When the International Cricket Council (ICC) opted to introduce the ranking system some time ago many sports enthusiasts feared the worst for the status of the West Indies Cricket team. The current situation of the game in the region and the fact that our regional team failed to make it to the ICC Cricket World Cup must be sending a very strong signal that their worst fears have become reality.
It is incredible that while the World Cup is taking place we are at home playing against veritable cricketing non-entities.
It is hurtful for anyone in the Caribbean to even attempt to understand how it is that Bangladesh is in the World Cup while we are at home.
Caribbean people, whether sports enthusiasts or otherwise are certainly not happy with what has happened to West Indies Cricket.
To some it does appear that the West Indies Cricket Board has done little more than change its name. There is little evidence that any of its strategies are working to yield the genuine development of the sport in the region.
The dispute between some of the leaders of government in the Caribbean and the leadership of West Indies cricket has done little to engender confidence that we can expect a change of approach and possible change of fortunes of the team any time soon.
It is simply amazing that the political leaders who have been criticising the administration believe that despite their own poor performance record at the national level they have the right to insist that they must influence the operations of the Board because they have provided the sport’s infrastructure.
Perhaps some of them fail to acknowledge just how much private cricket infrastructure exists in the region.
The old adage of “he who pays the piper calls the tune” may operate in some Caribbean countries for the sport of cricket but not in all of them.
It is clear that some of the political leaders have not taken the time to engage in any sort of analysis of the immense benefits that have accrued to their respective national economies each time there is an international series in the Caribbean.
Indeed, when the politicians were supposed to put their feet down they cowered to the ICC. The hosting of the Cricket World Cup in 2007 is the best example of this.
The history of leadership of West Indies Cricket has been extensively chronicled. For some reason however it appears that the leaders of the sport in the region have failed to understand the critical analyses that have been made over the years.
It is an unfortunate truism that the leaders of the sport have, all too often, arrogantly buried their heads in the sand. They have consistently acted as though they were the sole possessors of knowledge of the game and all of its critical components.
The greater access of the regional cricketing authorities to international funding has not allowed them to change their mode of operation. They are still heavily dependent on the old way of doing things. This extends to the horse-trading that takes place for regional elections.
There is also a heavy reliance on being satisfied with what appears to work and less about results and the errors inherent in the adopted development strategies.
What we see as West Indies Cricket today is not even a shadow of the immense potential that was once resident in the Caribbean region. This is as much a reflection of the leadership of the sport both at the national and regional levels as it is a function of poor development strategies.
Significance of the sport
One is not at all certain as to the significance that the sport of cricket holds for the average Caribbean person.
Where once the peoples of the region clamoured to be near to the electronic media each time the regional side was engaged in a contest today there is little interest in following the side’s fortunes.
Now when cricket is available on an extremely wide range of media, there is less interest shown, especially by our youths, in the sport and even less in the team’s vicissitudes.
We are well aware of the significance of the sport of cricket to earlier generations of Caribbean people. But all of this has changed, driven first and foremost by the declining performances of successive West Indies teams in international competition.
Nobody likes failure. It is much worse when the followers of the sport are intermittently treated to some sparks of cricketing brilliance.
Today, cricket is no longer a vehicle of political and psychological liberation for our Caribbean youth. Instead it is a profession.
Unfortunately, the accessibility of significant finances from plying the trade of cricket has not been matched with the responsibility to commit to being the very best one can be at all times. Excellence has not yet been seen by any of our current team members are an ultimate goal. In this regard we may well lay claim to having failed the cricketers.
The deplorable state of the Caribbean family means that the process of socialisation of successive generations of children are often left to the media instead of the leaders of the home.
Even at school there is less emphasis placed on the inculcation of positive values because of the rat race in which the teachers are themselves involved for payment rather than according the profession the vocational status it deserves.
Children, as yet unformed sociologically, are making children and then leaving them to be socialised by other agencies.
Today’s average cricketer who has been accorded some respect for talent is eager, not to represent the West Indies, but rather to play in the Indian Premier League and other financially prolific cricketing contests around the world.
The lack of appropriate upbringing has left many of our cricketers woefully deficient socially. The money is all that matters. This brings material possessions and countless women. This is the reason that while some have expressed derision at some of the criticisms levelled at Chris Gayle for alleged comments to or about women many of the region’s cricketers find nothing wrong.
In the past it was common for leaders of the sport to claim that some people were natural cricketers. Many thought that the players were gifted and so they were suited to the sport.
In the case of the Caribbean we were treated to stories of players who were seen playing cricket on the beach or on a playing field and they showed a level of proficiency that appealed to the leaders of the school or club enough for them to be called up to play with the team.
The leaders of the sport claimed then that the aforementioned process was really a form of talent identification. It did not matter that the vast majority of children were not being given an opportunity to learn the skills associated with the sport. It was enough to have identified ‘talented’ children who could then be brought to coaching.
This approach meant that the cricket fraternity assumed that those who were not practising the sport lacked the interest and the skill competency to do well in it. Of course this was a very false assumption but the cricket fraternity worked with this, however deficient it was in reality.
Kiddy cricket was introduced in an effort to facilitate the sport’s capacity to compete favourably with other sports for clientele in the form of active participants.
Almost all sports have undertaken to compete for younger adherents. All of them have gone after the children by implementing fun-filled introductions to their respective events. The idea has been to appeal to the children and gradually build their sustained interest through fun activities that nonetheless contain the basic elements. Over time the activities become ever more complex.
It has also been the expectation that kiddy cricket would not confine itself to the fundamentals of the sport but also inculcate the positive values attendant to sport and which are deemed critical to the holistic development of the individual.
Unfortunately, as happens so often with coaching programmes in the contemporary period in the Caribbean, values ate relegated to the dungheap.
What the coaches forget is that while they fail to deliberately communicate the positive values they nonetheless communicate their own values, many of which are inconsistent with those intended in sport.
Not surprisingly therefore the cricketers emerge from kiddy cricket with the same attitudes that impacted those who immediately preceded them.
No wonder then that the current crop of West Indies team members do not have a sense of the history of the sport and what it has meant for previous generations. This is perhaps what disturbs the current crop of Caribbean politicians, many of whom still consider themselves progressives.
The cricket authorities in the Caribbean have also followed the lead of the enthusiastic academic, Hilary Beckles, of Barbados. The latter has established a curriculum for studies in the history of the sport in the Caribbean at the Cave Hill Campus and also created a small cricket museum.
Beckles has also created the first semblance of a cricket academy.
With students on campus, Beckles somehow persuaded the region’s cricket bosses to allow a team dubbed, Combined Colleges and Campuses to participate in the annual regional competitions.
Today, the Caribbean boasts a cricket academy.
Perhaps it is too early to judge the performance of the region’s cricket academy. There is plenty of time for the initiative to take root and much financial resources would be needed if we are to elevate the institution to the level of the likes of England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Suffice it to say that we are on our way.
The problem still remains however that the majority of the emerging players do not appear sufficiently imbued with the values and appreciation for the niceties of the sport intended by any academy.
The status of the game in the region is best manifested in the decidedly and consistently inconsistent performances of the West Indies cricket team on the field.
The rest of the cricketing world remain aghast at what has happened to the sport in the Caribbean.
It is one thing to speak of changing times and the impact that this is having on the nature of the socialisation process of Caribbean children and youths. It is another thing altogether to stand up and face the reality that we do not take the time to engage in the research required to identify our strengths and weaknesses in our approach to the sport.
If we do not engage in the appropriate research we will consistently fail to identify the constraints that hinder the emergence of the change that would lift us out of the current embarrassing malaise.
We have a responsibility to identify our constraints at all levels and free ourselves from them in order to realise our true potential.
Let the process begin now or else we stand to remain at the lowest ebb possible in a sport that our forefathers once used to liberate us in so many different ways.