What next for WI under-19 babes?

by Tony Cozier
Stabroek News
January 16, 2000

At last something to bring a smile of satisfaction to the lips of West Indies cricket that, for so long, have been pursued in gloom perpetual cheups.

While we should not get completely carried away by the three convincing and successive victories of the under-19s in the youth World Cup in Sri Lanka last week, it was encouraging news after the drubbing of the senior team in New Zealand and the general negativity it has again invoked.

Such results do not, in themselves, signify an instant transformation in recent ill-fated fortune. We are, after all, talking about teenagers in a limited-overs tournament and tougher opponents are still to come at the Super League stage.

But it does represent a significant turnaround. In the last youth World Cup in South Africa two years ago, the West Indies were beaten by Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, as well as Australia, and finished a lowly tenth of 16.

What the performances have again highlighted, no matter what happens from here on in Sri Lanka, is the need for the repeatedly talked about academy. The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) can wait no longer to get it off the ground. It has already wasted time enough while most of the other countries have got theirs functioning and producing.

Without such a facility, the youngsters will return from Sri Lanka to a state of limbo.

A few will be chosen for their senior teams for the closing stages of the Busta Cup and get a game or two against Zimbabwe and Pakistan later in the season. Some will filter back into the current club seasons of their territories. Others, like the Barbadians and Guyanese, will not even have club cricket to occupy them until May.

They would be best served joining an academy for, say, a period of six months to continue their cricketing education and development. Such institutions are designed to be the finishing schools for those identified from age-group tournament as having the talent and potential to proceed to the highest level. As was clear from a BBC World Service programme last week reporting the South African version, they concentrate on every aspect of the game and more besides, putting the latest technology to full use.

They polish the basics, mend technical flaws and accentuate mental toughness. Above all, they aim to produce rounded individuals with a respect for the game and without the hangups and haughtiness that bring down so many gifted young sportsmen. The Australian Academy was the prototype. Its benefits have been plain to see through the success of so many of its products. The rest have followed with similar results.

The West Indian academies used to be our schools but times and perspectives have changed. This is no longer the case. Most don't even stage house, or set, matches.

Something more specialised and modern is now needed. St.Kitts initiated theirs, albeit on a small scale, a few years back. The Trinidad and Tobago Board is getting theirs ready.

St.George's University in Grenada, where Dr. Rudi Webster is one of the driving forces, has elaborate plans for one it hopes will be the WICB's preference. Any one of the UWI's campuses would surely fit the bill.

Wherever it is located, time is of the essence. There is now an exciting bunch of teenagers, or those just out of their teens, to work with. The majority are in Sri Lanka but there are others like Ricardo Powell, Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Sylvester Joseph, Matthew Sinclair and Sueliman Benn who require careful nurturing.

Our club and first-class cricket was once so strong that they provided the ideal preparation for the transition to the international game. It gave the final polish to those who shone at school.

Derek Sealy came straight from class at Combermere School to Kensington to make his Test debut against England in 1930. Garry Sobers was a Test player at 17.

Sonny Ramadhin went to England in 1950 with two first-class wickets to his name, Viv Richards hadn't scored a first-class hundred when picked for India in 1974-75 and Desmond Haynes just one when he first stepped out to open the innings with Gordon Greenidge in 1978. Malcolm Marshall had played one first-class match prior to his first tour in 1978-79.

These are just a sampling of the many who comfortably made the jump. As is evident even at "A" team level, it is no longer that easy.

The depth to which the quality of the first-class tournament, the Busta Cup, has sunk - and the lack of foresight of the Board in scheduling it to start as early as it did this season - is exposed by a few startling statistics.

With the Test players away in New Zealand, Carl Hooper stuck in Australia, Vasbert Drakes and Ottis Gibson plying their trade in South Africa, seven stalwarts all retiring at the same time and the best teenagers in Sri Lanka, the first two rounds of Busta Cup 2000 were left with little of substance.

There is only one batsman presently around, yes ONE, with a first-class average better than 40 and only two more with over 35. A mere seven bowlers had more than 100 wickets.

The batsmen were Keith Arthurton (46.53), Roland Holder (39.83) and Philo Wallace (37.11); the bowlers Curtly Ambrose (873), Cameron Cuffy (157), Rawl Lewis (135), Roy Marshall (129), Mahendra Nagamootoo (111), Warrington Phillip (139) and Laurie Williams (124).

Yet the WICB issued a Busta itinerary that eliminated the best and the most promising players from the first two rounds.

By delaying the start by two weeks, scheduling the two semi-finals simultaneously and carding the final at the same time as Zimbabwe's opening match against the Board XI, it would have had the Test men available for the duration and the under-19s back for the last three rounds, instead of just one.

No doubt, some reason why it had to be so will be trotted out by the WICB. It would find it more difficult to explain any further delay in establishing its academy.

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