The Science and Marketing of Cricket
Published: Sunday | February 18, 2007

Is cricket dying in Jamaica? It certainly appears so on the face of it. Practically no one watches our club and schoolboy leagues. Even first-class matches draw few spectators.

Maybe 1,000 people were at the recent Trinidad-Jamaica Carib Cup match and maybe 2,000 at the KFC limited-overs game. Parish club football matches regularly draw throngs many times as large. But cricket folk have such low expectations these days that such pitiful gatherings were considered 'good crowds'.

As if to emphasise the game's decline, this year for the first time ever the regional first-class games were not covered on radio - diehards had to get scores from the internet site, the most reliable source of information on West Indies cricket.

Passionate cricket lovers

Yet, callers on the local sports radio shows seem to talk about little else but cricket. Suggesting that there are still a lot of very passionate cricket lovers out there. In fact, speaking to friends who are keen aficionados of the game but haven't been to a match this year, the problem seems primarily a lack of time. There are now so many claims on people's attention that no one can afford to spend a whole day doing anything these days.

So if cricket is to survive as a spectator sport, it must adapt to the times or die. The problem is our administrators seem to be living in the Stone Age. Instead of looking at how England has rejuvenated county cricket with night-time 20-overs cricket, they simply moan and groan about "back in my day".

The fact is in the 'good old days' there were only one TV and two radio stations. Now there are 20 radio stations and 100-plus cable channels and everyone has a car and cellphone.

It's an age of instant gratification that demands short bursts of intense excitement, not afternoons of leisurely contemplation. It's a time of two-hour movies, not 1,000-page novels.

Alan Stanford tried to show West Indies cricket administrators the way with his 20/20 league. But they seem mighty slow on the uptake. Some innovative ideas like the SDC 20/20 community league have been put in place. But our local clubs need to follow suit.

A night-time 20/20 league at places like Melbourne would surely draw a lot of fans, especially if they tried to create the kind of party atmosphere so successful in England.

And our schools should be trying to get bat and balls into more youngsters' hands with, say, 20/20 house cricket and a 20/20 school competition. One thing is sure, if the youths of this generation stop playing the game there will be no cricketers in 10 years and the game must die.

As to those who fear 20/20 will ruin cricket as we know it, well, better 20/20 than no cricket at all. And anyway, in cricket and life appreciation of slower tempos increases with age. The adolescent love of dancehall and rap matures into an adult appreciation of jazz and classical music. Start boys liking 20/20 and they will learn to enjoy 50-overs and then Test cricket as men.

Of course, the other aspect to the decline in spectator support for cricket is the pathetic performance of the West Indies team. Which again is primarily due to dinosaur-minded administrators. They have not only lagged in marketing the game, they are totally backwards on the sports science aspects.

Last week I heard a very interesting discussion between Dr. Paul Wright, Dr. Paul Auden and a number of sports nutritionists on how clueless cricket was on a simple thing like rehydration. The gentlemanly drinks every hour is totally inadequate, especially for fast bowlers going all out. They require boundary stations with cooled drinks, and can't only drink when thirsty. On the last day in the Trinidad and Tobago-Jamaica match at Alpart the Jamaican bowlers were clearly dehydrated, causing a loss of control that resulted in 54 extras out of 320 runs.

The good doctors said cricket fast bowling is one of the most strenuous jobs in sport, requiring the endurance of a 400-800 metres runner, with 100-metre form bursts and the arm and shoulder and back effort of a javelin thrower. Fast bowlers have to sprint about 40 metres six times in about three minutes, take a four-minute rest, and do it again. A six-over spell is the rough equivalent of six 400-metre races in an hour.

Outdated traditions

But instead of taking advantage of Jamaica's world-class track and field expertise, our cricket fraternity seems to prefer to rely on outdated traditions. Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand have moved far ahead of the West Indies in every aspect of the game, primarily because they take advantage of the latest developments in sports science. It's certainly not a matter of natural talent. Because these same countries that regularly trounce the West Indies are invariably outclassed by Jamaica alone at the World Athletics Championships.

Can you imagine if one of our world-class coaches like Stephen Francis, Glen Mills and Maurice Wilson was to put the 10 best fast bowlers in the West Indies into a rigorous track programme for three months? They would soon be doing on the cricket field what Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson are now doing on the track. Namely, blowing away all opponents.

Trinidad, probably due to Brian Lara's influence, is the West Indian regional team that has tried hardest to move its cricket into the modern age. And the results are showing. T&T has been winning everything in sight over the past couple years. Our Jamaican administrators should take a trip and see exactly what the Trinis are doing right.

Like all Jamaicans I want the Cricket World Cup 2007 to be a big success. Recent developments have certainly been very promising. A month ago Australia looked a predictably boring sure thing and England appeared no-hopers.

But with Australia in decline and England on the rise, this now appears the most open World Cup in history, with all eight Test teams having a realistic chance of winning the whole thing. This extra dose of glorious uncertainty can only increase the event's appeal to potential overseas visitors.

Let's hope the gods keep smiling and that, despite all the talked-about hitches, things work out nicely in the end. We West Indians may be a last-minute people, but we usually get the job done, even if in the nick of time.

Boring billboards

Although I must say those boring and bland WC 2007 billboards are the worst I have ever seen, what should be there is not some corporate committee ugly mongoose-looking character, but a picture of our boys saying "We're gonna win it for you." It makes you wonder if the organisers are missing the forest for the trees. I mean, you can't even get shirts with players' names on the back.

For all the hype, the biggest factor in the success of the tournament will be the performance of the West Indies team. If they do well, all will be well. Yes, it's hard to put much faith in players who have broken our hearts so often.

But we Caribbean folk are nothing if not perpetual optimists. And it's not like our guys don't have talent. And they will have us cheering West Indian crowds behind them.

So come on, Brian and Chris and Ram and Shiv and Jerome. Win it for us. Or at least make us proud.

Comments (0)

Post a Comment
* Your Name:
* Your Email:
(not publicly displayed)
Reply Notification:
Approval Notification:
* Security Image:
Security Image Generate new
Copy the numbers and letters from the security image:
* Message: