Tony Becca | Well done Guyana Jaguars, but ...
It is some three weeks or so since the Cricket West Indies' four-day professional league has been over, and heartiest congratulations to winners Guyana Jaguars, who finished the season with a massive 166.8 points.
The Jaguars, who, as a franchise team, paraded two non-Guyanese - Raymond Reifer and Ramaal Lewis - boasted a well-balanced team led by youngsters Tangerine Chanderpaul, Romario Shepherd, and Keemo Paul; the experienced Veersammy Permaul, Leon Johnson, Anthony Bramble, Chanderpaul Hemraj, Vishal Singh, and Steven Jacobs; as well as the vastly experienced Shivnarine Chanderpaul, illustrious father of Tangerine.
In winning the 10-round contest for the second time, the Jaguars won seven matches outright, four more than second-place Barbados, and finished 52.4 points ahead of Barbados.
Individually, the Jaguars were well served by batsmen Singh, Hemraj, Bramble, and both Chanderpauls; by left-arm spin bowler Permaul; and pacers Paul and Shepherd; and were also were well led by Johnson, who all deserved an extra round of handclaps.
Elsewhere in the tournament, it was good to note the performances of Devon Smith, who scored a whopping 1,095 runs with six centuries and a top score of 185 not out at an amazing average of 84.23; and Denesh Ramdin, 799 runs with three centuries and an average of 61.46; and that of newcomer Fabian Allen, successive century innings, including one of 169 not out.
Of interest also were the continued dominance of the region's batsmen by Nikita Miller, who finished with 36 wickets from five matches; a few pleasing innings, including one from Shamar Brooks and one from Reifer; and some good bowling, including Imran Khan and one memorable occasion from Damion Jacobs.
Despite these encouraging performances, however, there were some troubling concerns.
Apart from the fact that the older players, those who have been tried and apparently discarded, are well represented among the successful ones, why, despite all the talk of slow, low pitches, were the pitches still low and slow and still lacking in pace and bounce?
Although a little attempt has been made, it simply is not enough. It certainly cannot be that difficult, not in this age of technology, and not when it is being done elsewhere.
Another area for concern is the continued performances of players like Smith and Ramdin, Permaul, Shane Shillingford, Joel Warrican, and Miller, and despite their recognition in the past, their continued absence from the Test arena, especially at a time when most of those selected are performing poorly at the Test level and when the Test team is performing so poorly.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
Maybe, remembering the reasoning that the best available should always play at the international level, the reason for the failure of the players at the international level is that the West Indies domestic cricket is no longer good enough to produce, on a regular basis, good, strong, top-level players.
And that brings us to probably the most important concern of all, and that is, what is the use of the domestic first-class tournament?
Is it really a national tournament? Is it really a tournament of first-class players? Is it really a tournament to find out which country is the best in the West Indies? And is it a tournament from which the West Indies team is selected?
Looking on, it does not seem to be a national tournament, not with the presence of non-nationals on the teams of the various "national" teams; and it does not seem to be a tournament of first-class players, with so many obviously non first-class, or weak, players involved.
With so many of the better players not playing in the competition, and with players from other countries on the various teams, it does not seem possible to crown the best team, or country.
Times have changed, or are changing. Opportunities now exist. Sports, including cricket, is now big business. Players can roam the world and ply their trade, and whether as "nationals" or "patriots", we like it or not, that is good news, and that is also unstoppable.
For West Indies cricket, however, that, in some ways, is regrettable. It changes the level of first-class cricket. It changes the landscape of a national contest, and it makes the selection of a regional team, usually a tough task, untidy and in many ways more difficult.
Usually, the selection of the best national team, or any team, is dependent on the best players in contention displaying their skills against each other in the same conditions, and whenever there is a situation in which most of the best players do not play in domestic competitions, or only play sometimes, regardless of the circumstances, that must be worrying and, therefore, unhealthy for development.
In offering congratulations to the Guyana Jaguars, one must, therefore, ask: Is the league really helping West Indies cricket?
Most importantly, is it a tournament to crown a regional champion? Is it a tournament of first-class cricketers for cricketers of first-class standard? Or is it a tournament for and with the best players?
Is it a tournament that attracts spectators, and with so many players missing in action, is it a tournament to select, or to develop players from which the best West Indies team can be selected?
If the answer is yes to all, or most, of these questions, what then is the purpose of the tournament?
At the last count, there were around 20 West Indian players, young and old, plying their trade around the world.
Maybe the problems are caused by the absence of so many players, but the selection of the teams, and the use of the players selected during the season, in particular, the use of the Jamaica Scorpion players, sometimes leaves one wondering just what is going on.
Why, for example, did the Jamaica Scorpions select a team to Barbados without a genuine fast bowler? Why did Jamaica open the bowling with a slow bowler at Kensington Oval on the first day of the match on a pitch with a history of pace and destruction. And why did Jamaica select two left-arm slow bowlers in the starting 11 with another, an all-rounder, already in the team?
Why, also, was right-arm leg-spinner Jacobs not played in the match, and that, shortly after he had returned an innings haul of seven wickets?