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Tony Cozier

Quality crisis in the Caribbean

The WICB Cup shown that what talent there is needs to be concentrated in a competitive series between the six traditional regional teams, not diluted for the sake of quantity over quality


John Dyson said that the structure of West Indies cricket isn't producing international quality players © Getty Images
John Dyson was on to a familiar refrain during the week. After almost a year as head coach of the West Indies team, he has come to the inescapable conclusion that the basic structure of our cricket is producing players who "are unprepared to play against international teams".
His point was that, at the highest level, the coach's responsibility should not be about trying to teach the players how to play international matches, "but how to win them". It was not an excuse for the sequence of 13 defeats in the last 15 ODIs against reputable opposition - discounting wins over Canada and Bermuda - but simply a self-evident truth.
During his time as chief selector, Joey Carew repeatedly lamented the standard of the senior regional tournaments. In his similar role, Andy Roberts was moved to confess that he was so distressed by the mediocrity in last year's one-day series he could hardly bring himself to watch.
Prior to the 2008 version that ends today at the National Stadium in Guyana, West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) chief executive Donald Peters announced that the long-awaited academy is to be launched on December 15, that 29 players will be placed on retainer contracts and that the first-class Carib Beer Cup is to be expanded to a home-and-away format with at least ten matches a season for each team.
These are all critical to upgrading the quality of players so that Dyson and those who follow him will only need to tell their charges how to win international matches, not how to play them. Peters hoped that the Guyana tournament would be "the beginning of a new focus on raising the bar in West Indies cricket". It was, he said, "a new day". With 15 players away in Abu Dhabi for the three ODIs against Pakistan, it would allow the remaining 105 "to grab the opportunity to showcase their talent and skills".
It was a false premise and it inevitably unravelled over the past couple of weeks. Canada and the United States were included, presumably at much expense in an unsponsored tournament estimated by Guyana Cricket Board head Chetram Singh to cost US$600,000, swelling the number of teams to nine.
Both were without some of their best players and were embarrassingly beaten. It was puzzling to know why they were there in the first place, especially as they were already among the six teams (Argentina, Bermuda, Cayman Islands and Suriname are the others) in the ICC Americas Regional Division 1 series in Florida this week.
Two seasoned Windward Islands players, Rommel Currency (the tournament's leading batsman) and Craig Emanuel, turned out for the Combined Campuses and Colleges. Another, the Stanford Super Series star Andre Fletcher, was deliberately excluded for not turning up for the annual Windwards tournament, even though through no fault of his own. Jamaica were without seven of their regulars, Guyana minus four top-order batsmen.
It was always going to be a second division competition, a status compounded by pitches that, according to Barbados coach Vasbert Drakes, were so slow and turning that 240 was a winning total. Prior to the semi-finals, there were 18 totals under 200 as even modest spinners made merry.
As it turned out, those who "grabbed the opportunity to showcase their talent and skills" were the usual suspects, those who have already worn West Indies colours - the likes of Ryan Hinds, Dwayne Smith, Omari Banks, Lendl Simmons, Travis Dowlin and Austin Richards. Currency was the exception but he has been on the regional scene, for the Windwards and CCC, for several seasons.
It gave credence to Michael Holding's point that the lack of suitable reserves - "bench strength" to use a term from other sports-is a major problem. It was seen when Chris Gayle was eliminated from crucial Tests in South Africa a year ago and at home against Australia last season. Darren Bravo's all-round inspiration was manifestly missed when he was unable to bowl in the ODIs in South Africa and play at all in Abu Dhabi. For all his inconsistency, the banned Marlon Samuels is not easily replaced in the middle order, especially in the shorter game.
Confused selection hasn't helped. Gayle had a sound point when he disagreed with the replacement of seasoned, if underachieving, players like Devon Smith, Runako Morton and Ryan Hinds with talented, but ill-equipped, youngsters such as Fletcher, Kieron Pollard and Shaun Findlay for the ODI series against such formidable opponents as Australia.
After only a couple of inadequate regional seasons on their CV they were clearly not ready. Xavier Marshall lifted spirits with a couple of dashing innings when recalled for the Tests against Australia three years after Dyson's predecessor, Bennett King, rushed him into the team. But he still has to come to terms with the elevation.
The selectors' next task is to choose a squad for the two Twenty20s and five ODIs that follow the two Tests in New Zealand. They have seen nothing in Guyana to dissuade them from recalling players with international experience. These are all short-term considerations that won't resolve the crisis. It has developed through a combination of well-known problems - a literal lack of professionalism and proper preparation; a woefully short first-class tournament; unsatisfactory pitches; inadequate facilities.
The WICB has now pledged, again, to address them. The next assignment is the expanded Carib Beer Cup. Events in Guyana have shown that what talent there is needs to be concentrated in a competitive series between the six traditional regional teams, not diluted for the sake of quantity over quality.