The depressing state of Windies Cricket Orin Davidson's Eye on Sport
Stabroek News
February 17, 2002

From Pakistan to Australia to Sharjah, the results are of the same dismal nature which leaves one to ponder whether West Indies will remain forever in the doldrums of international cricket.

It's been more than four years since the regional team started its losing streak overseas and the latest debacle in Sharjah indicates we are nowhere near reversing this distressing situation.

From the lofty heights of the Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards eras when no country in the world could stand in the same ground as West Indies , we now find ourselves at the bottom of the ladder where it has become academic knowledge, we will be clean-swept by any of the established countries, anytime away from home.

If it was surprising Sri Lanka beat West Indies 3-0, then Pakistan reinforced the whipping boy status by strolling to the embarrassing 2-0 hounding in Sharjah, a mere two months later.The factors behind this sorry state of affairs are well known.Our players step into the Test arenas grossly underprepared for the highest level of competition as the structure of Caribbean cricket has never been more brittle than now.

And it is from that poor grounding they encounter teams with players of the same ages, 10 times more hardened especially from Australia and South Africa.

The main big difference between the players of Lloyd's time and the present is known to almost all cricket fans, because of the number of times it has been discussed in the media. The exposure those past players had in the professional game in the English county championships equipped them with the requisite techniques, discipline and most importantly - mental toughness required to become world beaters.

Additionally domestic competition then was much stronger than it is today. Cricket never had the competition in the early days it is experiencing now, for the attention of youngsters. And because it was the major sport in Guyana and the islands, larger numbers of youths were attracted to it, thus a bigger pool of talent was involved in the club competitions, which produced a higher standard of play.

The interest and prestige surrounding those competitions at the time fueled the ambitions of the players who worked extra hard to become top class. It is from that background and in the English county competitions, where they developed the fierce pride to do well for their countries, our world beaters of the past emerged.

Although the populations of the West Indies countries may have increased since then, less players are involved in cricket presently.

The attractions of American sports and others which have materialised along the way, along with the more developed forms of cultural and social activities now, have lured away many a great batsman and bowler, leaving the national sport the loser.

Thus the club competitions are no longer strong and coupled with the severe restrictions on overseas players in the English county championships, they have combined to deny players the foundation they need to nurture the abundant natural talent they still possess.

Unlike the rest of the cricket world with countries like India with close to a billion people, Pakistan 131 million, Sri Lanka 19 million South Africa 42 million, Australia 19 million and England 59.5 million, they have massive populations comparable to the seven million West Indies have to chose from, and are not affected by modern day distractions, allowing their strong domestic structures to remain.

This would explain the appearance out of the blue of someone like Mohammed Sammi, the unknown Pakistani who was good enough to rout West Indies with his hattrick on Friday.Nevertheless, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) must be blamed somewhat for the pathetic results our teams are recording.

No one can finger them for the lack of interest in the sport by our young people, but there is much more they can do to improve the standard of the interested players.Having realised that the door has virtually closed to West Indians in county cricket, the Board should do everything in its power to help find alternative avenues for the players' necessary exposure.

Sadly though, the WICB remains inflexible with its eligibility rule which is denying them the exposure in the tough leagues of South Africa for example, whose provinces seem more than happy to contract West Indians, but who cannot capitalise because of the clash of seasons.

Mandating players to represent their countries in regional cricket has its advantages but the disadvantage is a bigger hindrance to development.

The WICB must accept that our players have more to gain overseas and allow whoever has the opportunity, the freedom to learn his trade in better foreign competitions and be eligible to represent West Indies at the same time.

The Board must also fully equip our teams with technical personnel on a full time basis. This has been an extremely hard sell for our administrators, many who seem incapable of grasping the importance of specialist coaches in this day and age.Cricket has drastically changed over the decades and our administrators must adapt likewise, lest our team remain forever in a bottom-less pit of mediocrity.