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Wanted: A Succesful West Indies

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West_Indies_cricketAlready the West Indies Under-19 World Champions are being touted as the saviours of the game in the Caribbean; teenagers cast as role models. Their win over India in the final of the World Cup is important for many reasons, not least because of the much needed boost this should give to the game in the region. But whether it can change the long term fortunes of a game in desperate need of rejuvenation remains to be seen.

No doubt Shimron Hetmyer’s side showed skill in abundance to beat Pakistan, Bangladesh and India in subcontinental conditions. In the bowling of Alzarri Joseph and Chemar Holder and the batting of Keacy Carty, there is plenty of talent.

Hetmyer’s team also showed the fight and mongrel that recent senior West Indies teams have conspicuously lacked. In the final group game against Zimbabwe, Keemo Paul enacted a mankad of the non-striking batsman with Zimbabwe needing just three runs to win, thereby ensuring his side went through to the knockout stages.  

The laws of the game permit such a dismissal, so the West Indies were quite within their rights to carry it out. All that claptrap about the spirit of cricket is just that: meaningless. The desperation to win would surely resonate with the great West Indies team of the 1980s, a side who were famous for their single-minded pursuit of victory.

Whether the Under-19 side can really change the landscape of Caribbean cricket is unlikely. It is often heard that the game is in serial decline in the West Indies and the performance of the senior side on their recent Test tour to Australia was nothing short of pathetic.  

I was lucky enough to be in Barbados last May to watch a Test between the West Indies and England when the home side won the game within three days. The passion, noise and exuberance of the home crowd as their team coasted to victory proved that cricket still has strong roots in the Caribbean; what the public need and want is a successful team.

 

Whilst limited overs cricket has provided some success for the West Indies in recent times, the Champions Trophy win of 2004 and the victory in the World T20 in 2012 being the notable moments, in the Test arena the side has been poor for 15 years. Since the 1999-2000 season, the West Indies have won only 29 of 129 Tests and only 1 out of 37 away from home.

Many reasons have been touted for this: poor governance of the game in the Caribbean; the disparate nature of the different islands; the weakness of the first-class system; slow and turgid pitches; the rise of American sports such as basketball; lazy players not willing to put the hard yards in.

For a proud cricketing nation that has provided one of the most dominant teams to have ever played the game, it has been a sorry decline, and one that does not look like improving any time soon despite the success of the Under-19 team.

The WICB and the players selected for the upcoming World T20 in India have been embroiled in a row over pay that briefly threatened the participation of the majority of the squad. Thankfully, that situation has been resolved, but it is further evidence of the strained relationship the governing body has with many of the players, resentment still lingering over the cancellation of the 2014 Indian tour midway through due to a player strike. It is a situation that is hampering their fortunes.

If the West Indies could pick their best team, that would be a start, but such is the breakdown of trust between the WICB and some of the players, they cannot yet manage that. On their tour of Australia, there was the ridiculous situation of players such as Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell playing in Australia’s Big Bash whilst the Test side was being destroyed.

 

The WICB is struggling financially, which means it cannot pay the players what they think they are worth. A row over payments led to the walk out on the Indian tour in 2014 but it is hard to see what more the board can do: in the financial year 2013-2014, the WICB made a loss of over US$1.5 million and the region more generally is struggling economically.

Because of this, many West Indian players are looking to the proliferation of T20 leagues around the world instead of playing international cricket. It is understandable that players such as Gayle and Bravo want to realise their true worth – it is a short career after all – but those not playing international cricket, especially when the team needs them most, are letting their country down.

For those that are, it is a difficult time. Jason Holder, the young and highly talented captain, is doing his best and there is some talent around, notably Darren Bravo and Kraigg Braithwaite. Their recent capitulation to Australia shows they have a long way to go however.

The WICB themselves are a shambles. Phil Simmons, the coach of the senior side, was recently suspended by the board after making comments about the selection for the tour to Sri Lanka, rueing the fact that Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard had not been selected, two players obviously in West Indies’ best eleven.

It was a preposterous decision for the WICB to take. The board has for too long been interested only in self-promotion and self-aggrandisement. That needs to change.

The power and money grab within the ICC by the Big Three of India, Australia and England has also hit the West Indies hard, robbing them of fixtures and finances. Due to the new arrangements, a West Indies tour is no longer lucrative and Australia played a paltry two Tests on their tour last year. Holder’s side will miss the 2017 Champions Trophy because they have not played enough games to move up the rankings to qualify.  

Given all of this, the West Indies are real contenders for the World T20 title. The side, which will be led by Darren Sammy, has Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Russell at its disposal. On their day, they can match anyone and a bet at 15/2 looks decent value.

The success of the Under-19 team was front page news in the Caribbean on Monday and it is not often that cricket appears on those pages these days. It will provide some welcome joy for a Caribbean public that has been let down by the ICC and WICB, as well as the players, for the last 15 years.

If the senior side can do the same by winning in India, cricket may just be on the rise again in the Caribbean. To lead them back to their former glory, though, it will require better governance by the WICB and more commitment by the players.

The passion and support from the public is there and they deserve more. It is high time the West Indies returned to the top of the international cricket table.



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