The annual regional Under-15 competition bowls off in Trinidad on Saturday with a few concerns being expressed even before a ball has been bowled.

It stems from the fact that the tournament will be staged in the same country for the third successive year.

There has been no official word on where the Under-19 championship will be held, but indications suggest that it will be in Guyana - for the third consecutive year.

Neither tournament has had a sponsor in recent years. Nortel, the North American telecommunications company, supported the Under-19s between 1984 and 1999, while Jamaica's Carib Cement was a brief sponsor for the regional Under-15 tournament, which started in 1996.

Since the withdrawal of the sponsors, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has scheduled these youth tournaments exclusively in Guyana and Trinidad.

One might assume that it has done so primarily for financial reasons - a US dollar can stretch further in those countries than in the Eastern Caribbean.

These are hard economic times and the WICB's balance sheet might not be too rosy. It is probably seeking ways to cut and contrive, as we all are.

Be that as it may, we are talking about the development of a sport that is so dear to many of us in the Caribbean.

We should not just resort to playing a competition in a country because we know we can get $175 for a US$1.

Quite apart from providing the same teams with a constant home advantage, one wonders whether the game can develop if these tournaments are continuously staged in countries where pitches are known to be low and slow.

Whether it be Enmore or Everest or somewhere in the Essequibo in Guyana, or whether it be Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad, Inshan Ali Park or Barataria Oval, it is almost certain that the surfaces will not encourage faster bowlers.

Is it a sheer coincidence that no young fast bowler has been able to come to the forefront in the last few years?

The most recent Test cap to have emerged from a regional youth tournament was Corey Collymore, who played in the 1996 championships in Jamaica.

Guyana hosted three of the next five tournaments and not a single fast bowler in those competitions has graduated to Test level.

By extention, no one is coming through at Under-15 level either, the exception being Trinidad and Tobago's Ravi Rampaul, a member of the champion West Indies Under-15 team of 2002 who went on to make the regional team that played in the recent Youth World Cup in New Zealand.

For a region that has produced Hall, Griffith, Marshall, Garner, Holding and Roberts, we are surely in a sad state with our fast bowling stocks.

The situation will not be helped if we continue to play our premier youth competitions in Georgetown and Port-of-Spain.

A look at the leading wicket-takers in the last two Under-19 competitions tells the story.

In 1999, the top six were off-spinner Kevin Bazil (31 wickets), leg-spinner Camillus Alexander (28), off-spinner Chaka Hodge (27), left-arm spinner Derick Bishop (21), leg-spinner Ron Matthews (20) and left-arm spinner Davindra Krishna (20). The leading fast bowler was Rayon Thomas, his 18 wickets putting him eighth on the list and overall only four pacers took more than ten wickets.

In 2000, the top five wicket-takers were left-arm spinner Derick Bishop (25), left-arm spinner Alston Bobb (24), off-spinner Wayne Simpson (23), along with fast bowlers Rampaul (23) and Jeremiah Harris (23).

Interestingly enough, the two fast bowlers who attracted the most fans throughout the recently-concluded Busta Series, Jamaican Darren Powell and Barbadian Tino Best, did not have the opportunity to play regional youth cricket.

Powell and Best are two youngsters with promise, but if we don't want to kill off other emerging fast bowlers, it's high time that we ensure our regional youth competitions offer scope for their development.