“Adapting to conditions a challenge for West Indies” – Roger Harper reflects on the past, present, and future of Caribbean cricket

Despite being a spinner, Roger Harper distinguished himself among the illustrious fast bowlers of the West Indies. Beyond his playing career, the Guyanese also served as a coach and chief selector for the West Indies team.

In this interview, 61-year-old Harper (25 Tests, 105 ODIs) reflects on the past, present, and future of Caribbean cricket, and shares his experiences of being led by Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards.


Are you still following the World cup?

Yes, I’ve been paying keen attention to what has been going on. I haven’t seen all the matches, but I’ve seen most of them and I have followed the results of all the matches.

How is West Indies cricket dealing with the setback?

The regional fans are pretty disappointed but they are also heartened by the fact that the team fought to the very last ball of each game. And they seem to be in pretty good spirits. But, yeah, they’re disappointed that we’re not there in the semifinals.

The spinners seem to be doing well in the World Cup…

What has made the World Cup very interesting to me is the fact that some of the pitches have given the bowlers quite a bit of assistance. So usually T20s are all about batsmen. But in Dubai two World Cups ago, and then here again, where the bowlers have found some assistance on some of the pitches, which made the batsmen think a little more. So it’s been pretty interesting and in some of the games, the spinners really came into their own. So they’re playing a huge role.

T20 cricket is becoming a batsman’s game, apart from this World Cup. How can the spinners protect themselves from being smashed all over the park?

One of the things about the World Cups, in contrast to the IPL, is that the boundaries are a little bigger. So generally the bowlers have a little more comfort. And if there’s something in it for the spinners, then of course, it becomes an even game. Not all batsmen are just smashing the ball.

You were a quality finger spinner, a reliable lower-order batter, and an exceptional fielder. You could have been a hot draw in the IPL. You think you were born in the wrong era?

If I think like that, then what will Sir Garfield Sobers think? You know what I’m saying? You still think he’s the greatest cricketer that ever lived. You have to be happy and content with the era and the opportunities that you’ve had. I am grateful for those opportunities and the career that I have had. I also want to wish the guys of this era all the very best. I just hope they make the most of the opportunity.

Which batsman gave you a hard time?

There are a number of batsmen, and for different reasons. Sunil Gavaskar’s bat seemed very broad. Javed Miandad too, especially when you’re playing limited-overs cricket. What an irritating batsman! He can always find a single, nudging the ball here and there. I learned later that he would tell the non-striker what he was going to do and prepare to run. He was a very gifted player. He would come out and work the ball into a gap or stay right back and nudge it here and there. There were a number of others as well.

Your fielding was ahead of your time…

Well, I don’t know why you say it was ahead of our time. Because Sir Clive Lloyd was an excellent fielder in the outfield, in his early part of his career. And you had Derek Randall. There were a lot of world-class fielders around the world at that time. What was natural to me was my athletic ability, to jump and bend. I grew up playing with a lot of older guys. My brother Mark is six years older than I am, and I followed him around, playing with him and my cousin. When you’re with the big boys, they’re not going to allow you to bowl much or bat much. So if you’re going to have fun, you have to enjoy your fielding. I always ensured that I got into positions where the ball would come often.

And that memorable run out of Graham Gooch. You knocked out his middle stump with a pickup-and-throw in your follow through…

Well, that was not the first time I had done something like that. I had done it in club cricket. When I bowl, I always tend to own the area close to me. I don’t believe anything should get past me. One of the advantages of bowling is that when I release the ball, I have a good idea of where it’s going to pitch and what shot is available. And so when I released the ball with him coming down the track, I had an idea of where he was likely to hit it. When he played the shot, I was anticipating where the ball would go. Once it came within my grasp, he had very little chance of getting back.

How different were Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards as captains?

They were different personalities. Sir Clive was a lot calmer, more calculated. In a way, a lot of the guys had started their careers under him. As great a team as the West Indies were when he took them to India in 1975, I think it was in that first season, that first tour of India, a lot of them were making their debut, including Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards. They really had a chance to develop and grow under him. Viv was naturally more aggressive in his approach to things. They were both good leaders.

You had a coaching stint with the West Indies team when the transition was taking place. You were also a selector. Can you share your experiences?

I was the coach from 2000 to 2003. During that time, Ramnaresh Sarwan made his debut. Chris Gayle had just started playing international cricket. We had Marlon Samuels who came in as well. We had a number of young players who came through and made their mark. While the results weren’t consistently great, I think a lot of positives came out of that period. We managed to beat India in a Test series here in the West Indies. And we also beat India in a one-day series in India.

West Indies have had impressive Test results of late…

Well, what has been happening is that we’ve been doing well at home, at least decently. We find it a little challenging when we go on tour. I think what you’re speaking of is our tour of Australia. A couple of things happened there. You had a number of players who had the option to tour for the first time because of the unavailability of some of the seniors. So they played with a lot more spirit, heart and determination. Of course, there was Shamar Joseph, who, I think, really became a beacon of hope. His performance was really outstanding and he bowled with a lot of enthusiasm, purpose and determination. He has a lot of pace too. His performance was eye-opening and we look forward to him being able to keep that sort of level of performance and approach. We expect that he will drag others along with him to do better and to compete harder so that we can have good results, both at home and abroad.

West Indies players are in huge demand all over the world in T20 leagues. Why do they remain a little bit underachievers for West Indies?

Firstly, T20 and ODIs are different animals altogether. We have to appreciate that. That’s something that a lot of cricket fans in the region are grappling with because, when you look at the names in our T20 team, for example, there are a lot of big names and world beaters, so to speak. But when we come together, somehow we’re not able to put it together collectively. One of the challenges is to perform well collectively. I can’t really put my finger on it. One of our challenges in white ball cricket, especially in T20 cricket, has been adapting to conditions, especially from a batting perspective, especially when we bat first. We have not always been able to assess the conditions and then adjust and adapt accordingly. And that has been one of our downfalls.

Sarwan says he fears an exodus of West Indies players to the US, given the growing popularity of T20 cricket there.

That’s a possibility because he knows what US sport is like. Now with this Major League Cricket starting, that’s what can happen. He is talking not just international players, but our national players, who form the backbone of our regional cricket and the reservoir from which we select players for our first class, 50-over and CPL competitions. We will have to take note of this, be cognizant of what the opportunities are, what the threats are, and try and ensure that we develop a stronger base, stronger grassroots, so we can keep producing quality players who are able to fill the gaps when they arrive.

Finger spinners have become a dying breed of late….wrist spinners are being preferred…

The wrist spinners are being preferred because there’s still a little bit of mystery with the wrist spin. They’re a little harder to pick. It is difficult to differentiate between a googly, top spinner from the leg break. That’s why you get your orthodox spinners trying to add a little more variation and mystery to what they bowl as well. But a good spinner is a good spinner and you’ve seen it here. The orthodox spinners have been able to do well in this World Cup.

How do you look at the last-four stage? Your prediction?

I look at it from a fan’s perspective and looking to see good cricket. Maybe there will be an upset here and there in the making as well.

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