There is good news in the fact that the West Indies Cricket Board is seemingly serious about changing the structure of West Indies cricket. What is distressing is that much of the change taking place seems to be barely making headlines. This new framework for the regional series where teams will be franchised as they are done for the CPL needs to be further studied for its feasibility before it is actually tried out. It is all good and well to have players from the different countries in the Caribbean as well as a foreign-born player or two thrown into the mix, but the challenges facing West Indies cricket originate from elsewhere and this change will not only not solve anything, but will only kick the proverbial can down the road.
West Indies' problems are that the board has an enduring lack of vision. Thirty years ago, it was expected that the conveyor belt would continue to mass produce high-end quality players. It stopped mass production in the early 1990s. It is how we ended up in those days with average batsmen like Keith Arthurton and Phil Simmons, and by the end of the decade we were burdened with lacklustre performers like Stuart Williams, Sherwin Campbell, Mervyn Dillon and Nixon McLean who could never have made it to the international scene a decade or two earlier.
All great sportsmen start when they're young, and it is a continuous process of many years of practice and training for them to reach peak ability. It is what makes Jamaican athletes so dominant - the high level of training that they go through from primary right through to tertiary level. That amount of time and energy is not expended on, or for, our young cricketers. If plans were put in place years ago and the time was taken to work with our cricketers at school and at club as a national or regional initiative, the West Indies would still have the greatest team on earth.
Sadly, the grassroots level of the game in the Caribbean isn't up to the mark at the moment. The greatest West Indian players used to spend time in the off-season playing in England gaining valuable experience; it is why Shivnarine Chanderpaul is possibly a cut above everybody else in the test Team currently. Now, the option of playing in England has been slowly phased out, and in combination with weak grassroots there is nothing left but a second-rate regional competition that can only produce second-rate players.
So T20 cricket is now the saviour of cricket in the region. It doesn't matter how much T20 cricket a cricketer plays, it doesn't make him a quality player. In fact, it only takes away from a batsman's concentration powers and weakens his ability and resolve to play a more defensive game when required to do so. T20 is cricket's version of fast-food - it is quick, easy and a good way to waste a couple of hours, but ultimately unedifying when a real meal is needed. Whereas Test cricket is the fine-dining experience; everything is taken in slowly and remembered fondly after all is said and done. A great Test match will be talked about decades after the players have retired. In ten years people won't be remembering matches from the CPL, the IPL or the Big Bash League. Many of the West Indies players have over-indulged and gorged themselves on the fast-food, and it's beginning to show in the other forms of cricket, especially Tests.
Who is to blame for the West Indies current poor performances? It is all good and well to blame the coach, but this coach is in a long line of coaches who have got the same losing results over the past 15 years. The current coach who was successful in England, is failing because he's dealing with batsmen lacking in practice as well as technique. The current West Indian bowlers aren't predatory enough to out-think or outsmart quality batsmen who have been playing against equal, if not better bowling elsewhere. Internationally, it should never be necessary for a coach (either batting or bowling) to be teaching technique to a Test player; he should be perfecting or fine-tuning it; good technique should already be in place.
Are former captains to blame? A captain can only work with what he's been given. Ramdin, Sammy or their predecessors can't be blamed totally for trying to get a silk purse from a sow's ear, and ending up with nothing more than the sow's ear. Since 1995, West Indies have changed captains ten times. The West Indies have changed captains a total of 10 times (inclusive of Richie Richardson). The issue again is that like Old Mother Hubbard, the West Indies cupboard is bare when it comes to captaincy options because the regional boards haven't been proactive and taught the young cricketers about leadership and the finer aspects of captaincy; it's something that was hoped for; someone, anyone who would be astute enough at it and just pick it up naturally.
Are the selectors to be blamed? Many times selectors have to play with a partial deck in front of them and choose from that. Sometimes they have no choice but to choose a joker because that's all that's left. Not that selectors haven't made bone-headed decisions, they have, but when the herd thins, they have to take the best of possibly a weak lot and pray for the best.
Ultimately, the board has painted itself into a corner with the decisions made over the past 25-30 years having come home to roost some. The board should have made extra provision for when players no longer could ply their trade in England at county level, but they didn't; they should have overseen the continued development of young cricketers at the youth level to keep the highest standards possible and they didn't; they should have built cricket from the bottoms up, instead of top down, and they didn't; they should have organized more Test cricket against better quality teams instead of lower-ranked teams and they didn't; there should be historical and social perspectives taught to Caribbean students and youngsters as reminders of the glorious past, but there isn't.
The West Indian Cricket Museum in Grenada is something that every West Indian who ever aspired to play for the West Indies should walk through; if not physically then at least virtually. No West Indian player should ever walk out onto a field without ever fully understanding what and who he's representing; he's not just playing for a team, or for a region, but a legacy handed down to him by the giants whose shoulders he now stands on. The board hasn't done enough to bring that legacy forward to this generation. When I hear current players say they don't know their own West Indies cricket history, it shakes me to the core and brings me to tears. There should also be a memory bank of former West Indies players talking about what it was like for them as players for future reference, to remind us who we are and where we're coming from.
While what the board is doing now is a step somewhere, the question that remains to be answered is it a step forward, or another sidestep to avoid confronting the true issues at hand?
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