glad that you remember that incident.
CW: We have seen time and again that ex-players are critical of the current crop not you so specifically. For Instance a former player in an Interview said that he could bowl faster than Ravi Rampaul. My grouse here is instead of being critical shouldn't they be stepping up and helping them in some capacity? Are the ex-players volunteering to help and they are not being used? when you think of the legacy of the West Indies We have the Vivian Richardss, Richie Richardsons, Brian Laras, take the fast bowlers Ambrose, Walsh, Bishop, Croft, Holding, there is so much legacy what is stopping those who want to help? Why is this not happening that these past greats are not passing on the knowledge that they acquired during their time?
IB: (Laughs) This is an interesting question. I think you can talk on that in three ways, in that one of the issues that I have especially with my peers is the way that something is said in that everybody has their right to their opinion. But I think I believe as a journalist or a broadcaster you can say that a guy is not bowling well, you can say that he is not as fit as he should be or you can just tear into pieces and say that you can bowl faster than anyone, it just depends on what suits you, it's the same point you are getting to but the way that we say things that I always feel is critical. Yes the criticism sometimes is necessary but should it be so abrasive? Because sometimes I do believe that and I know many of these players well, I don't believe that they make a use of the facility or the great players that have been around them. Some of them are unwilling, some of them are open to learning I mean I know some of the great players talk to some of these players quite often but the messages don't seem to be getting through consistently and that is probably the frustration of the great players of the past. But also frustration of the players who are playing now. The help is there, I know that there are great, the great past players are there who are willing to put something in but partly they were free to get involved in the administration because they have seen so many mess ups and so many I suppose when somebody gives something up themselves. They expect to be appreciated and that appreciation has not always been there so a lot of the great players have stepped away because of that and are unwilling to get involved anymore or less with a certain guarantee. So that's why I said the whole structure of the cricket needs to be more professional and unless we get that I think you will find everybody sort of spinning top in mud as we say here in the Caribbean.
CW: There have been calls from various quarters to sack Chris Gayle as captain. Do you think he really is the problem because his records suggest otherwise .He has actually performed better as a batsman when he has led the side? Thoughts on that.
IB: He has, his batting average as captain of the West Indies team is above what it has normally been. He won a series against England and when you look back at the immediate past that hasn't happened too often in which he drew a series against Sri Lanka and won a test match in South Africa. So I think Chris Gayle has taken the team to a certain level. He is not the problem because the team isn't doing well. There are many reasons I have alluded to before , Chris has taken the team as far as he possibly can over the two years and I believe in the context of what has gone before he has done an improved job but he himself has talked about test match that is unbecoming of a leader, I think sometimes Chris says things that are not becoming of a leader and I have a firm opinion that they now need somebody to come in and give them direction, the team is in need of more personnel direction and Chris comes across as reluctant leader anyway. I believe there needs to be someone else to take them to the next level.
CW: What are the alternates, do we have any?
IB: That is one of the problems there is no candidate standing and saying this should be the guy or that should be the guy because the captain has to be a statesman amongst being a good tactician, being a player able to hold his present team, statesman is a prime pre-requisite of what a captain has to be.
CW: With all the territorial politics in the West Indies, Would it be better to have a foreign coach who is oblivious to all these politics rather than have one of your locals , say for instance West Indies were getting good results under John Dyson , Do you think somebody like John Wright who actually took India to the next level. Wouldn't it be better to have somebody from Outside the West Indies?
IB: Yeah we have tried that, you know the West Indies have tried that with Bennett King, they have tried it with John Dyson and despite the fact that they won the series against England which was an achievement, hell of an achievement and I think you know there were issues and maybe not of John Dyson's own making, but there were issues that maybe needs to be handled differently. I think the coach should be the best coach regardless of where he is from whether he is a local or foreigner or whatever. I think he has to be a person who understands the sensibilities of what is going on in the Caribbean because I think if you are coming with a big stick mentality, it doesn't necessarily mean that it will work. Someone who can seamlessly work as we have to understand the psychology of the players and be able to get the best out of them in whatever way with that as being firm or whether that is sort of getting into their heads, getting into their minds I mean understanding and so the best coach whoever it is.
CW: Your thoughts on WIPA. Do you think WIPA has become a little too aggressive for its own good? Thoughts on that.
IB: I think that they have always been, I believe that there have always been issues as I said before with administration. Administration of West Indies cricket has always been poor. I believe that the players association is a necessary organization. At times I do not feel that the players association encompassing the players themselves cognizant of the bigger picture and so it has been the administration of West Indies cricket. Whether that includes a board and the territories have mismanaged a certain extend or certain component of the players wealth and the players then respond the association then responds, so it has always been tit for tat, I knew that. You find out two associations that they loggerheads with each other, two of the most important shareholders of the West Indies cricket backbiting and firing at each other and nobody is willing to take a backseat and say look let us look at a wider picture. So I think that is the main problem and maybe that, not maybe, that whole thing needs to change and whether you are talking about a change in personnel or not I don't know. But the whole atmosphere in which negotiations are taking place needs to change.
CW: Would you hold the ICC partly responsible for the mess in the Caribbean, Their intent on spreading the game to parts of the world like say China, the United States, Afghanistan etc, realistically are they going to play Test cricket. Wouldn't it be better that the ICC kind of worked in tandem with the countries that are pretty much struggling at this stage. Say for example West Indies is a good example, New Zealand is another example. I agree we need to expand the game but is there a dereliction of duty on part of the ICC? Your thoughts.
IB: I think the ICC could be more flexible with the way that revenue sharing and that sort of thing goes on because a simple thing like the UDRS system where they want territorial boards for example or the host boards to be able to pay for certain pieces of equipment like hotspot. Boards like the West Indies Cricket Board don't have the money to be able to do that so you will find that you will have the more, the wealthier countries being able to afford it. The Englands, the Australias, hence they are creating a disparity. But having said that we are responsible really for our own affairs and we should not really depend on the external bodies to sort out the administrative bungling about structural imperfections really are our own making and our own choosing and so until we come to that point and recognition in our own minds and admit that we have made mistakes, we have been incompetent in certain areas, what can the ICC do, we are responsible for, to chart of our own cause and we need to do that.
CW: Okay, just two more questions for you. What would be your highest point in your playing career and who do you think is the best batsman you bowled to?
IB: Sachin Tendulkar without a doubt is the greatest opponent that I have ever played against. His ability, I think at his very prime and he has had a long career over that period of time. But there was a high point in his career I suppose mid 90's probably where I just found it very difficult to bowl to him. The good balls that I bowled , I always said that that lesser batsman would defend and give me breathing space as a bowler, Sachin some how found a way to be able to apply pressure and put those balls away. So your concentration and your skill level have to be at his utmost when bowling to him, without a doubt the greatest opponent I have ever bowled against. High point in my career? (Takes a long pause) No, that's really hard to pinpoint that one moment, just playing at that level for such a long period and then playing with the guys that I have played, the memories of playing with the Dujon's, Marshall's and Walsh's and stuff was just irreplaceable.
CW: So what do you see the future holding for the West Indies?
IB: (Sighs.).. I can only hope, really, because I don?'t think its rocket science. I don't think its that difficult. Yes there are economic challenges here in the Caribbean, there are certainly are economic challenges. If there was probably more access to greater funds then you will be able to quickly recognize that first class cricket needs probably a franchise system or more professional setup certainly, which would then hold players accountable via a contract system and there would be a a wider base of players and that would create a better attitude and so until we have had that and A teams and the high performance center. I think if that is done, I think we could quickly in two, three years see better performance.