Cricket’s amazing developments

While we here in the Caribbean watch in disgust at the on-going conflict between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) England has brought a level of discipline and commitment to the sport reminiscent of the West Indies some time ago and Australia thereafter.
Of course, having only just left the West Indies where they brought a team weakened by the absence of Sachin Tendulkar and a few others to barely escape an upset at the hands of our regional team, India did not arrive in England with any significant measure of confidence.
England showed a level of preparation and a hunger for victory backed by a partisan home crowd that virtually demoralised the Indians.
Knowing that they needed to win the series to claim the top spot in test cricket the English team wasted no time in hounding the Indians to three consecutively humiliating defeats.
The English have themselves experienced great humiliation and embarrassment in cricket.
For many years the English found the going in international cricket far too demanding and suffered one defeat after another, much to the chagrin of their avid supporters at home.
When the West Indies rose to the top of the game beginning with the Kerry Packer series in Australia and the era of Clive Lloyd’s powerful team, England was one of those opposing teams that suffered bitterly. Indeed, English cricket commentators were among the first to cry foul at the four-pronged pace attack of the West Indies – a strategy that the English team later adopted – and the numerous occasions on which the West Indies team ended five-day tests in three to three and one half days. In the case of the West Indies the loss of opportunities in England weighed heavily. The absence of a vibrant league in the Caribbean meant that our players were limited in terms of exposure to hone their skills to a few months in each year.
England watched as the leadership board changed before their eyes. The West Indies sputtered to a stall and South Africa emerged a powerful team and so too did Australia, Pakistan and India.
In very short order England found themselves at the bottom of the cricketing ladder with the West Indies and Zimbabwe before Bangladesh entered the arena.
England’s humiliation in the sport continued for what many considered a very long time with little hope in sight.
Even the favoured English conditions did little to change the fortunes of the England cricket team.
While the English players took their most severe beatings on the field the commentators and leaders of the game in England led a tirade against the West Indies for the short-pitched deliveries from our quickies, eventually resulting in a change in the rules of the game.
England then turned attention to the number of West Indians playing country cricket and again changed the rules to place a cap on the number of overseas players contracted to any given county during a season.
The humiliation of the England cricket team continued despite the boardroom shenanigans.
The English Cricket Board (ECB) was not happy and set in motion a series of programmes aimed at reviewing the approach to the game in the country before putting in place measures to address whatever problems were identified.
Greater attention was placed on young players via a strong academy. The cricketers were encouraged, much like the Australians and South Africans at one stage, to become students of the game, not just players.
What emerged was a larger pool of committed and well developed athletes playing the sport in England.
One approach after another was tried and tested until the right combination emerged as a winning formula, which the country now enjoys.
Shane Warne has recently described the current English team as having attained the same level as the powerfully great Australian team on which he played when they dominated international cricket.
It is clear that the success of the current England team is the result of the systematic approach that the leadership has taken in the area of planning.
Since reviewing the sport and adopting new strategies the leadership has engage din on-going monitoring and evaluation of the team. There has been a loss of fear of the criticisms that it has received from the local media, one of the most harshly critical in the world.
Confident that there was need for a major overhaul of the country’s approach to the development of the sport and its national cricket team the leadership of the sport was not afraid to reach outside the nation to identify and contract the requisite expertise.
Clearly the English Cricket Board has been following its plan for the development of the game at home.  Perhaps this is the reason why the ECB has begun to open up opportunities for West Indians in the sport again. We now have more West Indians contracted to counties than has been the case for decades. There seems much less fear on the part of the ECB in this regard than hitherto.
England now sits atop the cricketing world and its entire population is on board in this regard.
Not surprisingly, the captain, Andrew Strauss, was very anxious to declare that in the face of the burning and looting that hit London and quickly spread to several other counties last week, a victory for England in the third test against India that would place them on top of the sport was perhaps a phenomenon that could facilitate national unity and engender reconciliation.
Strauss was certain of the role that sport plays in English life and more importantly he understood the impact of England’s virtual rise from the ashes of international test cricket on the people of his country.
The others
As England basks in the glory of its amazing successes in the first three tests against India in the current series the latter has fallen from grace, having surrendered their top ranking.
India had a good run and given the passion for the game at home the leadership would expect severe recrimination if something is not done to immediately address this ‘bump in the road’.
It is likely that India would review its own strategies and call up younger players while giving the older ones their deserving exit from the national team.
Australia seems to be in a major quandary at this stage and many of its former greats have aired their views on what is in obvious demise of the sport in the country.
The Australian Cricket Academy is still in existence and young players continue to be blooded yet the fortunes of the national representative team continue to decline.
Perhaps it has to do with the fact that so many Australians have been taking contracts abroad helping other cricketing nations develop their respective approaches to the game, in the process leaving the cupboard relatively bare at home.
Pakistan has also been suffering in international cricket as has Sri Lanka. These two nations are however in the process of re-tooling seeking to avoid the kind of embarrassment that they have seen with other teams around the world.
The West Indies in stark contrast
West Indies cricket deserves special treatment here.
The on-going conflict between the WICB and the WIPA bodes no good for either side and only the sport suffers.
The current leadership of the sport in the region remain a virtual law unto itself seeking governmental assistance and that of the Caribbean people whenever they deem it necessary.  As yet they fail to understand the significance of the game to the peoples of the region and in their anxiety to professionalise operations seem unwilling to acknowledge the professionalism of the players.
Much is being said about the Cricket Academy established in Barbados by the WICB rather than the players’ approach to the game once they have graduated. The on-field approach reflects little by way of change and so too the fortunes of the regional team.
One gets the impression that the WICB and its regional constituents seem to prefer dealing with children rather than with mature professionals under the rubrics of industrial relations principles and practices. Leadership is poor and the future of the sport in the region is unfortunately locked in with them.
For its part the WIPA seems more oriented towards conflict creation rather than conflict-resolution.
The time would soon come when the individual players in the Caribbean would join their international counterparts in employing strategies that would facilitate their best interests.
The WICB’s seemingly pig-headed stance on Chris Gayle is reflective of its decision relative to Desmond Haynes several years ago.
Unfortunately the fortunes of the West Indies cricket team do not yet inspire confidence amongst the peoples of the Caribbean. This is evident in the decidedly poor attendance at our traditional host venues. Thankfully the new venues seem to do better in respect of attendance.
With all of the other sports now promoting their disciplines more aggressively and reaching down to the children at a very early age cricket may well find it increasingly difficult to attract our youth.
The WICB must be far more deliberate in its analysis of its own fortunes and learn from those countries that have ‘been there and done that’.