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The West Indies cricket's dilemma

Herro
Blair Jr

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

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Growing up, I remember the days of sitting around the table with my dad to hear the runs being scored by the West Indies cricket team greats and the wickets being taken by our Rolls-Royce of bowlers, Mikey Holding, and the four-pronged pace attack. These teams won match after match against international opponents. There was no real decimation of teams; they were close exciting matches, and what stood out in my mind was that we were able to win even the close ones.

Those close wins were not necessarily Viv Richards blasting past the opponents. There were the sixes by Michael Holding, the important runs by Gus Logie, and the leadership of Clive Lloyd. I had Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (“CXC”) exams back in the 80s and I can remember being up at 3:00 am to listen to the West Indies in Australia, despite my big exams being hours away. That is how much my love for the game was developed as a child.

Then I became the director of sports at Cayman Television and introduced Cayman to West Indies cricket, and also the NFL, on TV. We watched as the matches changed from exciting wins to close games, and then eventually losses. In the midst of this were changes to rules which impacted the way the game was played, and I believe that those changes impacted our performance on the international scene. Some of the changes were not just rule changes, but simple indiscipline and lack of leadership by the leaders of the game and even the players in the region.

Cricket, lovely cricket, evolved and left us behind. Our players were no longer going to Somerset and Glamorgan; they were staying home — and those who went away were having a hard time with the board who demanded that they come back and play in the regional tournaments. So much confusion, so much mess and, while we failed to get our act together, the world leapt ahead of us. It was sad, as we kept looking to the past while falling into a further uncertain future.

The leaders of our game in the region are lacking vision and insight. We keep looking over glorious memories while we throw young men with no experience out against professionals, and we continue to expect these young men — with some talent — to shine against men who have been and are playing the game just about every day, and not just with talent but with technical direction and coaching.

It is sad that with this in mind our journalists who cover the sport only report what they see and have not unearthed the intricacies which have left our sport hurtling downwards. While we should be strengthening our strong points and aiming to continue dominance in the shortened form of the game (T20), our leadership, former players, and journalists have concentrated on getting back to the top of Test cricket. The fact is we are not anywhere near there and we have a need to get our players playing professionally elsewhere in the four- and five-day format. There is a need to get them in the nets with Shivnarine Chanderpaul (I can hear him say 'just bat for the whole day and protect your wicket'), and a need to get them learning the history of the game by watching the resolve and tenacity of the former players, and a need to get them to know the players who they are facing by watching videos of the weak and strong points of their opponents.

We must not let go of our hold on the T20s. I remember meeting Robert Stanford back in about 2004, maybe 2005, and heard his vision of reviving West Indies cricket. Well, the Stanford 20/20 crashed after 2008, but it gave birth to the West Indies team finding its identity and getting back to the top of the world.

Well, I think we are going to crash and burn if we don't stop politicking and put this game back where it needs to be. I don't like the fact that some of our top guns seem to be moving away from the Tests and One-Day Internationals, and that we seem to be blooding youngsters at the top level. Every time we throw them out to the professional wolves we discard them, when the fault is really leadership and not ability. If we have these youngsters out there now, then stick with them for the next three to four years. They are just not ready for the big times right now, but they will get there.

It takes vision and fortitude. It takes journalists writing not just from what they see, but from what they understand. Our job as journalists impacts how the average fan supports the team. Watching the news on TV a couple weeks ago I heard the sports reporter say “bad news again for the West Indies” cricket team in the highlights. My heart sank, and I did not even want to see the sports report. Then in the news he mentioned that the match was drawn. Gosh! To me that means we have some fight, especially against India, perhaps the best team in the world. Why then should the sports writer make me feel so depressed?

I ask our former greats, our Cricket West Indies leaders and our fans, let's go out there and support West Indies cricket. Pick the best T20 team when the time comes; let us be proud to be champions! Somehow it just does not feel as if we are proud about that. I guess when others start to win the T20s and they start to make it seem like something, then we will do what we do with the One-Dayers, and just point out that we were two-time winners of the 20/20 title.

West Indies cricket needs to survive in world cricket at all levels. However, if you want to get more kids playing the game, if you want to get money back in the sport, if you want to see it on TV where sponsors feel that this is where their money belongs, then get our focus on remaining champions of 20/20 cricket. When we do that, then more and more players will come to our region to play, and perhaps we can have a more year-round experience which would offer some real level of professionalism to our players.

Until those players get that chance to play every day; to stand in the nets and not worry about school fees or house bills, but work to fine-tune their abilities to compete against players who do nothing but cricket, we will always live in the glorious past of West Indies cricket. Sure, we have retained a few, and given them some money so that they can concentrate a bit on playing, but we need a system that generates more than just a few. Look how many great players we had as backups in the 70s and 80s; guys who could make any team in the world but could not make the West Indies team. Yes!

Success in professional sports happens when you make sure your “bench” is ready for action. The guys on the field know that someone else is gunning for that position, and the team is ready if someone falls out of form.

Let's wake up, guys. It's time to move into the future. Cricket helped develop our identity back then, but we have failed to use the present success to enable our imminent prospects to move into their glorious destiny.

A fi wi game, let us take it back!

Herro (Steve) Blair Jr is a former sports director at Cayman 27 Television, Heaven 97 Sports and commentator for Radio Cayman. Send comments to the Observer or herroblair@gmail.com.

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