David Williams, the former West Indies wicketkeeper, might not have enjoyed massive success in his playing days, but has solidly established himself as the most successful coach of Trinidad and Tobago. Williams had 42 victims in 11 Tests and 45 in 36 One-Day Internationals during an international career that spanned 10 years, taking relentless pressure in his short stride.
In a candid chat with Wisden India, Williams goes down memory lane as he talks about his stint with the West Indian side, and talks at length about where cricket in the Caribbean is headed. Excerpts:
You were a part of perhaps the last dominant West Indies side. It must have been quite an experience, sharing the dressing room with several legends.
It was really special. I got to learn a lot when I got into the side in 1988. Viv Richards was the captain, and we had guys like Dessie Haynes, Gordon Greenidge, Jeff Dujon and Gus Logie, those guys are legends. They all treated me like a kid since I was the shortest of the lot and also the youngest.
Just to be around Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh was a different feeling. I learnt so much just being in the same dressing room as these legends and it is one of the reasons I’m a coach now. I apply whatever I gained from them during my playing days in my coaching role.
Your Test debut was historic, West Indies’ first ever Test against South Africa. Your memories of that game?
I’ve got a lot of good memories. It was our first game against South Africa after their re-admission into international cricket. Apart from the historical significance, the game in Bridgetown unfolded quite well. We had got ourselves in a tricky situation and were about to lose the match. I think South Africa needed 70-odd runs, they had a lot of wickets in hand — eight wickets if I’m not wrong. But then Ambrose and Walsh came to the party and pulled off what we considered a miracle. To come from behind and win a match like that was really tremendous.
You kept to some of the greatest fast bowlers the game has seen. Who do you reckon was the best among them?
It’ll be Curtly Ambrose. They are all different in their ways. Malcolm Marshall was a great bowler too. He had the ability to swing the ball both ways, his control was immaculate. But Ambrose made good use of his height and put the ball in the right areas more often than not. He always kept me nervous behind the stumps, because you’d have to be guessing which way the ball would move.
In your third Test, you held on to a great diving catch to dismiss Mark Waugh off Ambrose’s bowling. Would you say it was your best effort behind the stumps?
That catch was very special. I didn’t have a particularly good game. I had dropped Mark Waugh and Allan Border at crucial points. And both went on and scored centuries. That was a pretty good catch; it gave me a lot of confidence.
After that Test you were out of the side for five years. How did you cope with it?
Well, I’d thank God for giving me the strength to continue and for the belief that regardless of the situation, one can always bounce back. It was hard work, I never gave up. I believed in myself and had faith in Him. And fortunately for me, some of the keepers they selected didn’t do as well. So it was really tremendous to make a comeback at the age of 35 and to achieve so many things that I did. It just goes to show that age has nothing to do with anything. If you have the hunger within you and you are still up to compete, anything is possible.
Do you think there is enough competition for the wicketkeeper’s slot in the West Indies side now compared to your time?
There is always competition. We’ve had some very good wicketkeepers in the past. (Denesh) Ramdin right now is doing a fantastic job, he is the best. We’ve had competition in the past too. Courtney Browne and Ridley Jacobs put a lot of pressure on me not just with their keeping but with their ability to bat. These guys were better batters than I was, so it was very tough for me. But I’ve always worked hard and given my best for West Indies. Over the years, I’ve seen that in every team, one needs a ’keeper who can score runs on a regular basis.
T&T have been the best side in the Caribbean for many years now. What is the reason for their consistency?
I’ve been with these guys since 2004. Some of the guys were teenagers. Just to come up the ranks with them was great. We won in 2005, 2006 and then in 2007. I took up a coaching assignment with the West Indies team but my heart was always with these guys. We sort of developed a legacy. We worked extremely hard and played as a team, we also played very hard against each other while practicing. The intensity with which we play is really remarkable.
We’ve got a lot of talent. You need to have talent and skill and we possess a lot of that. We’ve always stuck behind each other and played as a complete unit, that’s been our strength. We are aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We try to pep each other up and give the encouragement one needs. It’s like a family. It becomes easy to relate to everyone in a family and know what you should expect from them. So this is really a family team.
How would you describe your stint as part of the national coaching set-up?
I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the four and a half years I spent with West Indies. For most of that time, I was an assistant coach. I did carry the team to Australia in 2009-10 as the head coach, so that was a tremendous experience. Just to be at the helm with these top players, I loved my job.
After the World Twenty20 victory in 2012, it was believed that West Indies would be back on track, but the side seems to have stagnated. What is the reason for that?
We did play quite well in Tests after World T20, though it was against weaker sides like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. But we are in a situation where we love T20 cricket. West Indies is a passionate place, we love our cricket, we love excitement, and we love to make people happy. In Twenty20 cricket, we’ll always do well because of the spirit we possess. In the four-day or five-day scenario, it takes a little bit of time to settle down and bat for long. But all in all, our cricket looks good. I think Ottis Gibson (the national coach) has done a fantastic job so far to try and get the team to this stage. Kudos to him for what he has done. I’ve been a part of it as well. I think we are on an upward curve and have some young players that are coming through, so that’s going to carry West Indies cricket further. If you look at the other teams, they’ve got guys who are aging out. We still have a lot of young talent who can carry the mantle.
What has been the impact of the Caribbean Premier League on West Indies cricket?
The CPL was a big hit this year and we just hope it’ll go bigger next year. Some of the younger guys getting to play at the highest level against quality players will only do good for West Indies cricket. It’s a good opportunity for the guys to rubs shoulders with some of the greats like Murali (Muttiah Muralitharan), (Ricky) Ponting and others, and ensure that they learn as much as they can. That was something that we were missing in West Indies cricket. It’s good to have the CPL up and running and with all the stars what we have, I’m sure things will only get better.