'I want to be an agent of West Indies change'
You've taken on a tough role. Can you turn things around?
I'm pretty realistic about where we're at. That's the starting point: to be very clear about where we are. I don't know if I see my role as turning things around. There are a lot of processes that need tidying up in our cricket. It's not an overnight job and I may not live to see the promised land. But I can certainly take the first steps.
Where is West Indies cricket now?
Our standards aren't good enough across the board, and it's reflected in the cricket that we play. But we have the raw materials; we have good young players. What we need is a system that can take this raw talent and convert it into an international product that's world-class.
We saw when they won the World T20 that, when all the players are available, West Indies is still a top side. But the previous regime's stance on considering for selection only those who play in the regional domestic competitions means that has rarely been the case. Now we hear that policy is being reviewed. What is your position?
I'm not the only person who is going to be involved in the decision. But I'm certainly of the view that it needs reviewing. There's a process behind that, which means it probably won't happen overnight. The review is ongoing and has started, but if a change of direction is to happen, it won't be overnight, as there is a process that backs that up. But it is being reviewed. A lot of stakeholders in our cricket appreciate now that it does have to be looked at.
Is the standard of T20 cricket in the Caribbean satisfactory?
I've only watched CPL from a distance in the last five years. I think, based on the quality of cricketers that we have here, and the quality of cricketers that have come in for CPL cricket, I think we can get better. But I also think that a lot of our international players - the Chris Gayle generation - will have started under Stanford, but will have developed and become battle-hardened in leagues outside the Caribbean. And if I'm waving a magic wand, I'd like to have the standard in the Caribbean, where, if they do play overseas, that's fine - certainly from a financial point of view - but in terms of developing our own T20 to an international standard, then we want our cricket in the Caribbean to be a lot stronger.
You want them back?
I'd like to have the best players available. I'm not going to stick my neck on the block. It's a selection panel decision as to who the best players are, but ideally you always want the best players available for selection.
There will have to be give and take on both sides?
I think so, yes.
Are you encouraged by what you saw in the Super 50 competition?
I watched half of it. I saw the Antigua leg. I saw the semis and the final. I saw bits and bobs from Barbados. I was very encouraged. The first thing was, the players had an opportunity to play a long tournament. The finalists played ten games, the losing semi-finalists played nine, and everyone else eight.
The facilities, for the most part, were adequate or good. We can eventually get even better wickets, but given where the Coolidge ground was three months ago, I'm quite happy with what we had there.
Seeing batsmen produce three-figures performances was good, too. Going back a few years, that was a rarity. And players were starting to appreciate what sort of standard is expected from them if they are trying to make it to the next level. Communicating that clearly helps. And that's going to be a challenge because we know we had a period in our cricket where we are trying to move our territorial boards from an amateur system to a professional one. There are tensions - you'd expect that - because mindsets won't change overnight. But we do have one thing in common across the board: everyone wants to see stronger cricket. And let's move away from the excuses that we have heard in the past.
Any areas that needed improvement?
Generally speaking we could lift standards across the board in every area - batting, bowling, outfielding. Fitness as well.
You've had many roles in cricket. But having spent a fair bit of time in a players' union role, is it fair to expect you to be sympathetic to the players by inclination?
I've spent time in different roles. I represented the players' association for a few years as secretary and actually worked as director of cricket - or technical director - with Jamaica, so I've already stood on both sides of the fence. So I can quite appreciate a lot of the issues that face both the board and the players. I think that we have the potential to achieve a lot more if we can get people singing off the same hymn book going forwards.
The outstanding issue now is player eligibility: I'm encouraged by the fact that most, if not all, parties are in agreement that what is in place now is not sustainable and might not be helping our cricket in the short or long term. But I don't see my former role with WIPA as being of detriment to me being able to carry on this role. I actually think it helps to give me a better understanding of some of the issues that are actually being faced at the moment.
Can we expect you to utilise the knowledge and experience of former players? The likes of Lara, Sarwan and Chanderpaul?
I don't see why not. I do think… this is more a philosophy than empirical evidence, but I think we all need it as a guiding light for what we do: I think the West Indies has more resources than we think we have. I think what we haven't been good at is how efficiently we engage and use those resources. The names you've called - and I could mention many more - could potentially offer quite a lot to us. To me, they stand as potential resources going forward. It might not be one size fits all, but all those names have achieved so much by doing things well for a long time. Again, philosophically, we're talking about finding consistency across the board: they have lived a life of consistency to achieve what they have on a cricket field. In any way possible that we can engage them in our cricket going forward, the key challenge is finding the right fit. Not square pegs in round holes. But I do think there are roles for these people if they are willing to get into West Indies cricket.
Did you appoint Stuart Law?
No, I wasn't involved. We were both appointed around about the same time. But we've come across each other going back many years. We both played in the first Youth World Cup in 1988 in Australia. The relationship started from there. We played against each other at international level as well, so there is a history. It might not be a big one, but we've both had conversations over the years. What little I know of him, I think he's a fairly honest bloke. At the end of the day, that's a huge starting point for me: let's just be honest. He's very down to earth in his views on the game, and if the early signs are an indication, he's on his way to building a pretty strong relationship with the lads, which I think is critical.
Is cricket as important to people in the Caribbean as it used to be?
I'd ask for empirical evidence. Without empirical evidence, my gut feeling is that far more important are the standards within the pyramid than the numbers at the base of the pyramid. I'm not saying we can't do with more numbers - we always can. I think there will always be a challenge if you go back ten to 15 years with what is available for young people. I don't think the West Indies are the only entity that have that challenge.
But I do think there's a big call to raise our standards within that pyramid. If I can loosely use New Zealand rugby as an example, or New Zealand cricket, I'm not sure their base has got significantly bigger in 30 years, but I do know that they've maintained standards or maybe even moved the bar a bit higher over that course of time. I would be probably a little bit more interested in making sure that happens [here] than necessarily growing the base by another 20%, or 15%.
I'd take an increase in numbers playing junior cricket. I can speak for Jamaica: when I was there five years ago, we had more kids playing primary school cricket than when I was there [as a youngster]. But there was beginning to be a gap in the 13-to-17 age group. I think that's pretty common across the world, for what 13- to 17-year-olds have available to them.
But even as I was thinking, I was more interested in: could I raise the standards, could I provide better coaches for the players that we had, could I make sure competitions were the highest possible standard, that the facilities were better than when I played? I saw those as more immediate challenges.
I put a high value on the face of our cricket, which is the international team. But ideally you've got to get right down to where it starts. So we need to ensure the Under-15s, which is the time we start with players, have the right lifestyle instilled by the time they get to 19. It's about coaches, lifestyle managers and development people. It's not just cricket but life development as well.
West Indies tend to perform well at that level.
Yes, but let me make the distinction. A very crude example is that, at that young level, it's about 90% talent and 10% thinking and lifestyle. But at the highest level it is the other way around. Talent is irrelevant. Or 10%, anyway. Everybody has the talent and it's the other issues that become more and more important. If they aren't ingrained by the time they are in their early 20s, it becomes very, very difficult.
Rahkeem Cornwall is clearly a talented cricketer but with fitness issues. Could he play international cricket? At the end of the day you're talking about performances. I'm not duty-bound to support anything other than people performing on the field. I'm speaking personally, I don't speak for the selection panel. We discuss a lot of things but he's here playing for a representative team, which tells you a story itself. If he performs, I'm sure he'll be in line for selection. I'm not a selector. There's a close relationship between myself and the selectors, but I'm not a selector.
You were one of the players involved in the standoff with the board at Heathrow airport many years ago. What did you learn from such situations?
I don't know if we have enough time. I'm not trying to evade the question. I literally could go on until tomorrow morning… It's a challenging situation. I think what encourages me is, I think, we have some very good people involved in our cricket. I keep saying again, you're moving out of an amateur system into a professional one, and maybe, without speaking out of turn, maybe a lot of the drivers that have driven our cricket for a long time need to change. You're talking about mindsets that have existed for a long time, except that changing mindsets is not an overnight thing. Also, processes that have been in place that I think in this day and age are outdated, they are tied into constitutional areas. You're talking about changing the constitution of any entity that's something that can drag on for a long time. Do we change our constitution or do we try and work around it?
These are issues that have been going around for a while. Now, at the end of the day - I think, maybe, I'm saying this only being in the job for a month and a week - I think you can either put your hands up in the air and say, "It's not worth it" or put your hand up and say, "Let me try and be an agent of change."
If I'm still here in two or three years' time and I'm still looking fairly healthy, then it means we are getting somewhere. But these things have to happen. I sense more and more that more stakeholders appreciate that and are getting to the point where maybe, as an entity, we are all be more willing to give a little bit to make that happen. I think that has to happen. I don't think everybody can keep holding on to their territories for much longer given where we are. I want to encourage that. I want to be an agent for that change to happen.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. He will be covering England's tour of the Caribbean in association with Smile Group Travel, specialists in hosted supporters' packages.