May 25, 2014

Is it too late for West Indies?

The board may be looking to revive the team's fortunes in Test cricket, but the players have their sights firmly set on T20

In a recent column on ESPNcricinfo, former Australia captain Ian Chappell considered what is required to revive flagging interest in Test cricket. One of his suggestions was for a special ICC think tank to decide how to make teams in the bottom half of the rankings stronger and more capable of challenging those in the top half.

"On the matter of greater competitiveness, the first priority is to ensure West Indies get going again," Chappell declared. "When playing well they are one of the top draw cards, and Test cricket can't afford to have them languishing."

Chappell's affection for West Indies cricket goes back to the unforgettable 1960-61 tour of Australia by Frank Worrell's team and his own experiences against teams led by Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and Clive Lloyd.

As his comment implies, the negative effect of West Indies' rapid decline over the past 20 years is comparable to that of Muhammad Ali being lost to boxing after his suspension for refusing his US Army draft.

Ali returned to regain the heavyweight title and his reputation. The more I observe and the more I hear from those close to the contemporary players, such as coaches and managers, and from some of the players themselves, the more I am pessimistic that West Indies can emulate Ali and "get going again" towards being the "the top draw cards" in cricket's heavyweight division, Test matches.

My concern was eased somewhat by the recent assertion of West Indies Cricket Board president Dave Cameron that his board is convinced that West Indies' value is "based on our Test status"; so too by the multimillion-dollar plan for a complete professional structure for domestic cricket, detailed in new director of coaching Richard Pybus' comprehensive report on the way forward, presented to the WICB in March.

Among its proposals are one for an appreciable increase in the number of contracted players, the enlargement of the domestic first-class tournament, and more attention to clubs and schools.

"The plan is clearly to get us back to the top, not just the top three but No. 1," was Cameron's summation.

My fear is that even if all Pybus' proposals are swiftly acted on, it is too late. Cricket's dynamic has swiftly and dramatically changed. Budding West Indian players now aspire to success in the newest and shortest format, T20, rather than Tests as previous generations did.

Less than a year ago, the board that now espouses its affinity for Tests scrapped four scheduled home Tests in favour of a three-way limited-overs series involving India and Sri Lanka, and ODIs and T20s against Pakistan.

The reasons are not difficult to comprehend. Boards the world over are now driven by commercial considerations. The bottom line overrides all else. Impressionable young sportsmen are stimulated by the examples of their role models; they gravitate to flourishing sports. In an age of professionalism, the size of contracts does matter. Cricketers enjoy the exhilaration of performing before large, appreciative crowds.

For them, T20 ticks all these boxes. Tests no longer do; minimally promoted inter-territorial matches with the emptiness of their one-man-and-a-dog stands even less so.

For five decades, great West Indies Test players and teams proliferated to inspire their heirs. Over the last two, they have demonstrably dwindled. Since the turn of the 21st century, the Test record against all opponents, except Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, is 14 won against 71 lost. Such numbers have undermined the interest of both ambitious youth and a previously passionate public, so that Tests are no longer the sell-outs they once were - except for those against England, with their hordes of travelling supporters.

In spite of their obvious artificiality, T20's concentrated, all-action thrills fill stadium seats. Power-hitting is its batting priority, variations and "pace off the ball" the mantra for its bowlers, and electric ground fielding and deep-field catching as essential as both.

In an age of professionalism, the size of contracts does matter. Cricketers enjoy the exhilaration of performing before large, appreciative crowds. For them, T20 ticks all boxes. Tests no longer do

Such attributes ideally suit the West Indian way; they were ICC World T20 champions in 2012, semi-finalists this year. Given the chance, a host of players over the years would have been past masters at it, none more so than Learie Constantine, whose all-round gusto created the distinctive mould in the 1920s and '30s.

Add the razzamatazz of booming music, pretty cheerleaders and fireworks and it is an irresistible entertainment package for a region renowned for its carnivals.

The spread of domestic franchise tournaments, particularly the Indian Premier League, now offers players global television exposure, competition against the leading players of the day, and pay packets never previously thought possible.

Thirteen West Indians have been involved in the seventh edition of the IPL, now in its closing stages. The launch of the Caribbean Premier League last year brought similar opportunities, if not quite the same fortunes, for several more.

The batting maestro Brian Lara and the remarkable, if underrated, Shivnarine Chanderpaul are West Indies' most recent Test champions. Lara departed seven years ago, Chanderpaul is nearing 40 and in the twilight of his career. Their successors are not presently obvious.

The new heroes are now the superstars of T20. Of these, only Chris Gayle, the formidable six-hitting Jamaican, had already made his reputation as a devastating left-handed Test opener with 22 hundreds to his name, including a triple and a double) when T20 internationals came along with the first ICC world tournament in 2007.

Sunil Narine, the mesmerising spinner, burst onto the international stage for Trinidad & Tobago in the T20 Champions League in India, as did Kieron Pollard, as big, strong and destructive a hitter as Gayle.

Pollard was 27 on May 12 and is yet to play a Test. Dwayne Bravo has not appeared in one since 2010, Dwayne Smith since 2006. Lendl Simmons, scorer of the IPL's first hundred this season, has not managed a half-century in his eight Tests, the last of which was two and a half years ago.

At 33, Samuel Badree, currently rated the No. 1 T20 bowler by the ICC, has had just a dozen first-class matches for Trinidad & Tobago; the left-arm swinger Krishmar Santokie, 29, has had none at all for Jamaica. Kevon Cooper is into his third IPL season; his first-class record for Trinidad & Tobago amounts to two matches.

With lucrative contracts awaiting, Narine, Pollard, Bravo, Marlon Samuels and Andre Russell all chose the IPL over the home Tests against Australia in 2012. It was an instructive precedent.

It had been flagged three years earlier by Gayle, then the captain. Arriving in London from his IPL assignment two days before the first Test, he responded to a question from an interviewer by declaring that he "wouldn't be so sad" if Test cricket died.

He marks his 100th Test against New Zealand in his native Kingston next month. In future, such longevity for West Indies will be judged through T20 records, not through Tests.

Chappell is by no means the only one who would be troubled by the thought. Sad to say, that day appears increasingly imminent.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for 50 years

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • devern on May 28, 2014, 20:22 GMT

    west indies need to put rules that all players need a certain about of first class games and make it longer than four days a test match is five we playing four day matches what you expect and we need to pick the right team some player have done there time time to get rid of them

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2014, 15:57 GMT

    I agree with the passonate comments from the fans of the game. In the Westindies, Cricket is an Industry and not just a game. Business, Tourists, the Public, vendors, farmers, school kids all benefit and participate in the game of cricket. We should be promoting cricket in all formats of the game rather than pitting one format against the other. It will take re-educating, reinvesting, reinventing the game and the process should begin now. It was the Great Brian Lara who suggested that there should be a cricket investment bond in the caribbean where the public invest into the game, this will provide Foundational Funding for regional cricket. There needs to be contests within series where someone wins a car and other prizes with one of the ticket stubs at the end of the series. This will draw interests. A major sponsor is required for the regional games.

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2014, 11:27 GMT

    The only reason that T20 cricket is so popular is due to the money that's invested into it. It's only natural for modern-day players to see T20 as a incentive for their financial security. There's no doubt that it is a faster and more entertaining version for people who don't understand the rules of cricket and want to learn and be instantly entertained. Also the convenience of going to a day/night match after work, suits alot of the public to attend, as opposed to taking a whole day off. Unfortunately Test Cricket is dying for some of the playing Nations and it dearly needs to be re-invented, for basic improvements to make it a more appealing version for fans to attend, but instead it's being ignored and hasn't changed a great deal over the decades. And it breaks my heart in all honesty because i grew up loving Test cricket and the great players worldwide, who laid the platform of it's legacy. Come in ICC, the buck stops with you to do something about it!!

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2014, 7:40 GMT

    FACE IT! Test cricket has had it's day. The format is too long for the short attention span of folks in the age of IPhones and internet. And I don't know anybody who actually has the time to sit and watch a full test match on TV, let alone attend a five day match. Also, it's true that there are not enough competitive international teams to make it interesting.

    I think it's time to let international cricket fans move on! You can still have the Ashes, which with be something like the annual Thames boat race between Oxford and Cambridge. But all the other countries besides England and Australia know that they are going to become less and less competitive in tests as their players chose T20 as the preferred format. After all, it is now the format that pays the bills for players from West Indies, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, New Zealand and even India. Unless some radical changes are made there is no going back to having tests as the ultimate format of cricket.

  • Matthew on May 26, 2014, 23:51 GMT

    At "Stup1d" I don't know about other places but in England the retired and jobless probably couldn't afford to watch a single day of Test cricket. Instead people take days off work specially to attend the Test match at their nearest ground

  • Zam on May 26, 2014, 21:21 GMT

    The reason why T20 is popular is because talent amongst contestants is evenly spread; in the private franchise model, which by the way is more popular than the T20 internationals. Even in India the IPL matches attract greater crowds than T20 Intl.! If Test cricket has to survive it has to stop protectionist behaviour. Struggling teams like WI, BD, ZM and others; in fact all, should be allowed a certain no. of foreign players. This move will not only spread talent but also the presence of such players the matches of the strugglers would gain more eyeballs worldwide, thus generating revenue, which can take care of the bottom line. This free flow can also assist bowling teams to get a few intl. batting heavyweights while also allow nations like India to get some fast bowlers. Some financial cap per year/series could be put so it does not become a battle b/n the haves and have nots. Presence of such stars will really produce results in their adopted countries like never before.

  • Dummy4 on May 26, 2014, 20:30 GMT

    Some how I get the felling this is like blaming your obesity to your access to sugar-rated foods !!

    1. Almost every country plays in IPL. Look At Australia they have so many of their national regulars playing in IPL and other T20's yet they are no.1

    2. West Indies earlier used to excel in 50 over cricket and that didn't spoil their test records.

    3. The better players will always find a way to adjust to all 3 format, refer the likes of Gayle, Warner, Dhoni etc, if you have quality players you don't have to worry about format.

    4. Teams that are usually top in 1 format are atleast in top 4 in others. Quality teams always find ways to perform independent of format. If you champions in 1 format, and bottom in other, then you are the only team that way

    5. If you ask an average west Indian, they will tell you that profligacy runs deep, and average West Indian isnt keen on savings.

    6. Its the culture, that reflects, West Indies should stick to 100m dash cause its quicker than T20

  • Dummy4 on May 26, 2014, 19:32 GMT

    @Stup1d You really suit your name.Cricket began with test cricket and there is a reason it survived the test of time and stood strong for generations.Ask any reasonable player or a legend which format is better and they'd answer test cricket without a thought.No one becomes a great player through T20.The guy who's blasting sixes today will be forgotten easily by the time the next season comes around.The thing with test cricket is that it is the format that cricket's rules and the game was built upon,and in my opinion the fifty over format really complemented that quite well,but T20 is just wham-bam and then forget the next day.There is no quality to it.Leagues like the IPL are good only because they improve the financial standing of the players.Otherwise I consider them fairly redundant after a while.And before you start spewing rubbish about test cricket being for the old.I'm 20

  • Donna on May 26, 2014, 18:39 GMT

    Randall Foxx, our gene pool has passed on the mental skills. Don't be silly! What has happened is that we grew so accustomed to winning that losing came as a shock! It seems that we have not only been knocked down but also out.We did not contemplate losing and therefore did not arrange our affairs in a manner that would sustain us and revive us during the hard times. We lacked vision because we thought the good times would last forever. Now people have lost interest. If test cricket is played with style and flair as the great Windies teams used to play it, people will watch. Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge. Malcolm Marshall. Gary Sobers, Brian Lara and all the others would draw a crowd in any form of cricket. Ian Chappell knows it and so does anyone who was around for the atmosphere of those days.

  • Sevarino on May 26, 2014, 16:55 GMT

    Its Simple What are the players attracted to is money in the T20 leagues. in Order to play in these leagues they must obtain an NOC contract from their Cricket Association. In the case of the WI why doesn't the board mandate that the players in order to play in these Leagues must play in the 4 day 1st Class Season a minimum of 6 matches in order to obtain an NOC from the board. SO the best players will be participating in the games. Added to that players are charged with tasks Batsmen must make 100's, Bowlers must look for 5wkt hauls, wkt keepers must be effective behind the stumps, fielders must take catches and save runs. Failure to do so results in a player not receiving an NOC which means no T20 money.

    Lets call it PTP (Perform to Play) even if they retire from intl cricket without match practice less teams will be inclined to hire players who are not playing 1st Class or Intl cricket.

    Make them play at home no T20 money if you fail to perform for the WI or your Regional team

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