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Associates cricket is on something of a high at the moment. Ireland did the second-tier countries proud at the World Cup, there are a number of full ODIs set to take place involving Associates and Full Members, and the World Cricket League Division Three, which finished in Darwin at the weekend, showed that the game does have strength in depth. In 2009, extra funding resulting from the ICC's media deal with ESPN should also kick in giving a further fillip. But while the leading Associates press on with ambitious plans to try to bridge the divide between them and most Full Members, there is one country where the profile of the game is heading in the wrong direction - Bermuda .
A year or so ago, Bermudan cricket looked to be heading for great things. Despite the restrictions of a tiny population, the game, which has strong roots on the island, was thriving.
On the strength of the country qualifying for the 2007 World Cup, the government agreed to donate US$11 million to the Bermuda Cricket Board over five years. On top of that the BCB received more than US$250,000 from its participation in the Stanford 20-20, and then there were ICC grants totalling more than US$200,000 a year. Bermuda 's direct rivals, the other five Associates which qualified for the World Cup, only had ICC funding and local sponsorships to build on. It should have given them a huge advantage.
But the ink had hardly dried on the government's investment than things started to go wrong. The national side spluttered, wobbled and then fell apart, and by the end of 2006 there were too many stories regarding their lack of fitness and dubious approach to matches to ignore. They played three games in Mombasa in November and several independent eyewitnesses raised concerns about many aspects of their performances.
Gus Logie, the coach, who played 52 Tests for West Indies when they were at their peak, started to sound increasingly frustrated. In December, Richard Done, the ICC's High erformance Manager, also expressed his concerns over the players' fitness in public.
|Despite all the financial advantages and the boost to the game's profile that came from the World Cup, there is every reason to argue that things now are worse than they were 12 months ago|
Since then, things have continued to slide. Last week it emerged that almost no players had deemed it necessary for them to attend training sessions which resumed at the start of May. And a new two-day league introduced by the BCB has started amid chaos. Two sides have already pulled out, a third only fielded seven players and another match was scrapped because the pitch had not been prepared.
A fortnight ago an exasperated Done reported that the country could not stage any full ODIs because the square at the National Sports Centre was not fit to be considered for such matches. In the year since he first inspected, nothing had changed. At that time Andy Atkinson, the ICC's pitch expert, said the pitches were "only suitable for growing carrots".
So despite all the financial advantages and the boost to the game's profile that came from the World Cup, there is every reason to argue that things now are worse than they were 12 months ago.
Time is against the board. In 2009, Bermuda has to re-qualify for its current status and also battle for a place at the 2011 World Cup, and there are some sides out there who are already snapping at their heels. Failure to secure both goals will quite possibly be the end of the dream for Bermuda, and it is hard to see any way back if they do slip.
Things can still be turned round. The board and selectors need to come down hard on those players who will not toe the line - and indiscipline, at club and national level, has been a constant issue - and if that means those who want to play are picked, and not necessarily the best players, so be it. A clear message has to be sent out that the players are expected to behave as conscientiously as those from other Associates.
The BCB has to invest time and money in getting pitches sorted, and establishing a workable club structure. It was apparent from some time ago that the two-day competition was unsustainable.
There is also encouragement to be had among the up-and-coming players. Participation in the Under-10 league has more than doubled since the World Cup. The Under-19s have impressed with their commitment and ability. James Whittaker of the Bermuda Sun said that anyone who had watched them play "has found it refreshing to see a team in Bermuda colours looking fit and sharp in the field".
What cannot be allowed is another year of stagnation and a strategy of hoping everything will come good. It won't. In a professional world, it's time for some professionalism.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and AfricaFeeds: Martin Williamson
© ESPN Sports Media 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.