The effect of Twenty20 on West Indies cricket September 14, 2007

There is worse to come

Fazeer Mohammed



Chris Gayle, who made a sparkling century in the opening match, went for a duck in the next as West Indies crashed out of the ICC World Twenty20 © AFP

Don't feel so bad. Save your anguish for much worse that is yet to come.

Given what West Indies cricket has been through in the past decade, defeats to South Africa and Bangladesh in two three-hour vupping sessions are no real cause for any additional weeping and wailing, unless you're one of those who believes that success or failure in the ICC World Twenty20 is an indicator of anything meaningful in the longer versions of the game.

If cricket's latest and most popular hybrid is your bowl of callaloo, and lifting the new trophy after the final on September 24 would have soothed all the aches and pains of previous disappointments, go right ahead and bawl for murder.

Test cricket too boring? One-day internationals too long? Cool. Should this abbreviated variety carry all your hopes and aspirations for a return to those increasingly distant years of Caribbean glory, then the mournful demeanour following elimination in the first round of the tournament in South Africa is fully justified. However, if you dare to entertain the radical notion that an obsession with the Twenty20 game will actually bury us even further down the pit of cricketing irrelevance, then there should be the realisation, in appreciating all of this in a wider context, that the two losses in three days at the Wanderers are merely symptoms of an incurable malaise.

This bigger picture is only relevant if Test cricket is still accepted as the highest form of the game, a standard at which greatness is truly measured and a level to which all young players should aspire. If not, there's no point reading any further, because what follows is an attempt to put the damaging consequences of the sport's version of instant gratification within the sobering realities of a West Indian context.

In the first place, we must appreciate that the vast majority of our current crop of cricketers lack the maturity to be able to adapt to the significantly different demands of the increasing varieties of the game. We lack the mental strength to concentrate for long periods, and as such, seem far more competitive the shorter the contest is.

Yet even in the narrow confines of 50 overs-per-side, or now the 20-over version, we remain blighted by inconsistency: incomparably brilliant one day, woefully inadequate the next. Whereas every catch was held and every fielder fired in his returns over the top of the stumps in Nottingham in the finale to the England tour two months ago, the same players struggled often to fulfil the very basics of cricket in Johannesburg yesterday and last Tuesday.

Chris Gayle was at his most spectacular in the tournament opener, but only the hopelessly naive would have been thrown into despair at the sight of the opening batsman walking back to the pavilion within the first over less than 48 hours later. All of the ingredients that contribute to consistency are critically deficient. There is brilliance, no question. But like the fireworks around the ground on that first night, they glow spectacularly for only a brief moment.

With one or two exceptions, there aren't too many boring old light bulbs around, the kind that glow continuously. Not always eye-catching, but almost always switched on to the context of the moment. Apologists may wish to tolerate this period as just a phase or a cycle, or use some other description which ties in the implication that it is only a matter of time before the good times start rolling again.

Ricky Ponting accused his players and himself of playing diabolical cricket and not respecting the game in the aftermath of Australia's shock defeat to Zimbabwe on Wednesday. Such strong words, though, are too insulting and demeaning for our proud, sensitive West Indian ears. "Learning experience" is as offensive as we are prepared to go
Yet more and more, the grim realisation takes hold that we are living in West Indies cricket's Dark Age, not because of what happened yesterday or two days earlier, but because the social circumstances in the Caribbean that produce players and administrators of the current variety will not be reformed for at least another generation.

But wouldn't the fun and excitement of Twenty20 give us cause to smile? Only if we can see no further than the next towering six or the next bunch of dancing girls and boys that accompanies the white ball's disappearance beyond the boundary. Batsmen who already suffer from a flawed temperament will only become more heavily addicted to measuring the worth of an innings by sixes, fours and strike-rates. Bowlers incapable of following one good spell with another will now see the sum total of their contribution to the game as 24 balls, barring wides and no-balls. Conversely, fielding should be much sharper, but only if players are able to cope with the concentrated pressure that the shorter forms of the game impose. Recent evidence is not encouraging.

All of this analysis becomes irrelevant, however, if the men in the middle, and their assortment of minders and ego-protectors, fail to acknowledge that radical treatment is necessary to, at the very least, slow the spread of the cancer.

Ricky Ponting accused his players and himself of playing diabolical cricket and not respecting the game in the aftermath of Australia's shock defeat to Zimbabwe on Wednesday. Such strong words, though, are too insulting and demeaning for our proud, sensitive West Indian ears. "Learning experience" is as offensive as we are prepared to go.

If we are so fundamentally insecure and lack the honesty and integrity to acknowledge the shameful reality of what lies before us, then we should accept that the last 12 years were just a prelude of what is to come.

Thank goodness it's only a game.

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