WI cricket needs consolidation not expansion By Tony Cozier
Stabroek News
August 18, 2002

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IT is not singular in this regard but the regional one-day tournament appears to have thrown the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) into a prolonged quandry.

It has gone through more changes since its inception in 1976 than the Test team has had captains, coaches and managers.

It has been known, successively, as the Gilette Cup, the Geddes Grant/Harrison Line Trophy, the Geddes Grant Shield, the Shell/Sandals Trophy and, presently but apparently not for much longer, the Red Stripe Bowl.

Initially intertwined with the first-class competition, the tournament was given a separate season of its own in 1994.

It was once played on a round-robin qualifying basis leading to a final but, more frequently, divided into two zones with the top two teams in each advancing to the semi-finals, as is now the case.

Matches have been often been staged at a proliferation of small upcountry grounds in Guyana and Jamaica and there has been the unsatisfactory, if commercially necessary, arrangement since Red Stripe assumed the sponsorship that the semi-finals and final be staged in Jamaica.

The upshot is that neither Barbados nor Trinidad and Tobago has hosted so much as a zone since 1995.

Initially confined to the six, traditional first-class teams, the tournament has been occasionally expanded to include Bermuda, Canada, the United States and, for a single season, the Cayman Islands. Yet, this season, only Canada are involved.

A season after the Windwards had the rare satisfaction of winning the championship in 2000, they and Leewards were split to be represented by two teams each.

This year, it was hurriedly brought forward from its usual slot in October to August for the stated reason of providing selectors with a form guide prior to the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka - only for the WICB to discover that International Cricket Council (ICC) regulations required the teams to be chosen before the tournament even started.

Suddenly, too, a University of the West Indies (UWI) team - or, more accurately, a team of UWI undergrads - was entered on the grounds that talented players should not have their cricketing prospects blocked by their pursuit of higher education.

Now, WICB president Reverend Wes Hall has repeated the intention, first revealed by chief executive Gregory Shillingford a year ago, to enlarge the format even further.

Such a system, it seems, would bring in all the islands of the Leewards and Windwards on their own, along with Bermuda, the U.S., the Caymans and, perhaps, even the Bahamas and Argentina, which are ICC affiliates within the Americas region whose development has been entrusted to the WICB by the ICC.

Hall has even floated the idea of 'B' teams for the four main territories, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Shillingford, after all, did initially mention the eventual possibility of 20 teams.

It all sounds very grand but it is time for everyone to take a step back and check the likely impact.

Those on the WICB who decide on such things would do worse than to heed the comments of two present captains after their Bowl match in Jamaica on Wednesday.

Both Alex Adams of the Rest of the Leewards and Robert Samuels of Jamaica made it a point to repeat the age-old observation that quantity does not amount to quality. In this case, it is the antithesis.

"It (the strategy) has decreased the level of competition," Adams said. Samuels, who has been in West Indies cricket for 14 years, agreed that it had been "watered down" with quantity being "a less than adequate replacement for quality".

The effect was vividly exposed by the fortunes of the Windward Islands teams in last year's Bowl.

A year after they won the championship as a single entry in 2000, they were cleaved into two - North Windwards (Dominica and St.Lucia) and South (Grenada and St.Vincent).

The two teams lost all but one of their six matches. The other was abandoned because of rain.

Trinidad and Tobago amassed 409 for six off their 50 overs against the North team and Jamaica defeated them by 164 runs. Already this year, Jamaica have overwhelmed the Rest of the Leewards by nine wickets and Antigua, the Leewards' knockout champions, have gone under to Canada.

The point made by Adams and Samuels should be a self-evident truth, especially at this time in West Indies cricket.

For a host of reasons, the reservoir of talent is not what it was a half-century ago when cricket was basically the only sport to which young West Indians turned.

Barbados is an instructive example. The increase in the number of Division 1 clubs to 14 has simply diluted overall standards. There are now more cricketers playing first division cricket but fewer first division cricketers.

West Indies cricket, keen to regain the lofty standards of the past, needs a period of consolidation. It can do without experimentation and expansion for the time being.

What the shorter form of the game needs most from the WICB is more reasoned attention, not more teams.