Interview with Fazeer Mohammed : Part 1Ganeshbabu Venkat |
Cricket Web’s Ganesh Venkat caught up with Fazeer Mohammed during the recently concluded Third Test between West Indies and South Africa at Bridgetown, Barbados. Fazeer is a well known Commentator and Broadcaster from Port-Of-Spain Trinidad and one of the few commentators who has not played the game at the highest level. In short you can call him the “Harsha Bhogle” of West Indies Cricket. Faz is taking over from Tony Cozier as the face of West Indies cricket behind the microphone. In the first part of the interview Faz talks about how he ended up commenting on cricket, problems facing West Indies Cricket, past players, current players and captaincy issues.
Faz, how did you end up commenting on cricket, Where you interested in cricket or sports in general, were you always a sportsperson, did you play the game at any level?
Yeah, I have always been interested in sports. My father was a real sports fanatic. I grew up in that environment. He was a decent club cricketer, bowling left-arm orthodox spin in his time. And basically I got involved scoring for his club. So basically from the age of 9, 10, 11, I was very, very closely, involved with the game of cricket.
He loved football. He was a big fan of West Germany, as they were known then, in World Cup Football, and celebrated their World Cup triumph in 1974 and so on. So I have always grown up around sport; cricket, football. He bought lots of sports books. He enjoyed tennis, he enjoyed all sports. So I was basically in an environment where sport was the center of our interest.
Apart from general regular education, we would have all sorts of books; books by Geoffrey Boycott, Tony Greig, Gordon Greenidge, Clive Lloyd. Great football books, great games, and so on. So I grew up in an environment of knowing about the game, learning about the game, and later on in my life when I got the opportunity after my post-secondary education to get involved in journalism, I really looked forward to the opportunity of getting involved in commentary.
My own sporting experience would have been as a player. I played a bit of cricket. I was good enough to play at club level in Trinidad and Tobago. Played one game for Trinidad and Tobago at under-19 level in the West Indies tournament, but that was about it. I think I realized from very early, I didn’t have the ability to go on to play for the West Indies.
It’s very rare that people who have not played the game at the highest level to do what you are doing, which is actually quite tough and quite an achievement, How did that happen and what was your first assignment?
That’s true, but in radio you would find a lot more people who are trained broadcasters, you would find the former players working primarily on television, offering comments. While there you’ve got, what we call, the ball-by-ball commentator on radio.
So I started in radio, never thought I would have had the opportunity in television, but certainly I enjoy radio, because it allows you to describe it a lot more. Whereas for television, the viewers, they are seeing the action already, and that’s why you have the former players getting involved and basically offering their different insights into the game.
But basically I started on radio, and I have always enjoyed working in radio.I got a job at a radio station, and basically asked for the opportunity to do some radio commentary. That was in 1992. And I got the chance there. They were pretty much satisfied with what I was doing.
And during that same year, when South Africa, the first time South Africa actually came to the Caribbean in 1992, I did a couple of One Day internationals, and that was on radio. And since then I’ve had additional opportunities along the way.
I have been working in the media like from about 1985, but the first time actually doing cricket commentary was in 1992, yes.
That was interesting Faz. On to West Indies cricket now, which is pretty much what you have been doing all along. I know you have traveled around quite a bit, have been following the ups and downs over the years. Every time there is a disastrous performance, there are theories that this is the lowest and every time that is said, they try to hit a new low.What do you think needs to be done to stop this consistent downward spiral which seems to have no end to it?
Yeah, it’s been going on for 15 years now. And I think what we’ve had in the West Indies, we’ve changed almost everything; we’ve changed coaches, we’ve changed managers, we’ve changed captains, we’ve changed a number of players over the years, we’ve changed West Indies Board President.
I think the problem we have in West Indies cricket is that, we don’t seem as if we want to do with the right thing all the time. The problem with West Indies cricket is that, you have too many people pulling in different directions.
You’ve got different territories who are always campaigning for different players. You’ve got different members of the Board. You’ve got a West Indies Cricket Board that is a collection of different territories and they all seem to have different agendas.
You’ve got a situation where the West Indies Players Association has its own agenda, to seek the best interests of the players, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. That’s what you expect from a Players Association.
But there doesn’t seem to be the same sort of interest in performance of the West Indies players. And you see players in and out of the West Indies team, year-after-year. You see players with very ordinary records, who are still in the West Indies team. And you get a sense that the West Indies players don’t feel that they are pressured to perform, to hold their place in the West Indies team.
And right now there is no insistence on excellence in West Indies cricket. We see a lot of things about the great history of West Indies cricket, but you don’t see the effort being put in to get that level of performance coming back again.
So what or who do you think is the biggest problems facing West Indies cricket today?
There are many problems. I think too often we try to look for one problem, and there is no one problem in West Indies cricket. What I would say is that, we need strong leadership. If we don’t have strong leadership; either at the West Indies Board level, either at the captaincy level, either at the individual player’s level, we are not going to get anywhere. We are going to be like this for another generation.
Because you get young players coming into West Indies cricket, who see the levels of fitness in the West Indies team, which are very, very low. West Indies players are always injured. The levels of fitness compared to the other international teams are a joke. And as a result of that, players feel they can get away with substandard performances.
In fact, this current West Indies team, the only players who average 40 or more are Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and yet so many of the other players feel they are established in the team and they won’t lose their places.
So you need to have a more competitive atmosphere, a more competitive structure. You need to drop players if it’s necessary. You need also, at the top level, the administrative level, need to hold administrators accountable.
You have a situation in West Indies cricket where you have administrators who continue being in-charge of West Indies cricket, at the time when the West Indies is at its lowest point ever, yet they remain in positions of authority for years and for decades. And by doing that you are basically saying that there is no need to change anything.
We have seen time and again that the ex-players are critical of the current crop. Do you think instead of being critical, can’t they help them actually in some capacity? why is that not happening? Even as recently as two three weeks ago Colin Croft said that Ravi Rampaul is not fit and he could ball faster than Ravi Rampaul. Although these could be valid comments couldn’t he offer his hand to help the West Indies rather than throwing vitriolic comments like this?
Well, to be fair, there have been a lot of opportunities for many of the former players, if you recall. If you look at the list of former coaches, you’ve got Rohan Kanhai, Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Roger Harper, Gus Logie; they were all former coaches. David Williams is an assistant coach. Gordon Greenidge has been a selector, Viv Richards has been a selector. Desmond Haynes has been involved with the administration of the game. Andy Roberts was a Chairman of selector at one time. Michael Holding, Clive Lloyd, they have all been members of what is called a Cricket Committee on the West Indies Cricket Board. Ian Bishop has been part of that as well.
But I don’t think you see a really cohesive program of using these former players, and that’s why you would get comments like that. A lot of the former players feel that they are used almost as window dressing, that they are pinned — it’s nice to have them on board as a member of a committee and so on, but their advice doesn’t seem to be taken on as much.
And also, there is a tremendous amount of sensibility in West Indies cricket, where a former player feels that, if he talks to a player in the team, that will not be looked upon favorably by the coach, because the coach will feel that a former player is interfering with his job. So you have a lot of these issues in West Indies cricket as well.
There have been calls from various quarters to sack Chris Gayle as captain, I think including you, wanted him sacked as captain. But looking at his record, he has performed admirably as a batsman when he has led the side. Do you really think changing the captain will address any of these real problems facing West Indies today? Do we have alternates?
Changing the captain is only part of it, and the reason — I would certainly recall that, I did call for him to removed as captain when he made the comment that he wasn’t all that interested in Test Cricket and that he wouldn’t be too disappointed if Test Cricket died. I felt if you are going to be a captain of a region, where we’ve had this great tradition in Test Cricket and you just couldn’t care less about it, then you need to step down as captain.
The problem in the West Indies is that we don’t have an automatic alternative. I don’t think Chris Gayle is ideal to lead the West Indies. Technically and tactically, he is very deficient; he is too defensive. Doesn’t think fast enough on his feet. But at the moment we don’t have any ready made alternatives.
Many people have spoken of Daren Ganga. Daren Ganga cannot command a place in the West Indies team on performance. When he did lead the West Indies team in very different circumstances, it has to be said, in 2007, in England, his own performance suffered, the West Indies team’s performances had suffered. And people often overlooked the face that leading your territorial team; whether Trinidad, Barbados, or Jamaica, is very different from leading a West Indies team.
And that’s why Gayle really is the best of a bad lot. Dwayne Bravo is seen by some as a potential West Indies captain. Whether he can stay focused on the challenge of being a captain and doing so many things, as he does, in the West Indies team, is another issue.So we are in a crisis in West Indies cricket in more ways than one. Gayle is not ideal, but right now even if you would want to replace him, who do you replace him with?