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Jenny Roesler in Sydney
March 18, 2009
Four years ago West Indies women were on the crest of a wave. Their success in the World Cup in South Africa had earned them an automatic place in this year's trophy.
But that wave suddenly dumped, making the women dangerously becalmed and without international cricket for an unbelievable three years. Admittedly, attempts to host India and Pakistan had come unstuck, but overall the cash-strapped West Indies Cricket Board - mandated by the ICC to take over the women's game - seemed to show little interest. Slowly, things started to change.
Only nine months ago, salvation arrived. It had to - without a minimum number of games, West Indies would have been ineligible for World Cup 2009. It was unthinkable, not least for the PR consequences.
A tour of Europe was hastily arranged and a big-name coach appointed, to the board's credit. But talk about steep learning curves for all. So lengthy had been the team's hiatus that the vast majority of players made their debut in the opening tour match. And their new coach was a stranger to the women's game - cheerfully admitting now that he had no idea what to expect.
Luckily that coach is Sherwin Campbell, the vastly experienced Test and ODI batsman. While former players do not always make the best coaches, he has brought to the job an enthusiastic, open and upbeat approach, mixed in with some humour. He has also coached Barbados men and two of their junior boys' sides.
"Obviously they're not as strong as the men," Campbell notes of the women. "They're more technical than anything else. [But] all the basics are still the same as the men - so it's not really that different."
Given the talent that does exist for the women, it's almost a crime that they have not had longer to form a unit and improve on their potential. While some of them may not have even picked up a bat three or four years ago, the total absence of cricket meant a massive transition when internationals recommenced, with only a few of the old players remaining.
Yet, despite everything, here in Sydney the naturally talented team achieved their aim of a Super Six place, even without the maternal Nadine George who retired just before the tournament. Admittedly only one win was needed, but that was against the well-prepped South Africa and proved the highlight in an otherwise losing campaign.
Campbell, who is appointed on a tour-by-tour basis, "won't harp on about losing too much because obviously it's experience for these players." But he knows mental application is what he is going to have to concentrate on most, among everything else. "We are a talented bunch of players, so we have to try to make teams work hard for their runs and win key points of the game. That's what, at the moment, we're lacking."
As for assistance to strengthen their prospects, his wish-list is a long one. The side have brought with them a physio and strength and conditioner but, unlike some of the bigger teams, they have no luxury of an assistant coach. "I think I will put that over to the board," he smiles, adding: "I need as much help as I can get. These players obviously need a lot of help. The more help I can get, the better."
More training together is a realistic goal. The board apparently plans to send the squad to Canada. "That's what the girls need, some proper facilities." Campbell says, firmly. "We don't do enough camps before tour to get the girls completely ready. They have the backing of the board so they can make trips and there is a lot more funding for them."
Another favourable aspect is the women's willingness to learn, particularly compared to males. "They are a lot keener actually […] and they want to do it for their country."
Not that the Caribbean in general pays much attention. "I think this tournament, maybe if they had done a bit better, it would encourage the people to follow them a bit more," Campbell says. "But it's really lacking in the Caribbean because there's not much women's cricket played there."
As for what domestic play there is, his recommendation would be to restructure and actually reduce the number of domestic teams - to concentrate the talent. "We only have one tournament we play once a year. The standard's not very high. We need fewer teams, make it more like the men's. Men have Windwards Islands, Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Guyana, Barbados. The women have like St Lucia, St Vincent - smaller islands. Get the five main islands and just play amongst each other."
Some changes would be straightforward and easy: Campbell would like to see, for example, domestic sides using a white ball and wearing coloured clothing. Again, West Indies are coming from behind; countries such as Australia and England have had such items domestically for several seasons already.
Importantly, the next four-year cycle should see West Indies much, much more prepared for the next World Cup. The ICC has made a point of shrinking the automatic spots from six to four to ensure such a dearth in match practice cannot - will not - happen again.
With West Indies now needing to qualify for the 2013 event in India, they will simply have to play more cricket. Campbell recognises the advantage: "I think that's really good. Obviously they can play against the other teams so they can make the grade up once again. I think that's a good thing."
West Indies are not the only team at this tournament to have not quite fulfilled their capabilities - even the headlining favourites Australia have been off-colour - but the potential for improvement gives great hope for the next 50-over World Cup. In the meantime, there is the World Twenty20 in England, another chance for much-needed match-play.
With a young nucleus, keen coach and number of matches on the increase, it will be interesting to see where West Indies will stand by 2013. With the full support of the WICB, they could do their nation proud - and this time their countrymen may pay more attention.
Jenny Roesler is a former assistant editor at CricinfoFeeds: Jenny Roesler
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Plays of the day from the CLT20 game between Kolkata Knight Riders and Chennai Super Kings