FOR a very long time, the West Indies Cricket Board's selection eligibility rule for the senior West Indies cricket team has been held up under the microscope for scrutiny.
The WICB felt in prior years it was imperative that it protected the integrity of its competitions and ensured that its sponsors got value for their money and will continue to do so.
Recently, the WICB's directors met and once more reviewed its requirements for player eligibility for selection on senior West Indies teams and considered a number of factors that have and would impact upon the eligibility rule.
Firstly, the WICB as it has stated many times, had to ensure that its valued sponsors obtained a fair return for their investment in the game. Sponsorships are the very lifeblood of any major sport and the WICB had to make certain that the competitiveness of its championships equalled the money that was being spent.
Secondly, the WICB also had to consider that a cricketer's career and livelihood is generally enhanced by their ability to ply their trade in a professional environment. We can look to our glorious past and can see how playing county cricket helped to fashion the distinguished careers of many of our former players.
Thirdly, the WICB had to accept that we do not have such a professional setup in the West Indies at present nor have we been able as yet to generate the resources to support a retainer system. While we find these desirable, there are limitations on our resources that would need to be corrected to bring these into being.
Finally, the WICB has to ensure that the best possible talent from the region is available to the West Indies selection panel. Anything less would be tantamount to shooting ourselves in the foot even before we take the field and we all want our side to be competitive as our sides of past generations.
With these considerations in mind, the WICB had to think long and hard about how best we can satisfy all stakeholders and has decided to adopt a policy that will lead to the creation of better opportunities all around and ensure that our cricket once more returns to a position of strength.
The new rule is simple and states that a player becomes eligible for selection to the senior West Indies team when he makes himself available for selection to his national side in a competition immediately preceding the selection of a West Indies team for an international series.
The board meeting that considered this change to the rule voted by majority 13-1, and that should demonstrate how agreeable many find the new ruling.
The board noted and appreciated the views of the board member that voted against the rule, but feels this change represents a first step to addressing the new competitive requirements of the rigorous 10-year tour programme of the International Cricket Council that involves teams playing at least 15 Tests and 25 limited-overs Internationals annually.
Against the backdrop of the possibility of injuries to players, the West Indies selection committee will have to choose from a larger pool of players to make sure that our teams are always at full strength and can rival any other elsewhere in the world.
The board is also mindful that in order to achieve the objective of producing a winning side, one of the next steps we have to pursue is to acquire the resources that will allow us to be in a position to offer these players retainer contracts that will help us to cope better with the new demands of the international programme.
In the short to medium term however, the WICB has to give serious consideration to a professional league at the club and/or regional level. This means we will also have to look at the way we schedule and structure our competitions so they provide our players with the kind of environment that will lead to outstanding performances.