Not a moment too soon

Special by Tony Cozier
Stabroek News
January 28, 2001

They launch the first cricket academy in the West Indies at St. George's University in Grenada tomorrow and not a moment too soon.

It can't instantly change the vinegar that West Indies cricket has become, back into the vintage wine it once was. But what it will do is take 24 of the most promising players and start preparing them properly for the demands of the international game that seem beyond the capacity of the present generation.

The programme, modeled in large measure on the Australian prototype, will concentrate on more than just the participants' cricketing skills.

Techniques obviously need to be honed for such deficiencies in every area of the game have been starkly exposed on grounds in every corner of the globe of late. But one of the most critical items on the programme will deal with the importance of fitness, both physical and mental.

Nothing has been more glaring in recent times than the gap between West Indian teams and those opponents who have paid special attention to these areas, as the West Indies once did under the strict command of the tough little Australian, Dennis Waight.

To compare this team in the field with the athletic, superfit dazzlers under Clive Lloyd is to understand the negligence that has led to the rapid fall of West Indies cricket.

To see the middle-age spread carried by several players in the Busta Cup not least at Kensington over the past couple of days - is to appreciate the slackness that has been allowed to go unchecked.

When Ramnaresh Sarwan returned from his short stint at the Australian Academy last October, he spoke primarily of the levels of fitness that were demanded.

The St. George's Academy will necessarily follow suit.

John Buchanan, the current Australian coach, has said that there is no place any more for an unfit player in his team.

"In today's world, particularly in the one-day game, it is very, very difficult for a person with limited physical skills to succeed and gradually that's becoming the case in the five-day arena as well," is the way he puts it.

"Obviously, the so-called modern cricketer has got to have reasonable cardiovascular and anaerobic fitness," he adds. "Aside from the technical skills of batting, bowling, fielding and tactics, there's also stuff like agility, flexibility, speed, power, ingredients that get guys running as fast as they possibly can between the wickets and in the field."

They are opinions that, judging by their aimless training and practice routines, do not seem to be shared by the present West Indies team. Perhaps they will be by their successors.

Once the chosen 24 finish their 12-week course at St. George's, they will have been put through a thorough fitness programme, been biomechanically assessed and been told all about nutrition and diet.

The problem is what happens next.

The WICB has to ensure that they don't simply return home, rejoin their club teams and comfortably slip back into the general apathy. Otherwise, the whole exercise would have been a waste of time and money.

It needs to appoint monitors in each of the territories to oversee the continuing development of the academy graduates. Ideally, it would place them on contracts, converting them into professional cricketers from an early age and making them appreciate what that means.

It can't allow the mediocrity that has characterised West Indies cricket for too long to continue. It can do worse than start with the discipline of fitness.

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