Monday, 28 December 2015

Times, they are a-changing - Thoughts on the West Indies

Since their inclusion in the senior ranks of International Test cricket, then ODI's and finally T20's, the Caribbean has supplied a team (or teams) that largely were very competitive and until 1992 won or drew more matches than they lost.  The player to left epitomised the success his teams enjoyed.  One look at the match results at Cricinfo show that that initial period was full of creditable performances.

One could, right through their history, name great players that performed and inspired, until recently. Looking back at that result sheet, which included Tests, ODI's and T20's one could see a leveling off of results.  It's not a sudden demise. From 1993 onward shows a sudden downturn in wins across all formats, though with the occasional success here and there.  But what is this sudden downturn aligned to?

Throughout the 1960's, 70's and 80's the Windies were in the top echelon of Test and ODI cricket.  Players were household names.  And for very good reason.  They lead by example and were the epitome of hard uncompromising players, on and off the field. And they had a cricketing conveyor belt. Someone retires or is not picked and there is a champion player to step in.

But alas, times changed as did the demographic in Caribbean sports and culture.  Believe it or not, the 1993 motion picture, Cool Runnings, signifies a change in sporting talent direction, showing how other sports were fighting for the athletes that always previously chose cricket.  An upsurge of Basketball and Athletics from early 80's, saw a downturn in talented junior cricketers progressing into senior international cricket.  Or if picked and not nurtured they were walking away from the sport and going elsewhere.  A lot of the downturn in talented cricketers was also attributed to poor administration and displayed also in the state of their main cricketing venues.

So what of that coincidence between Cool Runnings and downturn of WI cricket?  Well all is not lost.  The records showed that WI have continued to excel at T20 and they win when they play Zimbabwe and Bangladesh (both regularly home and away)  But with that movie, as stated, the emphasis on sporting pedigree shifted.  Cricket had adversaries.  Usain Bolt enshrines the DNA that has gone on before.  WI athletes know they have the genes to put themselves out for 10 or 20 seconds and earn greater glory and $$$.  Quicker and less stressful than a five day cricket test.  The USA NBA and NFL want speed and guile and in Caribbean athletes they get them.

Simply put, a group of islands that survived on 100+ years of cricket all year round, now had viable competition.  And it's struggling.  In the past 10 years there have been instances where facilities and grounds have been woefully inadequate.  To me, a sign that administration is struggling.  And the ICC knew about the issues and seemingly failed to step in. Then more recently, the players took a stand for themselves and stopped an ICC sanctioned tour to India over a pay issue.  Another indication WI cricket was in disheveled state.  And of course, when mothership is not functioning well, the crew show their sadder side.  And players come and go as administration fails to come to grips with selections and poor man management. The Performance drops even further.  The stark reality is if this state continues, then the only outcome will WI becoming an affiliate nation.

So what is the best fix for their current issues. A few things really.  Players have to allow wages that their board can play, let admin pay and organise, players play and smile.  Both have to bite the bullet on all accounts.  The cricketing world needs to help too.  Assisting with ground preparation and upkeep, and buddying up with administration.  Initially I wanted ICC to step in and bolster the management and finance sides, but if they do that then any cricket nation will have the rights to the same assistance.

In summary, WI cricket is skating on thin ice.   It is sinking into the cracks left by other sporting options. And you can't changed demographics that change a sporting landscape.  It's a sad thing yes, I love watching the likes of Big Bird, Master Blaster, Sir Garfield, Gayle, Richardson, Ambrose and all.  What the cricketing world needs to do is help WI cricket bring new names into the forefront for the good reasons.

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