'I Had no Control, No Authority'
Thu, Jul 6, '06
MICHELLE McDONALD interviews former West Indies team manager RICKY SKERRITT
MM: Apart from the pettiness and insularity in West Indies cricket, what else caused you great concern?
RS: You've got to have a system that fits into a plan, and you've got to let it work. Nobody ever let anything work. Now, I get a sense that the current management team is being allowed to stay on a path. After one year [under Head Coach Bennett King], people were a little worried. The results were horrific and therefore you had this little uproar within the Board, but that used to happen every month when I was there. That didn't happen once a year; that happened once a month.
Not a review. There has never been a review. How could you have a review if you have never even sat down with the Board? The first time anybody even came close to doing a review of my performance and those of the people around me, was after Pat Rousseau fired me. Even the recent attempt by the Board to review Coach Bennett King turned in to a mess, by all accounts. [he notes that there has never been any mention about reviewing the current Manager].
I can only hope that it is not still the practice to review management in their absence and by hearsay. During my time, the WICB Board, cricket committee and selectors made all of their decisions without any direct input from the team Manager. These decisions were then dispatched to management to implement and, in too many cases, to clean up the mess that they had created.
After that 2001 Rousseau incident, why did you stay and fight? Why didn't you leave since it was evident that you weren't wanted by the President?
I had just started on to a learning curve and I really believed that the West Indies Cricket Team needed people like me and Roger [Harper] and others, and needed to stop this 'ad hoc-ism' in the way the WICB treated people and attempted to bring quick-fixes to long term problems. When I went to England for my first tour in 2000, it was the first time that I got to meet Clive Lloyd. And I went to look for him and I invited him in to the dressing room and asked him to tell me about his experience as Manager. Clive, I discovered, had been very poorly treated, in many quarters worse than I have ever been treated.
I could have been just as bitter as everybody else, but that's not my style. My style is to move on and make positive contributions where I am allowed to. Everybody is bitter. Everybody is bitter about something and I'm saying you've got to stop it some time.
Sum up your achievements as West Indies Manager.
Improved injury management, dress code, punctuality, relationship with sponsors, media relations, and relations with the fans. Computer based video analysis technology was made available to our coaching staff for the first time in our history. Unfortunately we were the last team to take this technology step amongst our competitors.
Highlights for the team on the field include beating India in India, beating South Africa in the opening match of the South Africa World Cup and the historic test victory against Australia in Antigua.
What do you think you were most successful at changing during your four year tenure? What legacy did you leave?
I don't know if any of what I left behind has been used, but one of the things we developed unquestionably was a sports medicine support system for the players. Remember, we never had a full time physiotherapist with the team before Andrew [Simpson] was hired just before I left. We never had a full time Media Liaison. We never had a full time Sponsorship Liaison. I performed all of the above functions myself, except physiotherapy of course! But I coordinated all medical matters for the team and developed a medical panel [headed by Dr Akshai Mansingh of Jamaica] with support from the WICB, reluctantly, because it was money that they didn't want to spend. We could never thank Mansingh and his colleagues in Barbados and Trinidad enough for the amount of free time and expertise that they have given to West Indies cricket.
St Kitts, and other islands like St Kitts, do not have the high level sports medicine specialty that international cricket venues really need and I understood that as a manager. That is why I built this medical panel that can consult with local doctors and be referred to by local doctors, and that we could have a system of data for ongoing injury management.
So you had a history of players' injuries.
People take that for granted now. There was no workable injury management system when I came to the team. We also set up a whole system of management information which helped to organize the players and make the players have less hassle in the way their lives as touring cricketers took place. I worked at improving their advanced access to information about their pay, travel and accommodation, as well as sponsorship and media requirements, just to make the players have less anxiety.
But most of my critics ignore the fact that when it came to the selection and preparation of the team, I had no control, no authority at all...
Do you feel you should have had input as a selector?
I am not going to say I should have had input because I knew that the system at the time did not allow me to have input, because they felt the only people who should have input were the former Test players. It is ironic that now, no member of the management team other than Tony Howard ? who had one Test match ? are former Test players, but they control everything now, which I have always asked for.
But the important point is that the management team must be in control of the team. It shouldn't be some fellow sitting in some office somewhere telling them what to do. So I am relatively happy with the way that the system now seems to operate. The only concerns I have with the system now, is that I would like to see at least one West Indian as part of the coaching staff and I believe strongly that the captain should be one of the selectors.
Ok. Bennett said before the match that he would like that when he is doing the practice sessions, for the local coaches who coach at a high level to come down and work with him.
Who did he tell that to? Who then told that to whom? How often has that been implemented? We certainly never heard of that in St. Kitts and he has been here twice in the past month.
I know I did go to a presentation he made and he said that.
So he could say that, but somebody has to organise and implement it. You see, there is a disconnect. There always has been a disconnect between what management wants and what they get. What I used to do was reach out and make it happen and that seems to be how I upset the cricket experts.
That is what caused some of the WICB decision makers to not like Ricky, because Ricky used to ask for certain things, be promised them, not get them and then turn around and try to make it happen, try to control it, try to dictate ? in their minds ? what to do and when to do it.
For example, a year before we went to the World Cup in South Africa, I was trying to get a plan from people involved; selectors, coaches, cricket committee etc, on how we were going to prepare our team for South Africa. Up to weeks before, I was still being promised a plan from the technical people, so I had to end up writing the plan myself and insisting on certain things. Eventually, one month before, they agreed to a two week camp in Antigua and they allowed me to bring in a motivator and other resources that were all being asked for almost a year before.
Has that stopped now? I hope it's stopped. So help me God I hope it has stopped because it needs to stop. In order to compete with the best teams, our management team needs to be able to work a plan, get the resources, or be told which resources they can get and which they can't, early enough, and be able to implement. Are you going to have a preparation camp or not? How long is it going to be? What resources do you need and which ones are you going to have to bring in? Standing up in a session and saying we want local coaches to learn from Bennett is not enough?..somebody has to organize it; inform the local coaches; decide which ones will be involved; are they going to stand and look on or are you going to give them some specific roles to play? How are we going to ensure that they learn from Bennett King?
It reminds me that we hired a fielding coach [Julian Fountain] for a year at the end of 2000. After a few months with our team, certain influential persons decided that the West Indies team should not have any "white Englishmen" in our management team and, because he still had more than six months left on his one year contract, the WICB sent him to coach kids on various islands. This was inspite of a request from our coach to have Julian continue touring with our team as he felt progress was being made. Julian achieved very little in the islands because there was really no implementation plan, and no local association had been prepared for Julian's visits, and in most cases he had few kids to coach when he arrived. Julian's contract to modernise our fielding skills had effectively been sabotaged and wasted.
You're talking obviously with your business background about things like having a plan and having resources.
No, no. I am talking about the need for better communication and simple common sense. I'm not talking about a highly scientific thing. I am just talking about stakeholders coming to the table and agreeing to disagree if necessary on some points and focusing on achieving the points on which they agree. But nearly every ego I encountered was too big to listen to the views of others.
For example, you had a situation where the Manager of the team was not liked by any selector, because I had expressed the view that our selectors made too many emotional and arbitrary decisions. When they were in the process of making their decision, all I would do is try to bring data or relevant information for their use, so if for instance they are picking one batsman versus the next, I would try to bring research to say this batsman has scored so many runs on certain types of wickets against such type of bowling. So if the data does not really justify the decision you are making, then you are not making it on data, you are not making it on medical information, what basis are you making it on?
It is not objective.
Well their thing was 'you could never know because you never played Test cricket.' So I would say 'ok, it's instinctive then.' So they would say 'yes, you don't understand.' But I found out later that I had unfortunately and unintentionally made enemies of them because I had dared to challenge them. I wasn't trying to tell them what to do the few times I engaged them. I just wanted to say to them 'look gentlemen, I respect you greatly but, I really believe that this old method of 'using only cricket instinct and experience' that we have been using for the last 30 years, it's time to change it.
Let's bring some objectivity to it.
That's the point. Through the media, I got the public to realize the foolishness that was going on. Forty-eight players in my first three years, and I kept counting, so the media began to write. That is when the public began to realize that our selectors probably had no plan and appeared to be in a panic mode. Unfortunately I still was the scapegoat, because the public assumed that I was a selector.
Did you get any flack for that?
Of course I got flack. Internally, nobody wanted a manager who was interfering with selection and cricket matters, because in their opinion, I was not qualified. I should stay in my little corner and book travel and hotels.
So was that deliberate then? Going to the media?
All the stakeholders in West Indies cricket need to be heard. I think ultimately somebody should be in control of making the decisions, but I believe that all stakeholders need to be heard. When a team is not doing as well as it should, our answer to that in the Caribbean is to blame some individual. My answer to that is to determine what are we not doing well and decide how we are going to do better. We also have to determine what we are doing well and how we can consolidate that. Unfortunately, that basic common sense approach wasn't always very welcomed unless it came from a 'cricket expert'. That was a steep learning curve for me because I had entered an environment with most people in a constant crisis mindset; the tensions, the insularities, the fitness thing, and there was no incentive pay scheme or retainer contract for the players.
This whole thing about retainer contracts is not new. In my very first overseas tour report, I wrote about the need for such incentive based contracts. The first person to highlight the issue to me was Jeffery Dujon. I became one of the biggest advocates because clearly it repeatedly jumped out at me that a player could go on tour and he could do relatively little for the whole tour and still have the same benefits as everyone else. He could even exaggerate injury or be indifferent to actual results and still get the same pay as the player who made 500 runs or got 20 wickets. It was a ridiculous reality that I had to deal with for the entire time of my stay with the team.
Do you think that, for example the reports that you wrote that they were...
Nobody ever read them.
How do you know?
Because I have never had a comprehensive discussion with anybody at WICB about any of my reports.
Really? But isn't there a debriefing after each tour?
There was supposed to be, but most of the time they didn't take place or were rushed because of scheduling, and people being busy and so on. When the cricket committee discussed matters, most of them hearsay, from tour and so on, I would hear about it in the press. When they leaked their stuff to CaribbeanCricket.com and it was out in the press, that is when I heard about it.
I have never been invited to a cricket committee meeting; I have never been to a board meeting. As a matter of fact, the only person who I ever discussed anything with about my job and the team, since Rousseau, was probably Roger [Brathwaite] briefly when we were negotiating my second contract.
The point I am trying to make is that the only time that I ever was engaged by a small committee from the Board was after the Rousseau incident when we sat down and we agreed on how some things that were in my contract should be interpreted, and we came to an agreement about expectations. I just changed a few report formats. I remember once, I had some unofficial feedback from a Board meeting when I put together what I called an attitudinal matrix in one of my tour reports.
I had attempted to make the point in my report that certain players were coming to the team with an attitude problem and that their attitude needed to be worked on. I was seeing a most unbelievable lack of professional outlook by amateur players who were participating in a worldwide professional league. So we were supposed to be doing reports on the players. The coach would do a technical report. He would write about their cricket, their fielding and so on, and I said that cannot be enough because we had one or two players who may even have had certain good technical results but were very disruptive in the team, so I said it was important to take it to another level and to add some components to the assessment, so I developed an attitudinal matrix.
It was an attempt to measure players' attitudes towards everything. Attitude to sponsorship, fellow team members, match officials, media, practice sessions and fans etc. I gave scores to each player in each category and then did a little computer graph to show who were the players with the better attitudes in the team, and who the players with the weaker attitudes were. Now I had never seen one of these matrices done before. I was experimenting. I was no expert in psychology but I was experimenting based on observations. I rated players on nine attitudinal indicators and not all of them got poor ratings in everything. It was scores of 1 to 5 for each indicator, and then at the end of it, I would do an average.
There were one or two guys who got poor averages, but what was distressing was that a certain player got a fair average overall but he got a 1 [lowest] in a particular category and his Board representative in the WICB got extremely upset about it. Who is this Manager to say that a favourite player had a poor attitude to sponsor obligations? I then got a call from the President of the Board saying 'don't put that attitudinal matrix back in your next report.' So much for assessing players' performance.
It became clear to me after, that if I had spent my time just drifting along, not trying to change anything and agreeing with everybody about everything, I may have been liked by the Board.
Which is like you are just burying things and you're not helping the situation to get better.
Yes. There have been some very testy moments in trying to bring about change.
Ok. What did you enjoy about it?
I enjoyed helping a lot of people. I think I spent a lot of time helping players, their friends and families, fans, the media etc?.and sometimes when you are no longer around, people appreciate you more. Some of those people have recently indicated that to me. So I like to help people; I like to help people grow; I like to help them improve and develop. I felt I was able to help a few of the younger players manage their lives away from home a little bit better. We generated discussions about everything from finances to their personal lives.
Those world class career performers like Brian Lara, Carl Hooper, Jimmy Adams, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Ridley Jacobs and Shiv Chanderpaul, and other younger guys like Sarwan who were achieving good results from time to time on the field, I tried to focus on them as much as possible to make life as easy for them off the field, so that they could handle the pressure better on the field. These were the players who were being targeted most intensely by the opposition.
That got me in trouble some times because some of the younger players felt I that was paying too much attention to the senior players. That's what they meant by favouritism. My "favouritism" was that certain players had earned the right to priority when the resources were scarce and it couldn't be given to everybody in the same portion. For example if I sent the liaison officer to undertake an assignment for me which involved player A, but I accompanied player B myself, player A might turn around and say that I favoured player B. I gave my time and resources where I felt it was must urgently needed or where the risk of inattention was the highest.
How did you communicate this to the players, to make them try and understand what the modus operandi was?
It's just like in politics right now. You could do your best and try to make people aware about what you are doing, but you are always going to have those people who, for whatever reason, because maybe you spoke to them in a way that they didn't like, or somehow they don't like how you look, or they don't like the fact you are from a small island, or your skin is too fair, or whatever it is, they just decide that whatever you do is wrong and so you say well, I really hope over time they will understand, but I will continue to do my best.
So you tried.
Yes, but you cannot justify everything you do to everybody. The other thing is that, one of the things I learnt in West Indies cricket is that Test players never ever say anything bad about fellow Test players to their face. They only ever said things bad about them behind their back. So there is too much hearsay in West Indies cricket.
To the Manager?
To whomever. And also if they have to choose somebody to dislike, and they have a choice between somebody who has played Test cricket and somebody who hasn't, they are going to choose the one who hasn't played, because it's almost like a fraternity. Let's take some of the past players who were aspiring to be in management or a selector and get on the cricket committee, or to be a coach or team consultant and so on. Any decision at all that they perceived was wrong, then it had to be Ricky's fault because, in their minds, Ricky didn't know enough about cricket. This was without even checking out where the decision came from; what caused it; what was the background; was Ricky involved at all? Because Ricky wasn't a selector, Ricky wasn't the coach, Ricky never prepared the team.
So you were an easy scapegoat then.
That's the point, and I am not saying Ricky was right every time. I made mistakes too and I tried to learn.
* In the second installment, Ricky Skerritt discusses his biggest mistake.