West Indies push cricket in Central Florida - Elite Tour picks up as team looks to bond ahead of India tour
André Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter
The outfield was a little bumpy and the pitch was less than perfect as well, but what the patch of green located on the property of the Poinciana Community Complex offered for the West Indies senior men's team was a chance to reach out to the Caribbean community here, as they continue their own bonding ahead of a tough assignment.
Situated some 36 miles south of Downtown Orlando, the complex was a kaleidoscope of Caribbean culture on Tuesday, as the West Indies Elite Tour - a team-building exercise ahead of the upcoming India tour, continued with the team going through a two-hour training session in front of eager, cricket-loving immigrants from the region.
It was an experience that Barbadian host Barney Jones - president of the Central Florida Cricket Association - believes will not only bring a talented team closer together, but also serve as a catalyst for the sport's popularity in the area.
"People here are very excited to know that the West Indies team can visit Orlando and come to the area, and they are all excited about the whole situation here today," said Jones, as folks clamoured for pictures and autographs from their favourite players.
"I am very happy to have the whole team here and I think that it will improve the relations in the community to see that we can bring our international team to this area, and it's a win-win situation for all of us."
There are about 30 cricket teams in the Central Florida area, with approximately 500 persons playing the sport at a competitive level - many of those being former regional domestic players - and Jones is certain that having the West Indies team train in the area will significantly boost the sport's reputation and regard among younger persons as well as the decision-makers in the community.
"With a popular international team like the West Indies coming here, it's great for us because the leaders here in this community would help us with getting more cricket fields, and it will encourage more youngsters to get involved in the sport and keep the game going in this area," Jones told The Gleaner.
Not lost on the self-described "one time somewhat all-rounder" is the need for this West Indies team to come together, a component that Jones believes will eventually turn immense potential into real dominance.
"I think there is a lot of potential and ability. I think one of the most important things, though, is that the team has to come together. If there is any disparity among the players, then the problems will come. They need that cohesiveness and this is good for them that they can come out together and start to build, which is a good thing for West Indies cricket," Jones added.
Former West Indies captain and current team operations manager Richie Richardson, who himself played on the Poinciana pitch during a short stint in the Central Florida Cricket League a few years ago, was also satisfied with the experience.
"It was a very good opportunity for us to reach out to this community. A lot of people came out to meet the team and it was also very good to see so many young people, who we hope will become even more interested in the sport here," said Richardson.
"Even though we tried to get some practice in, we realised the importance of sharing the moment with the fans, taking some pictures, giving them some advice, so it's all a part of what we do. We are naturally ambassadors and it's our responsibility to give back," Richardson noted.
Sixteen members of the West Indies team arrived in Orlando on Sunday and have been partaking in a number of team-building activities, sessions with sports psychologist Dr Scott Hamilton and theme park visits. They moved to Miami yesterday for the final leg of the camp, which ends on Saturday.