Cricket is a unifying sport in the Caribbean, writes Ryan Bachoo, 25, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Trinidad and Tobago, but he argues that the league needs administrative attention to improve the quality of play.
Caribbean and cricket go hand in hand. It is, without a doubt, the single unifying factor in the West Indies region, bringing together millions of people when eleven men of the West Indies cricket team step out on the field in their maroons.
It has been like this for much of the last century, though for all that West Indies cricket like a sloping gradient line on a sheet of graph paper has slowly but sharply declined.
Many people offer different reasons, whether it is the hierarchy of the West Indies Cricket Board or the grassroots developmental programs at the bottom of the chain. One aspect that seems untouched and overlooked is the administrators of the game within the region itself. West Indies cricket comprises of six main territories in Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, the Windward Islands (Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) and the Leeward Islands (Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands and Sint Maarten).
Early in October, the WICB rolled out a new Professional Cricket League system whereby territories retain ten home players and can select another five from a draft of 102 throughout the region. The draw itself ended disappointingly with only Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago opting to select outside of their territories. More alarmingly, the Leeward Islands, who have plummeted to the bottom of the table over the last few years, elected to go with five home based players. In reality, Leewards Head Coach, Ridley Jacobs and Chairman of Selectors, Lawrence Carty, snubbed the very system that was mainly developed to assist them. The Leewards have placed 3rd (2010), 7th (2011), 7th (2012), 7th (2013) and 6th (2014) over the last five years in Regional First Class cricket. Only in 2011 did their seventh place earn them second to last in front of Guyana.
Being at the draw with the Head Coaches and Chairmen of Selectors opened my eyes as to why West Indies cricket has struggled over the last decade. With the chance of selecting cricketers with international experience such as Ramnaresh Sarwan and Fidel Edwards, the Leewards opted to stay with a fully home grown suit of players – the same ones who have struggled to compete for the last four years. It is easy to understand Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago selecting from home. Both territories have excellent developmental programs while Jamaica have done extremely well over the last six years. In an instance like this, one would believe that the Leewards, Windwards and Guyana would want players from these territories to bolster their squads. Instead, both the islands shopped at home and Guyana’s only outside selection was Raymon Reifer.
Strangely enough, the feeling within the conference room at Accra Beach Hotel was not one of myopia, but – for lack of a better word – foolishness. It felt as if the five players to be selected were agreed upon in advance with no real thought of what other cricketers could offer to their teams. Each candidate had three minutes to select and none hesitated to think things through. Barry Wilkinson, the host, remarked after the first round of selecting that should the draw continue at that pace, it could be done within half-hour. He was wrong; it finished in 27 minutes.
The most alarming part of the draw was during media questions. A CMC reporter linked to Carty of the Leeward Islands their poor performances and option to go without foreign players. In a bizarre response, Carty said that Sarwan, the only player the Leewards wanted to select, was taken. A sense of confusion echoed around the room as Carty had two rounds to select Sarwan before T&T opted to take the Guyanese batsman.
It is no laughing matter as the girl to my right chuckled. This is the head selector of cricket for islands that have produced some of the world’s great cricketers like Sir Viv Richards, Sir Richie Richardson and Sir Curtly Ambrose. His responses pointed to a lack of education within West Indies cricket and reflect the state of Leeward Islands cricket. It doesn’t take a public relations degree to avoid such an empty-headed statement. It is clear that such men do not realise that their team have been literally struggling to put together a win for the last five years, and that the WICB are trying to assist them in redeveloping their local cricket.
The West Indies cricket players have now trained their guns on West Indies Players Association president, Wavell Hinds, after they were not consulted on aspects of a new Memorandum of Understanding between WIPA and the WICB. How can the president of the body representing the West Indies players not consult the very players on their own wages? Hinds himself is the Chairman of Selectors for Jamaica Senior team, a Board member of the Jamaica Cricket Association, the President of the West Indies Players Association and the Chief Executive Officer of the same organisation. In addition, he lost an election last month to Osmond Dann for second vice-president of the Jamaica Cricket Association – a position Courtney Walsh resigned when he took up being a West Indies cricket selector. Capitalism at its finest.
The reality is the Caribbean has a brain drain to plug. Too many educated people are leaving for greener pastures. What they are leaving behind is a decaying society of men who are not sure what they are doing.