The West Indies Under 19 cricketers have just proven the regional critics of the game correct in their ongoing assessment of developments taking place in the region under the leadership of Cricket West Indies.
It has often been said that ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’. The fact is that what we saw in the first-round exit of the defending champions, West Indies, at the U – 19 World Cup, is indeed proof of the pudding.
The early exit of the regional side has left cricket analysts around the world convinced that as yet Cricket West Indies have failed to find a formula for the development of the sport.
The embarrassment at the World Cup should come as no surprise since it is consistent with the fortunes of the senior team in respect of apparent lack of commitment, inconsistency regarding temperament in the field and maturity.
To the casual observer it does appear that the players do not understand enough about the historical significance of the game of cricket to the peoples of the Caribbean and probably do not care much for this.
Loss of status
There seems to have been an assumption over the years that cricket was an integral part of the culture of the peoples of the Caribbean.
It was assumed that because we found people playing cricket in one form or another on beaches and playing areas everywhere we would never be short of cricketers.
The fact that the Caribbean produced successive generations of cricketers who rose to the top of the sport over the years was such that it was all taken for granted. The leadership of the game at the regional and national levels never really thought that the game of cricket was something that had to be planned, constantly managed and accommodative of change. In time, all of the foregoing assumptions proved fatal for the fortunes of the sport in the Caribbean such that we continue to falter even as other countries in the global game take the sport to another level.
Perhaps one of the greatest weaknesses of the game in the Caribbean was our inability to capitalise on the several innovations we brought to the sport, playing different versions just about everywhere. We have lost all of that and are today at the mercy of international developments.
Where once cricket was king in the Caribbean today it is cringing for recognition in some nondescript corner, hidden in the shadows of other more aggressive competing sports.
If St Vincent and the Grenadines can be used as an example, the playing fields around the country are almost always dominated by footballers. It is not that these athletes have forced the cricketers away from the fields. Instead, it is the reality that the latter sport has significantly lost appeal and favour with the nation’s youths.
A case in point is the Grammar School Playing Field in Kingstown. This was once a breeding ground for young cricketers. Many were blooded at this facility and the St Vincent Grammar School was a proficient source of new generations of cricketers who donned whites in the national league playing alongside the older athletes from established cricket clubs.
In the past students gravitated towards the St Vincent Grammar School as much for engagement in sporting endeavour as much as for academic development.
Today, if one finds athletes playing cricket on the concrete strip at the Grammar School Playing Field one can count oneself very lucky. The cricket wicket in the centre of the field is only in existence in the cricket season and not for major encounters.
Indeed, the Grammar School Playing Field is now not exactly known for cricket.
Years ago it was common to have to write one Column after another appealing to the cricketers using Arnos Vale #1 on afternoons to resist the temptation to use the boundary advertising boards to stop the balls as they struck them during daily training. Track and field athletes and individuals using the facility for their daily walking exercises had to be ever-watchful for their own well-being as balls were being struck and thrown from and in all directions.
Interestingly, this occurred even though there were designated training nets located at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex.
Even now that the Wilf Slack Nets are in place, the place is a veritable abandoned piece of real estate for each week with the possible exception of some Saturdays. Indeed, it is true to say that the hard courts at the Sports Complex are more used by individuals who use the softball version to have a sweat on some afternoons.
Attendance at local cricket matches is hardly worthy of discussion and the spectators are either youngsters who are in specific training or committed to playing for the teams engaged in the particular encounter.
It comes as no surprise therefore that it is the case more often than not that the top titles for cricket usually go to rural schools where the game is still practised for the love of it.
Cricket has fallen from grace amongst Vincentians and the people of the Caribbean. Television coverage of the sport is no longer appealing to our people especially in light of the declining fortunes of the regional teams in different competitions around the world.
Even the regional competitions have proven to be decidedly lack-lustre, with the players displaying little commitment to developing their skills enough to make the game entertaining for patrons.
The few who attend regional encounters see little or nothing to suggest that regional teams are likely to enjoy better fortunes any time soon.
Coverage of regional cricket competitions are drab and decidedly boring. Not much is done to give spectators and viewers an experience to remember. One often gets the impression that the players are in no way bothered by the fact that their performances are precisely what is keeping patrons away from the sport competitions.
Caribbean people love sport and they enjoy watching performances that are attractive and appealing. Unfortunately, watching the West Indies team has, over the past several years, become a painful chore. There is only so much of this that lovers of sport can take.
The result is that fewer Caribbean people are watching cricket matches involving the West Indies cricket team.
At the level of the International Cricket Council, the West Indies representatives have largely been characterised by fear. Even when we were at the top of the sport internationally, we were unable to sustain the onslaught of the established cricket councils as they introduced legislation to curtail the number of bouncers used by our bowlers in any game.
Even when the representative of the sport in the region was elected to the Presidency of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the international governing body for the sport enacted legislative measures that were inimical to the best interest of our approach to the game at the time. The English must have been pleased to see just how much colonialism had shaped the former colonised in the Caribbean so much so that even in the game of cricket they were somehow acting as though still yoked.
One of this country’s sport administrators recently boasted that we should be aware that ‘black people are afraid of white people. In this age for such a statement to be made by someone who is actually white is, in and of itself, an abomination. The fact that it was actually stated in a meeting at which black sport administrators were present highlights the fact that for him and his ilk, that is the reality they still live. Nothing has changed over the century and more following the end of slavery. Emancipation has no meaning for these types.
Unfortunately, while Learie Constantine, George Headley, Frank Worrell and Viv Richards saw the game of cricket as being of critical importance to the establishment of Caribbean blacks as worthy of global recognition and respect as a people, successive generations of our cricketers, like the leadership of the sport across the region, still live in the shadow of what Kassim Bacchus has appropriately labelled, ‘chronic dependency syndrome’.
A new approach
There is now a faculty of sport established at the University of the West Indies. This Columnist has already indicated that from the photo cited at the official launch of the faculty, it does appear that there is a cricket bias on the part of the current Vice Chancellor. Whether or not this is the case the time has come for the engagement of academic and sport researchers of the Caribbean to come together and analyse the game of cricket in the region.
We must arrive at a studied understanding of the strengths and weakness of the programme that has shaped the sport in the region and suggest innovative strategies in respect of a way forward that would address the pitfalls that have been diagnosed.
West Indies cricket needs a new approach to all aspects of the game such that a genuinely valid development policy and programme can be forged in concert with a modernised administrative and technical structure.
The Caribbean cannot continue to be the laughing stock of the cricketing world as is now the case.
There is really no interest by any of the major cricketing nations in playing the West Indies at any level, beyond the joy of sheer humiliation of a former cricketing powerhouse. In several countries across the world where once their cricket loving enthusiasts flocked to grab early season tickets for a pending West Indies tour of their respective countries, today, the international community live in the comfort that television rights for the contest would have been part of a broader package, already financially committed.
The time has come for meaningful change.