Tony Becca -FROM THE BOUNDARY
REGARDLESS OF what anyone wants to say, West Indies cricket is in dire straits, it has been so for a long time, and unless those with the power to do so fix it, it will remain so for a long, long time.
While there is no doubt that there are some talented young players around, the fact of the matter is that nothing is being done to turn talent into the ability to perform - to perform consistently that is.
That is the reason why the region which produced so many great players can now boast only one player of real class, Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
In some respects, West Indies cricket has gone backwards. In fact, it is hardly any better now than it was in the 1930s when it depended on one man.
Chanderpaul is to the West Indies today what George Headley was to the West Indies over 70 years ago. Like 'Maas George' in the 1930s, Chanderpaul is like Atlas.
That, however, should not be so, and it is only so because the leaders of the game in the clubs, in the territories and at the West Indies board level, the majority of them, do not have a clue about development - about developing young, talented players into performers, into quality players.
As far as the West Indies leaders are concerned, the way to develop young talent, in the territories, is simply to employ someone, any one, to coach the young players whenever he has the time or the inclination to do so. And the way to develop a strong West Indies team is to employ a coach, from anywhere, a coach who works only when the team is preparing for a series.
Development, however, is more than that, much more than that, and until those in charge realise that, until they realise that as important as coaching is - good coaching that is, it is secondary to good facilities, to a good atmosphere, to good discipline, to motivation and inspiration and to good, strong competitions.
And so too is something like the much-talked about academy.
As good as academies may be, and while they may be important in the grooming process, they certainly cannot, for example, develop the competitive spirit in a batsman or a bowler.
The fighting spirit in a batsman, the will to survive against a quality bowler on a difficult pitch, in trying conditions or in tough situations, the fighting spirit in a bowler against a class batsman on a good pitch for batting is sometimes a gift from God.
Along with the desire to produce and the ambition to be the best, sometimes, however, most times, it comes from experience.
The leaders of West Indies cricket, and especially so those at the West Indies board level, should probably listen to Ian Chappell - the former captain of Australia who is rated as one of the best captains of all time, and who was commenting recently on the decline in standards around the world.
"Ever since Australia appointed a coach in the mid 1980s and their results gradually improved, other teams have behaved like women in a shop full of diamonds - they just have to have one," Chappell said.
"Trouble is, there is a hell of a lot more affordable diamonds than there are coaches qualified to produce even the slightest improvement in an international cricket team.
"The manic desire to have an international coach and then blame him when things go awry, and to build academies on every street corner, has shifted focus from what really builds a strong cricket nation," he said.
"A system that produces good, combative young cricketers and then challenges them at progressively tougher levels of competition is the best way to ensure players are properly prepared for international cricket. There are no shortcuts, no quick fixes, just hard work and a good learning environment."
Looking at club cricket - the standard, the pitches, the facilities in general and the atmosphere surrounding it, and especially so in this country, the territories need to listen to Chappell, and looking at the region's first-class and limited-overs cricket, so too does the West Indies board.
The West Indies board, for a start, needs to send home its Australian coach and his entourage and instead of spending so much time talking about academies around the region, instead of planning to spend so much money on academies, it needs to market the game all over.
It also needs to motivate the players, and particularly so the young ones, and most importantly, it needs to organise a better, longer, and stronger first-class competition, a competition which will also put some money into the pockets of the players.