The Stanford 20/20 is in full swing and all its legends fully back the efforts of Sir Allen Stanford in ploughing millions into the tournament to raise the standards of West Indies cricket.
Michael ‘Whispering Death’ Holding is one of them.
He was at his prime during the golden years of West Indies success. The outspoken Jamaican is a commentator and Stanford ambassador now and even though he has a vested interest in promoting the 20/20 running in Antigua until 24 February, his integrity cannot be doubted.
Sir Allen hopes that by forming full-time pro teams in each country, the best players will eventually play at Test level and improve the Windies fortunes. But critics say better 20/20 players won’t mean better Test performers.
‘There has to be a direct link between the Stanford pro teams and the West Indies Cricket Board and what is happening with the development of cricket otherwise it doesn’t make sense,’ Holding said. ‘Everything is supposed to dovetail towards the West Indies side, including everything that happens around the islands and the development of the infrastructure.
‘Mr. Stanford is putting a lot of money into all these cricket boards and development at the grassroots. Representing the West Indies should be the ultimate aim, whether at Test, One-Day or 20/20 level. Everyone has to cooperate and interact with each other to achieve that.’
Cayman lost by 46 runs to the St Lucia Pro Team on Saturday and partly blamed the poor quality of the wicket for their loss.
‘It’s early days and I wouldn’t say that everything is going as smoothly as it can,’ added Holding. ‘But it is something that the West Indies has needed for a very long time. Without the money that Mr Stanford has been putting into the respective boards and islands, you wouldn’t have had the sort of development that has gone into the infrastructure. And we need that. We’re not a rich nation. We don’t have companies in the Caribbean that are spending their money all over the region.’
Holding, 53, doesn’t agree that becoming pros will spoil them. He hopes to see more fast bowling talent making the grade like Jerome Taylor has done. ‘Making a pro team and being paid a monthly salary for concentrating on just cricket should not be the sole aim. It should be moving on to the West Indies team.
‘The progress I have seen is that the West Indies team now looks a little more serious about the game and they are more a team in the true sense. My problem with the West Indies team is that we have no bench strength. We have a reasonably good 11 that in my opinion can compete with any team around the world and can beat anyone of them, but when we start picking up injuries we really struggle because there is no bench strength. Whenever Sarwan, Gayle or Chanderpaul gets injured the person that replaces them is nowhere the standard that we would like to see. There’s too much of a big gap. We have to develop better cricketers. We can’t cut them out of trees.’
He said fellow Jamaican Chris Gayle should lead the West Indies even though Holding originally championed for Guyanese Ramnaresh Sarwan to be skipper.
‘Sarwan has had injuries and Gayle has come in and done a good job. I see no problem in Gayle continuing that job and Sarwan being his vice-captain. I don’t see it being a conflict because Gayle and Sarwan are very good friends. People who say that I favour Gayle because he’s a fellow Jamaican can go back and study my history, that’s all I can tell them. There is now a chemistry in the West Indies team so he must be doing something right and things shouldn’t be changed.’
Holding is not sure that the regional side has finally reached rock bottom and are now on the up after 15 years of decline.
‘It’s hard to say. We seemed to have turned the corner so many times I can’t be bothered with that. What we need is some levelling off and then some improvement. Right now, there seems to be a slowing down of the decline and I’m happy with that.’
Holding talks openly about all topics except the Brian Lara issue. He has been an uncompromising critic of the Trinidadian genius but is fed up of discussing him. ‘I’m not commenting on Lara. What has gone is gone.’