May 4, 2013

How do West Indies get competitive against the top sides?

It's a big ask, considering Test cricket is being given short shrift and T20 ambitions are being allowed to run rampant

New West Indies Cricket Board president Dave Cameron decided to meet the press following his first directors' meeting in Trinidad last weekend. But he had no grand announcement to make. In fact, what was not announced proved bigger news than the news that was given.

After over a month of speculation about whether Pakistan would tour the West Indies at all this year, the WICB confirmed that no Test matches would be played on the tour. And while limited-overs games have been agreed to, the dates for those are still not confirmed. "They have agreed in principle to play the ODIs but the ink has not gone to the paper," said WICB CEO Michael Muirhead.

The Pakistanis have not travelled to these parts very often. But in their previous seven visits to the Caribbean, outside of the World Cup and World Twenty20 in 2007 and 2010, they have always played Tests.

Explaining the unusual situation, Muirhead said, "Because of the moving to accommodate the IPL we had to reschedule [the Pakistan series]. Having done that, it sort of messed up the schedule altogether." According to him, the WICB wanted to keep the Tests but the PCB was not willing to send its team to play just the two Tests.

All the protracted negotiation became necessary because of adjustments that had been made to Sri Lanka's scheduled tour of the Caribbean. To accommodate the players on both teams who have contracts in the IPL, the teams agreed to forego a two-Test rubber and to instead play a tri-nation ODI series with India in July.

The accommodation of the IPL therefore means that instead of playing four Test series this year, West Indies will only play two. In one of them they have overpowered Zimbabwe, who are making their way back into Test cricket, 2-0, and will tour New Zealand in December. Both those sides lie beneath Darren Sammy's team in the ICC rankings, while Sri Lanka and Pakistan are immediately above.

Had he been given the choice, Sammy would probably have preferred series against those latter two. But West Indies cricket doesn't carry the weight it once did. For a variety of reasons both economic and cricketing, the board has had to settle for what it can get, in terms of when and how tours are arranged, and has been increasingly forced because of the Future Tours Programme to play series in the hurricane season in the Caribbean.

Muirhead is not too despondent, however. "I really think it's a one-off," he said. "Next year we have 11 Tests scheduled." These include series home and away against New Zealand, a home series against Bangladesh, and one away in India. According to Muirhead, there is no chance of what happened this year recurring in 2014 or after. "The ICC and all the nations are accommodating the IPL. We are not scheduling anything [during the IPL period] in the future within the next six years."

It is a concession that has long been mooted. But while such a window may ensure that West Indies have their best players for Test series, it doesn't guarantee an equally pressing need - cricket against the best opposition. By the end of 2014, West Indies will have played nine Test series over a two-year period, six of those being against the three sides below them in the rankings. It is not a programme likely to help them improve their current lowly status. That is a bother to the CEO.

It seems a near-impossible task for a team in West Indies' position to become more competitive against the stronger Test sides when they rarely play them, as is going to be the case over the next couple years

"The problem is that many of the nations above us are playing among themselves and we are not being given much of an opportunity," Muirhead said. "We do have to play them. We are playing India in 2016, England in 2015, we are scheduled to play everybody but it is the frequency... My personal thought is, the more competitive we get the more we can demand... We have a different style of cricket that other nations enjoy."

In an interview last year, Chris Gayle expressed similar concerns. "The lower-ranked teams are playing each other more and are not given the chance to play against the top-ranked teams to create points and be up there and have a crack at the No. 1 position. It's going to be a hell of a leap to get across that hurdle."

This view from the bottom unsurprisingly contrasts with the view from the top, where the higher-ranked sides want more cricket, not less, between themselves.

It seems a near-impossible task for a team in West Indies' position to become more competitive against the stronger Test sides when they rarely play them, as is going to be the case over the next couple years.

The challenge for Muirhead and his board is intensified by the shift in focus that the new Twenty20 leagues are causing among players in the Caribbean. The IPL, the Big Bash and the Bangladesh Premier League between them have lured away the cream of regional cricket, leaving players like Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell very little opportunity to press for - or in the case of Bravo, to reclaim - a place in the Test team. Worse, their absence from their regional teams has left the four-day tournament weakened, and it also means that emerging cricketers in the islands do not have the benefit of these players' experience, or inspiration.

The Regional Four-Day tournament seems almost to be regarded in some quarters as a necessary evil rather than as an object of desire. Finding a way to revive its stature and improve its quality is a matter Muirhead and the WICB must address urgently, aggressively and creatively. This is because selection in his regional T20 side with the possibility of international exposure and a T20 contract is of much greater value to the average West Indian player nowadays. Even pre-teen hopefuls are targeting IPL cricket as a goal. The beginning, in July, of the Caribbean Premier League will do nothing to redress the balance.

No, the lack of Tests in 2013 is not the biggest threat to West Indies' future in Test cricket; it's what's not happening at home.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • essky on May 7, 2013, 22:13 GMT

    Well said Wayne Perry. The idea of home and away is great. I don't think it necessarily has to be a championship, but the home and away schedules would do it. Each Test side must play every other Test side twice, one home one away series (of no less than 3 Tests) in a six year period(six not five because of world cups etc.. but I think five might work). If this isn't fulfilled then point penalties in the rankings and any extra series would not be considered in the rankings (extra meaning more than 2 series against one side) Reasonable as there are 10 test playing nations. More than enough time to host two home series every year. Boards decide series scheduling, taking into consideration windows etc.

  • dummy4fb on May 5, 2013, 12:18 GMT

    @gizza thats where you wrong ,its not about the market pressures only but the interest of viewers aswell ,for example a match up btwn sa vs nz is barely noticed here in sa but when the aussies are here then u know, even for people who love watching football they get stuck into the hype

  • CarlP on May 4, 2013, 16:44 GMT

    As @llw5682 (catchy name by the way!) says if they consistantly beat lower ranked teams they will get their chance.

    Put simply, WI are not good enough at the minute and therefore are no draw for fans to watch.

    The selfishness (not judging if it's right or wrong) of Gayle is affecting the team more than people care to appreciate, whilst this goes on the WI will be like a lot of football clubs, once were great but will never hit the heights again. I think that's really sad as the tour to WI was always a highlight of the sporting year.

  • llw5682 on May 4, 2013, 15:34 GMT

    The solution is simple: start beating the lower teams on a consistent basis and more comprehensively...then you can talk about playing Eng, SA, etc.

  • dummy4fb on May 4, 2013, 11:56 GMT

    This problem will not be fixed anytime soon; the ICC needs a realistic vision of cricket, which dictates that T20 club teams cannot take players from around the world who play for another team (it is ludicrous that Gayle plays for so many teams in so many leagues!). The CLT20 should reflect the best teams with their contracted players, so if your team is not invloved, you can play for no other...

  • venkatesh018 on May 4, 2013, 11:24 GMT

    SamRoy. The same applies to Indian pitches and Indian cricket too.

  • SamRoy on May 4, 2013, 9:12 GMT

    Better pitches. When average spin bowlers like Nikita Miller and Shane Shillingford run amok in the domestic first class leagues, there is problem with the pitch curators. There is more to fast bowling than raw pace, but currently there is not a single intelligent fast bowler (except Bravo who is very medium pace) in WI Team. Only if suitable pitches are provided to them can they learn the art of fast bowling which is more about swing, seam and control at good pace. Pitches in at least a few venues like Barbados and Jamaica need to go back to their original nature.

  • dummy4fb on May 4, 2013, 6:55 GMT

    West Indies has the world's best T20 players, and that hurts them in the Tests because their top players are all playing in some league or the other. Chris Gayle plays in the Zim T20, for God's sake.

  • dummy4fb on May 4, 2013, 6:32 GMT

    If lower ranked teams are not being given the opportunity to play the top ranked teams, then at least the points system should be changed, so that it's the same number of points for winning against any team. Otherwise it will be mathematically impossible for lower ranked teams to move up. In other words, a stacked deck, in favor of England, Australia and India.

  • criteek on May 4, 2013, 5:29 GMT

    Solution would be a Test Championship. The structure of tournament should be one that has more matches amongst the top nations (by performance of team not deep pockets). This should automatically provide good incentive for bottom ranked teams (current Windies) to qualify into the top bracket and keep the top ranked teams on their toes. The test series results would have more meaning and would induce the teams to take hard look at improving themselves (i.e. cut down selection committee whims)

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