In the previous Column carried in The News newspaper dated Friday 29 August I addressed the matter of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) using the Test Match starting at Arnos Vale today between the West Indies and Bangladesh to test our readiness for the big league in international cricket.
The results of the ICC/WICB test could readily determine whether or not we would ever get a major test match in this country in the near future. Failure to get into the big league could mean an end to any ambitions this country may have of including Cricket in its sport tourism plans, even of the most basic type.
The truth is however that the St Vincent and the Grenadines Cricket Association (SVGCA) has much more to be worried about at the local level. Failure to adequately address these local issues could well mean that we should not even bother about the WICB and the ICC in the future.
In May of this year the crisis within the SVGCA was rendered manifest in the form of a vote of no confidence in the then president, Julian Jack, who had been into his 10th year in office.
While it is normal for organisations to have leadership changes in the manner pursued by the SVGCA membership this case revealed what some may have perceived to be an organisation in crisis.
Interestingly Jack acknowledged some of the accusations levelled at his administration but noted that he was working with an executive and the membership at this level could readily have addressed the several issues internally rather than be part of a no confidence motion that resulted in his ouster.
Jack was therefore bothered by the fact that some members of his executive may well have taken internal matters outside the caucus rather than deal with them appropriately. He considered that he was amongst some whom he trusted but apparently thought little of leaving him out in the cold when it mattered.
One of the issues raised by those who wanted to see the back of Jack was the poor performance of this country at the Windward Islands level in the Under 15 competition. This was seen as a major issue if only because it was a sort of cradle of national development in respect of the sport of cricket. If the organisation did so poorly and consistently so it must be an indication of poor analysis and even poorer planning for the future of the sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
One also got the impression that the SVGC did not pay enough attention to what was happening with the sport at the primary school level as well as at the secondary school level. These areas appeared to have been left to the Ministry of Education and the Department of Sport.
Closer analysis would probably reveal that while Kiddy Cricket received some attention the important phase of primary and secondary schools’ cricket was not engage din with any measure of enthusiasm and did not seem to feature prominently in the programming of the SVGCA. To many this was and remains a huge mistake. Without paying attention to the systematic development of our young sports enthusiasts we cannot have a career pathway for them to utilise. The country becomes stagnant in the sport with only a select few coming through but making little impact.
Cricket is a team sport and therefore individuals must gel if they are to make any sort of impact on the game in the sub region, to say nothing of getting beyond that level.
There was a time long past when it was common to see youngsters playing cricket daily at the different fields around the country, none more so that at the Grammar School Playing Field where the famous concrete strip yielded many a national player.
Over the past few years it is very rare to see youngsters practising their skills in cricket at the Grammar School Playing Field. It is the exception rather than the norm.
There was also a time when the NSC complained about the cricketers damaging the advertising boards that were placed around the arena inside Arnos Vale #1 because of the frequency with which they practised there.
Today there are the Wilf Slack nets located adjacent to the Netball courts at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex but they are used only on special occasions, not to regularly hone their skills.
If we do not see young people trying to hone their cricketing skills on an almost daily basis there is little chance that they would develop into good players. That is the reality.
In every sport those persons serious about making it to the elite level must commit to a specified number of training hours per week. There are clearly established targets.
Young people now appear to be trying to hone their skills more in competition than through engagement in systematic training regimes.
The numerous distractions that plague our young people today and act as a deterrent to their active involvement on physical activity and sport still impact the inhabitants of the urban and suburban areas rather than those who occupy rural communities. This is perhaps the main reason why we are still getting the best young cricket talent from rural parts of St Vincent and the Grenadines. This is evident from the results of the annual Inter Secondary Schools Cricket competition for the past several years as well as from close examination of the athletes selected to national representative cricket teams.
Then there is the matter of cricket coaching.
On any given day one is hard pressed to find cricket coaches working directly with young athletes to help them develop themselves in cricket.
The children are introduced to Kiddy Cricket and on Saturdays, literally one day of the week, they receive more attention than they get for the others days. Once they move out of this level of cricket they may not access direct coaching unless at the secondary school level the PE teacher is keen enough on achieving cricket success in competition. But even here the PE teacher may not be a qualified cricket coach and may not readily get one to assist in the team’s preparation.
It is not at all surprising therefore to see that a national select team is put through their training by appointed coaches only for this or that particular competition. If one were to closely examine the training one would realise that much of the time is taken up teaching the fundamentals of the game; aspects that should have been learnt at the level of introduction to the sport rather than at the time that one has been called up for national selection.
Coaches of national teams do not have enough time with the team to at once engage them in learning the fundamentals and prepare them for the level of competition in which they are to involved shortly after selection. The end result is frustration for asll involved – managers, coaches and players.
Cricket was once the nation’s most popular sport. Today it is heading towards the bottom of the totem pole of popularity.
The number of youths showing an interest in cricket is declining rapidly. This is evident in the poor turnout at regional matches where tickets have been given away to students to attend.
Attendance at regional matches in St Vincent and the Grenadines is usually confined to about 100 – 150 persons and this only on weekends.
Attendance at local cricket is restricted to the players and their fiancés
When an international match is involved attendance is dictated by the quality of the visiting team and not by the host West Indies team. In some instances we could get attendance figures that are marginally above what obtains for regional cricket encounters.
Poor attendance puts a damper on the interest of the young players who love the sport and desire to get ahead in it. At the same time it acts as a major deterrent to others who are looking at their sporting options.
Parents who have lost interest ion cricket are not likely to encourage and support their children turning to it as their sport of choice.
Government’s love for the sport has not translated into much beyond the fact that the Sport Council’s staff appears to have been trained only in the preparation of cricket fields and the wickets in the middle as though the mandate of the organisation has slipped by without recognition. Facilities have been improved but there is inadequate funding to facilitate the adoption and application of sustainable maintenance strategies.
Schools are still participating in the sport largely for bragging rights and less for the systematic development of the athletes and the sport.
Some sponsors have stayed with the sport because people who have played the game at some stage in their lives lead these organisations. Others stay on board as part of maintaining a tradition. Still others are there because they have friends with cricket teams.
One does not get the impression that work is being done to effect change in the game at the local level enough to make potential sponsors attracted to the game.
It is interesting that there are still several annual soft ball cricket competitions around St Vincent and the Grenadines. Significantly these competitions are not in any way worked into any broader cricketing development strategy here at home. It is cricket and the national governing body for the sport should have an interest as to why some of these competitions appear to be more attractive and appealing that the stoic and traditional version of the game.
We ought not to be surprised at the results of our teams at the regional level because it is an accurate reflection of the state of development of the sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Apart from the introduction of Kiddy Cricket one has not really seen much by way of attempts at innovative mechanism designed to stimulate interest in the sport at different segments of the Vincentian population.
Times are changing rapidly and the several sports practised around the world are changing to keep pace with the varying interests to which children and youths are so readily exposed through a variety of media.
Here at home cricket has remained the same over the past several years, virtually devoid of any spirit of innovation.
Should the SVGCA fail to take stock of itself it could witness an even more rapid decline of the sport in this country.