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Bermuda have returned from their African tour with their World Cup preparations in tatters.
A year ago, Bermuda cricket was on a high and expectations were high - possibly unrealistically so, but there was a general expectation that the country was about to be elevated from the middle of the also-runs of the ICC Associates to the brink of the top flight. And yet, despite a massive financial investment by the government, less than three months before the jamboree in the Caribbean kicks off, the side is in turmoil are facing possible humiliation.
The results in Africa confirmed what many suspected by few wanted to believe. Bermuda, for all the enthusiasm and passion, are simply not good enough to hold their own among the leading Associates, let alone scrap with the big boys. They lost all three ODIs in Kenya, and what is worse, locals expressed surprise at how poor and out of condition the Bermudans were.
The second leg of the trip in South Africa offered only marginal solace. The side at least won one ODI, albeit a dead rubber against Netherlands, and they also drew the Intercontinental Cup tie with the same opponents, but despite the appearance of the scorecard, they did not dominate a game played on a pitch which got easier and easier.
The inquest was underway long before the side returned home, but it is already too late to make changes in time for the World Cup. As far as that is concerned, the team will have to hope and pray. Or, as coach Gus Logie, admitted in a remarkably candid confession this week, they might have to be threatened to perform at their best.
What is needed, however, is remedial action immediately. The lack of fitness was one observation that kept being raised. If other non full-time Associates can produce players with reasonable levels of fitness, why can't Bermuda?
One of the reasons is that the selectors have chosen to go with old players rather than bring in young blood. That strategy sometimes works, but it has been clear for some time that it wasn't going to in this instance. By sticking with the same old faces, the selectors have helped to foster a feeling of complacency among the squad, who know that there are no youngsters snapping at their heels. Again, it's too late now, any newcomers have precious little time to find their feet, but a wholesale clearout is a must next April.
The comparisons with Kenya are interesting. Both sides are ageing, although Kenya are broke whereas Bermuda have cash. But Kenya have opted to build around a nucleus of old timers while drafting in youngsters to play alongside them and learn from them. It is worth noting that two of the successes of the series between the two countries were 19-year-old Tanmay Mishra and 22-year-old Hiren Varaiya. Both were thrown in at the deep end and both are swimming. Come the next ICC Trophy in 2009, these two will be among the core of a new-look Kenyan side and they will be able to draw on their World Cup experiences. Even if Bermuda start from scratch, they will be a year or more behind, and raw as well.
And Kenya, despite crippling debts, have played A team and age group cricket. That in the longer term will ensure that there is a flow of new talent pressing for recognition. Where is Bermuda's next crop of players going to come from? It's a gulf in class between club and international cricket.
The infighting has already started, and there have been reports in the last week that Logie wants to make radical changes now, while selectors have been quoted as saying they will stick with the tried and tested players. Such disharmony will rumble on until after the World Cup; the virtual open warfare will start as soon as the side gets knocked out.
And politicians being politicians, they will start to demand to know exactly how their $11 million has been spent once the weakness of the national side is highlighted on an international stage. They have a point. On the evidence of 2006, the cash has been squandered rather than invested in the future.
It's too late to salvage anything in time for the World Cup. But that doesn't mean that tough decisions should be delayed any longer.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and AfricaFeeds: Martin Williamson
© ESPN EMEA Ltd.
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Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.