OVER the last 20 years, the annual West Indies Youth Cricket championship has become one of the most important competitions on the West Indies Cricket Board's (WICB) annual calendar.
This year, the championship, renamed the TCL Group West Indies Under-19 Cricket Challenge, opens tomorrow in Guyana. No doubt the participants will look forward to this event with much enthusiasm and great expectations.
For many young cricketers in the Caribbean, the annual West Indies youth championship is a launching pad for their dreams of some day representing not only their country at first-class level, but also wearing the ‘maroon cap’ for the senior West Indies team.
In setting goals for the TCL Group West Indies Under-19 Cricket Challenge, the players will have before them the example of Jerome Taylor.
The young fast bowler was identified as a future prospect in last year's youth championship in his native Jamaica and was soon playing in the Carib Beer 2003 Cricket Series before gaining selection to the Test team against Sri Lanka in the Cable & Wireless 2003 home series.
This is what the youth championship does for West Indies cricket, and the WICB has long accepted that if the West Indies are to again become the leading light in world cricket, then a strong development programme for our young players must be in place.
That's why the WICB has been working hard over the last few years to strengthen its junior cricket programmes, since it is from this pool of talent that we will discover the next Brian Lara and Courtney Walsh, both of whom ironically are graduates of the West Indies youth cricket system.
We also recognise that competitions like the TCL Group West Indies Under-19 Cricket Challenge are important in giving our young players a meaningful outlet to test their skills against their peers from the rest of the region.
Therefore, the Trinidad and Tobago-based TCL Group, the new title sponsor of the championships, can feel very proud that they are making a substantial contribution to the strengthening and development of West Indies cricket.
We offer a heartfelt thanks to Chetram Singh, president of the Guyana Cricket Board, and the rest of his team for accepting the responsibility of hosting the TCL Group West Indies Under-19 Cricket Challenge this year, and for all the hard work and long hours they shall put into making it a success over the next three weeks or so.
We look forward to the TCL Group West Indies Under-19 Cricket Challenge providing exciting competition and that the matches will be played in the best traditions of West Indies cricket.