West Indies opens its first cricket academy today in Grenada in a bid to develop future Test players who can help revive a side that's fallen to seventh in the world rankings.
Curtly Ambrose: One of many former players to help at the academy
Photo © AFP
The West Indies Cricket Board, Royal Dutch/Shell Group and St. George's University - the academy's venue - are funding the project, which will train 24 people. West Indies becomes the seventh of the 10 Test-playing bodies to open an academy, England being the eighth in November.
West Indies, unbeaten in a Test series from 1980 to 1995, have lost seven since that 1995 defeat at home to Australia.
The academy may help the Windies, comprising disparate cultures and nations across the Caribbean, forge an elite group of players capable of returning the team to the top.
"We have natural talent abounding and what we need to do is nurture them and help them on their way forward," said Reg Scarlett, the WICB's director of coaching, in an interview.
West Indies dominated the sport for 20 years from 1975, winning World Cups in 1975 and 1979 and losing just four Test series out of 39. At the same time, other countries invested in youth. Australia set up an academy in 1988 after three series losses to England between 1981 and 1986-87, has led world cricket from 1995.
West Indies has lost seven of its past 15 series.
"When we were riding high I wrote letters to the Cricket Board asking them to capitalize on our success, but we never did it," said Scarlett, who played three Tests for West Indies in 1960. "There's no doubt that complacency came in to it."
Work and Play
Aged between 19 and 23, the students attending the Grenada academy will be doing more than honing their cricket skills. Academic work accounts for 30% of the course, where days begin at 6 a.m. and every lesson is computer-based.
The academy will employ experts such as fielding coaches and sports scientists from Cuba, as well as teachers from St. George's University. Studies will include mental preparation for cricket, bio-mechanics, nutrition, diet and the latest methods of modern sports training.
The centre will seek to tap the expertise of many of the players who made West Indies a near unbeatable force from 1975 to 1995, such as former all-rounder Roger Harper and wicketkeeper Jeff Dujon, the current coach and assistant coach of the West Indies team.
Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, Test cricket's most prolific opening pair, will coach the batsmen. Gus Logie, the WICB's youth coach will be there, while Curtly Ambrose, the board's fast-bowling coach in Antigua, is also planning to help.
"We have to use these guys," Scarlett said.
The experience and knowledge of the team's former greats haven't always helped in recent years. Fast bowlers Andy Roberts and Malcolm Marshall, and batsman Vivian Richards all coached West Indies from 1995.
Complacency apart, observers have cited many reasons for the team's decline, from the popularity of basketball to soccer. Scarlett remains optimistic there's enough cricketing talent to go around any future academies.
"We have a lot of people playing cricket," he said. "There are more kids interested in basketball now because of the American hype, but we have no basketball traditions whatsoever."
According to Scarlett, finance is more of a factor behind the Windies' slide. The cost of playing cricket, from buying equipment to travelling to matches, has prompted talented youngsters to leave the Caribbean in search of alternative careers.
Scarlett expects the Grenada project may spawn as many as seven feeder academies to a national centre. To be sure, the results may be a while coming. It may take three or four years for the centre to produce its first Test player, Scarlett said.
"It's a very important mechanism and a step in the right direction," said Dujon. "I just hope those who attend don't think that they will play for West Indies just because they go to the academy."