Orville Higgins | Performance more important than fitness
The dropping of Shimron Hetmyer and Evin Lewis from the Windies squad for the tour of Sri Lanka for failing fitness tests, is the biggest talking point in sports in the region.
Opinions, it appears, are split right down the middle. Some are applauding the selectors, and by extension, Cricket West Indies (CWI), for standing up to principle, while there are many like me, who believe that the board got this one totally wrong.
Let me state it right off the bat that I understand, as much as anyone else, the importance of physical fitness in sport. I am all for players being as fit as they can be, and I accept and understand that greater fitness levels usually lead to greater levels of performance. I get all that. Where I differ from others is that fitness must be seen as a means to an end and not as an end in itself. The most important reason you want one to be fit is because you want him to perform at his optimum.
I am not making a fuss about Hetmyer. My focus now is on Lewis. In the just-concluded series against Ireland, Lewis had scores of 99 not out, seven, and 100. If his last shot in the 99 not out had gone for six runs and not four, he would have had two centuries in three innings. His average was 104, and he was the man of the series. This is the most productive he has ever been in his life. Dropping him three weeks after for failing a fitness test just seems a bit unreasonable to me.
Now I have some questions. Was he fit when he was making all these runs? If he was not functionally fit, how could he turn in such outstanding numbers? Did he rapidly lose fitness in three weeks? The squad was named approximately three weeks before the first One -Day International on February 22. Did they not have enough time to get him back to the levels he was at when he was thrashing the Ireland bowlers all over the park three weeks ago?
Why this stance now?
I’m wondering if CWI would have taken this stance if the team was heading into the World Cup. Surely, then, good sense would have prevailed. The duty of a selection team is simple. Pick your best team. Evin Lewis, at this point, is an automatic selection. The board knows that Lewis in the squad gives us a better chance to beat Sri Lanka. To leave him out because he did not pass a fitness test is not dissimilar to cutting off your nose in an attempt to spite your face. It is mind boggling that others who did not perform to their best ability in the last series will be on the plane to Sri Lanka while the man of the series will have to be watching on television.
The most important criterion for selection should be performance, not fitness. If you are performing well enough, then the assumption should be that you are fit enough. I want fit players, and I also want players who are performing. If you have performed as well as Lewis did three weeks ago, then fitness should not be the reason you are left out. None of this means that Lewis should not be made to face some sanctions. A fine should have been sufficient. In real life, you cannot suspend your most productive worker for your last assignment because you designed a test that he failed literally a few days after wards. I understand what CWI is trying to do, and I understand the principles they are trying to uphold. However, In this case, though, they have gone overboard, and Lewis should not have been dropped.