The future of Windies cricket

GUESTXCOLUMNThis is an opportune moment for Caribbean people to decide the future of our cricket.

The recently concluded World T20 Championships, in which the women and the men emerged as convincing winners, preceded by the success of the Under-19s, have caught the imagination of Caribbean people. Nobody can deny we have the talent, which includes technique, brains, determination and character. And, as we all know, cricket for us has always been more than a game.

Moreover Darren Sammy’s comments about the West Indies Cricket Board and the inane response by president of the West Indies Cricket Board, Dave Cameron, have triggered a wide and passionate debate about the management of our cricket.

By the way, Sammy is the best captain we have had since Clive Lloyd; and I hope that the board is treating our young women with equality. The management of West Indies cricket is deplorable, and has been for some time. Every attempt to offer advice on improving the management of West Indies cricket has been rejected by the board.

But it is not the composition of the board that is the problem, though David Cameron is the worst president of the WICB since the Arawaks: every arrogant word he utters shows he has nothing but contempt for the players.

The problem lies with the structure of the board. Structured as it presently is, it simply cannot manage West Indies cricket today, neither the development and organization nor the selection process. And I emphasize today because one of the fundamental problems the board has is its failure to recognize that the international environment for cricket has changed radically. It’s no point bemoaning the changed environment; you have to work with and around it.

We have to be imaginative and innovative. No organization can manage properly if it does not take into account the changing environment in which it operates.

Putting the game in the hands of our politicians would be a disaster, but there are several ways of restructuring the management of West Indies cricket that would make it independent but ultimately accountable to the people of the region, and put the priority focus on the players and not the managers. Moreover, regional governments, through ownership of stadia and other means, have the clout to persuade the WICB to negotiate its restructuring.

With all due respect to those fans and gurus who have only contempt for T20 cricket (and I confess I was originally among them), cricket is cricket, but like everything else in life it evolves and changes. T20 cricket is not only here to stay, it is already the principal form of the game, attracting the best talents and providing the only opportunity for our talented youngsters
to sharpen their skills professionally.

The rise of T20 and ODI cricket to their present dominance has incurred the wrath of  purists everywhere. The following, from Brisbane, Australia, is fairly typical commentary:

. . . The modern version of the game has been stripped of the elements that made it great –– intelligence, patience, determination, concentration, and perseverance. Twenty20 cricket, with its crass moneymaking underpinning, is a game that suits our times.
It appeals to a population without patience, an audience permanently distracted by flashing lights, loud music and extravagant personalities . . . .

The game’s celebrities are paid by the bucketful for their ability to bash the ball and entertain the crowd. The controversial West Indian Chris Gayle scoops up his huge pay packet by playing this crass form of cricket, while, in the background, his country’s Test team silently sinks into ignominy, unable to compete with the vast pay packets, the bread and circuses.

This is unabashed snobbery and ignorance that is insulting to the present crop of cricketers, whose “intelligence, patience, determination, concentration, and perseverance” are no less than their predecessors –– just differently applied. Why not let’s all go back to sipping tea and nodding off while gentlemen politely play the game on the English village green?

The vast majority of the current and up-and-coming West Indian players’ main ambition, and rightly so, is to play T20 cricket. We now have several international T20 leagues, led by the Indian Premier League. These include the Australian Big Bash League, the English NatWest Blast League, The South African Ram Slam League, The Caribbean Premier League, the Pakistan Super League, and now the Bangladesh Premier League.

So let us stop lamenting the dominance of T20 cricket and move on. I go further: Test cricket is on its way out. If Test cricket is not reduced to a two-day game (under lights) with each side having two innings of 50 overs each, and a standard three Test series,  then it will die –– starved of money and spectators –– with the possible exception of the Ashes Series between England and Australia, which seems to retain a nostalgic attraction.

Moreover, Test cricket is going to have to find its own championship format, just as the T20 and the ODI have.

If the WICB had any guts and vision, it would declare that West Indies would be withdrawing from Test cricket until such time as it is reformed (along the lines above), and would be available only for ODI and T20 games.

I’m not holding my breath.

(Peter Laurie, a former Barbados diplomat, is a noted social commentator.)

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