June 6, 2007

Another Caribbean crisis

Cricket is heading in the wrong direction in Bermuda

A very rare high for Bermuda at the World Cup © Getty Images
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 Performance 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

By the time the side arrived in Nairobi in February for the World Cricket League Division One - the premier event for Associates - even the Bermuda government was being asked to justify its investment. Under the spotlight to perform, Bermuda looked a shambles. "They were smiling and laughing as they walked off the field after being thumped," one eyewitness told Cricinfo after they lost their opening game by ten wickets. "They seemed to lack fight and any willingness to battle." Things got no better. One senior administrator from another Associate said: "Five sides came here with a professional attitude. Bermuda came as if it was an all-expenses-paid jolly." Few expected any better at the World Cup, and so it turned out. Aside from Dwayne Leverock's headline-grabbing and earth-shattering catch against India, it was forgettable and dismal. They lost by margins of 243 runs, 253 runs and seven wickets, and stories of their off-field activities abounded.

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.

Bermuda's captain Irvine Romaine faces a tough time turning the side around © ICC
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.

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Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo