Something's missing - something very important

Published: Sunday | December 20, 2009


Almost every season it seems, there are changes in the format of the regional competitions in the West Indies - changes which are made, it is always said by those who make them, in the interest of West Indies cricket.

In the past 10 years or so, the changes in first-class cricket have included a one-round, round-robin tournament involving the six first-class teams in the region; a tournament involving the six teams plus two 'A' teams from somewhere around the world playing each other once before going into a semi-final round and then a final match; the six teams, plus a West Indies 'B' team; the six teams plus a Combined Campus and Colleges (CCC) team; and, return matches in which the six teams plus the CCC team play each other in home-and-away matches before the winners are decided.

Next season, starting in January, there will be another change. The return format, used last season and once before a few years back, has been scrapped.

With one team getting a bye each round, it will be a format which will see the seven teams playing each other once over seven rounds for a total of 21 matches in two months, with each round played in one territory.

In other words, for the first time in the history of West Indies cricket, for the first time anywhere in the world, all the teams in the competition in a league competition will meet in one territory. They will play each other, and then move on to another territory.

pink balls

Although the International Cricket Council is still not sure how a pink ball will stand up, not only in limited-over matches but more so in matches lasting for days, there will also be day/night matches, for four days and four nights with pink balls and with all seven teams playing at least one of these matches.

In the past, the changes have been made in an effort to improve the standard of cricket in the region and thus the performance of the West Indies team. This year, however, that does not seem to be the case - at least not the main reason - and not for a few years.

According to the West Indies Cricket Board's CEO, the newly appointed Dr Ernest Hilaire, "We will be looking to utilise some of the wonderful facilities we have in the region as we seek to develop players who will be able to represent the people of the Caribbean at the highest level." And that sounds good.

According to the same Dr Hilaire, however, this is a new and exciting format that will produce a "festival atmosphere" around the grounds during the matches. It is one that will bring back the fans. And while that also sounds good, that - in my opinion, day/night matches or not pink balls or not - will not develop players capable of representing the Caribbean at the highest level.

Most important, it will not develop players capable of representing the West Indies with distinction.

According to Dr Hilaire, the new format will "pose fewer logistical and physical challenges with travel and hotel accommodations." To me, while things and times have changed, while there are better ways to do things these days, the new format has nothing to do with the development of players, but rather with promotion and with the bottom line: saving money.

It is as simple as that.

Fans are important, and there can be no question about that, and so, too, are things like transportation and accommodation.

Apart from the fact that a league competition involving only the six territorial teams, and not, in this day of professionalism and for obvious reasons, one including a team of university students, must be better for West Indies cricket. However, a league of 10 matches, instead of one of five matches must be better for development. So, too, must be a league in which there are home-and-away matches, and more so, a league in which there are return matches.

A few weeks ago in Bridgetown, Barbados, at the headquarters of West Indies cricket, at a press conference to launch the sale of tickets for next year's World Twenty20 tournament in the West Indies - and while Dr Hilaire and Robert Bryan of the World Twenty20 organising committee were speaking eloquently about steel bands, horns, and pot covers, about rum and local cuisine, about dancing and singing, and about producing a "party" to remember - a few stalwarts of West Indies cricket, great players like Sir Everton Weekes, Sir Garfield Sobers, Gordon Greenidge, and Joel Garner, asked one question.

They asked the gentlemen representing the West Indies Cricket Board what the board was doing to prepare the West Indies team so that, unlike the 2007 World Cup, the West Indies could make a strong bid for the title.

Times have changed

Dr Hilaire and Bryan could not answer the question.

Times have changed. West Indies cricket is short of money. The fans are important. So, too, may be the need for a "festival atmosphere", although the International Cricket Council is still testing the quality of the balls. So, too, may be the need for day/night matches and pink balls. And in its effort to turn things around, to make the game in the West Indies more attractive and in a better position to attract more money, every West Indian should wish the board all the best in this latest change.

West Indies cricket, however, is still suffering on the field. It needs many more high-quality players, and it would be nice to see more emphasis being placed on the development of skills in batting, bowling and fielding.

Dr. Ernest Hilaire ... WICB's chief executive officer. - File

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