Orville Higgins | Make West Indies cricket great again
Cricket West Indies made the announcement a few days ago that legendary Pakistan leg spinner Mushtaq Ahmed would be coming to the Caribbean for a month to work with the spinners in the region.
Director of Cricket Jimmy Adams has also been quoted as saying that there are plans in the pipeline to engage his services for a longer period. The news comes right after the story broke that some of the top emerging fast bowlers in the region were involved in an ongoing camp in Antigua. That is good news. The benefits of these moves may not be immediate, but there will be benefits down the road. They may not always get the credit for it, but it shows that those who run West Indies cricket are still trying to create ways to improve our cricket.
Having said that, what I will say now may sound quite paradoxical. It may sound horribly pessimistic, but it is my belief that it is unlikely that we will turn the current crop of West Indies cricketers into world beaters. We can improve them, we can get them to perform at better levels than they are currently doing, we may turn one or two average players into really good ones, but we won't be able to get enough of them performing at elite levels for us to form a superteam and come close to those days when we ruled the roost. At the senior levels, habits and techniques and thought patterns are already pretty much set. You can tinker with those, but you can only do so much with cricketers, who are already set in their ways. I strongly feel that we have to concentrate on cricket at far lower levels.
We are in desperate times in West Indies cricket now, and maybe it is time to adopt some more desperate measures. The orthodox and conventional methods are not appearing to be moving us fast enough in the direction we want to go. Our Test and one-day cricket are lagging far behind the top nations, and maybe it is time we start thinking well outside of the box to try to get the best West Indies team possible.
The question that we must ask ourselves is, why were we such a great cricket nation three decades ago? The answer is not as complicated as we may think. In a nutshell, it was about mass participation at the youth levels. Because every boy played cricket, standards were naturally higher. People had to work harder to make their high school and club teams. Because club and school cricket standards were higher, regional cricket standards were higher and, therefore, the West Indies team was better. It was as simple as that. If we want to get back anywhere to our halcyon days, then we have to try things to make cricket attractive to more boys and girls in their formative years.
The challenge for the board is exactly that. How we get more youth involved in cricket should be the question that the board puts up in the office of all the administrators. If we don't fix the base and make it good again, then we will continue to struggle.
People like Mushtaq Ahmed can impart useful knowledge and practices to our spinners that can make them better, but he won't be able to turn around the fortunes of our Test team in any significant way. Cricket West Indies in those days never had the problem of attracting youngsters to the game. I have said it before that in those days, cricket was not merely a game in the Caribbean, it was more like a social habit. Our biggest problem, believe it or not, is that not enough youngsters are playing cricket. The passion for the game is not what it used to be.
Where youngsters used to naturally pick up a bat and a ball, now, we may have to give them a gentle nudge. We now have to come up with more creative ways of getting them involved. Scholarships for our outstanding national youth cricketers to universities and colleges, extra financial compensation at parish and club levels for both coaches and players are all suggestions that now should be taken on board.
This current West Indies administration has done very well in trying to make life better for first-class cricketers. They will now have to go one better. They will now have to try to make cricket life more attractive to high school and club cricketers. I'm not saying it's easy, and it may be a very costly exercise, where the rewards are not immediate, but there is no other way.
- Orville Higgins is talk show host and international sports commentator.