Cricket in the West Indies is more than a game. It is the region’s only unifying force, its only common touchstone. And in recent years the question of whether cricket can survive the onslaught of cable television has provided as much drama as the matches themselves. Last year at Sabina Park the very future of the sport seemed to depend on Brian Lara. And had he not been dropped on 44, the West Indies would probably have been comprehensively beaten. Coming after the massacre in South Africa and the 51 all out at Queen’s Park Oval, the entire region may well have given up on the team and the game. Instead Lara went on to make 213 and the Windies won the match and almost the series amidst the fervent support of a grateful region. No wonder the London Times called Lara’s innings “arguably the most important in the history of the game”. It literally saved West Indies cricket.


A very similar scenario unfolded this year. If Zimbabwe had beaten the Windies at Queen’s Park and again at Sabina, it might again have been the game’s death knell. If even test cricket’s wooden spooners could beat us, well surely many of the long suffering faithful would finally have thrown in the towel. And West Indies should have lost both matches. Only one other team has ever bowled out opponents for under a hundred to win a match. And if Heath Streak had not been injured 171 for 7 might have been 171 all out. But a miraculous bowling performance and a fortunate captain’s knock pulled the still breathing corpse of Windies cricket out of the funeral pyre.


But if things are left to continue as they are, one day the needed miracle will not occur and the game will be left mortally wounded. The problems of West Indies cricket start at the top. Administration of the game is weak at all levels, and those in charge have shown very little imagination or foresight. Until very recently they have done little to market the game among the young. The regional wide Kwik Cricket program announced recently is very welcome. But this is some ten years after one was put in place in England and Australia.


In addition the physical infrastructure of the game here has not only failed to keep pace with other places around the world, it has in some instances declined absolutely. The Sabina Park pitch debacle would have been unthinkable even in the 1930s when available technology was primitive compared with that of today.


We have also fallen behind woefully in the physical and mental development of our younger players. Our under nineteen teams usually perform very well. But very few youth representatives make a successful transition to test cricket. This is not the case in other countries.


For what it is worth, here are some ideas on how to address these problems.


1. Develop a Regional Plan for Six a Side School, Club and Business House Leagues. The greatest danger to the future of West Indies cricket is that fewer and fewer people are actually playing the game. Cricket requires time, a commodity nobody has much of these days. People have become very impatient, especially the young, who have very little inclination to play a game which takes a full day. They will ignore any sport which can not instant action.


Now even one day cricket can not compete with basketball and football for immediate gratification. But a ten-over six-a-side cricket match takes only an hour. It is a perfect way not only to introduce impatient youngsters to the game, but to give busy adults a way to keep their hand in. Six a side house games would encourage youngsters intimidated by the idea of a game taking hours to at least give cricket a try. And those who developed an interest could then move on to the traditional game. It would surely lead to a larger pool of cricketing talent.


After work six a side club and business house leagues would enable adults to play and watch a bit of cricket after a regular day’s work. Western Sports Danny Senior currently runs a thriving six a side business house cricket league in Manchester where matches are watched by hundreds every day.


The development of six a side cricket on a national and regional level needs only proper planning and administration. And it could  again make cricket a game that most people in the Caribbean have played even a little. Right now in many areas most people have never touched a ball and bat and cricket is exclusively a spectator sport. In Portmore for example, the largest community in the Caribbean, there is no organized cricket. Six a side cricket is a perfect stepping stone remedy to this situation.


2. Organize a Regional Wide Training Program for Groundsmen. Batting is the West Indies’ biggest problem. Many attribute this to poor technique or impatience. And this is partly true. But for years people like Tony Becca have been warning that the poor pitches in Jamaica and the region are hampering the development of batsmen. A batsman must be able to trust the pitch to acquire proper technique. Too often today this is not the case. The current preparation of pitches, even at the first class level, seems to be a hit or miss proposition, with groundsmen depending on an informal passing down of knowledge. A more professional approach is clearly needed.


3. Develop A West Indies Cricket Academy. Is it mere coincidence that the most successful team in cricket today is the one which has the best cricket academy? Australia has broken the one day consecutive victory mark and is in sight of the test mark. Both records were set by the West Indies in the halcyon days of Garner, Holding, Marshall and Ambrose and were reckoned to be untouchable. But superior training has made today’s Aussies as much superior to their opponents as the four pronged Windies were to theirs. And until other countries follow suit, Aussies rule.


(Until we have one though, we can at least take advantage of what the Aussies offer. Nearly all the top fast bowlers today – Shoab Ahktar, Brent Lee, Glen McGrath, Shane Pollock – have been to Dennis Lillee’s bowling school. Why not send someone like Nixon Maclean, the region’s fastest bowler but who has not realized his potential?)


Some argue that politics will prevent any academy here. Where will it be located for instance? But here is one area in which our heads of government, who all claim to be big cricket fans, can help. Let them get together, make a decision, and put funding in place. Frankly if we are willing to let petty politics kill our only unifying force, then West Indian culture is really not worth very much.

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