Mitchell: Still hope of a Windies re­vival

Ali­son Mitchell charts the demise of Caribbean cricket and finds there are en­cour­ag­ing signs for the fu­ture

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It is dif­fi­cult to see how this Test se­ries against the West Indies will end in any­thing other than a three-nil drub­bing to Eng­land. Vic­tory at Edg­bas­ton, while im­pres­sively ruth­less from Eng­land, came af­ter an in­sipid con­test. For the sake of the match and the spec­ta­cle, it must be hoped that the West Indies will ap­proach Head­in­g­ley with more verve, more am­bi­tion and more match aware­ness.

Teams can be out­played, of course, and a young bowl­ing at­tack will of­ten strug­gle with con­sis­tency, but the most de­press­ing thing about the West Indies per­for­mance at Edg­bas­ton was the lack­lus­tre and naïve way they went about their busi­ness in the field; rarely at­tack­ing the ball, rarely putting the bats­men un­der pres­sure when a quick sin­gle was taken and, most frus­trat­ing of all, fail­ing to take im­me­di­ate ad­van­tage of the new ball when the lights were on. It was a head scratch­ing mo­ment, or, if you were the coach Stu­art Law, a head in your hands mo­ment.

The prob­lems stretch deeper than what we see man­i­fest on the field of play though. At Test Match Spe­cial, we have been work­ing with the ex­cel­lent Trinida­dian com­men­ta­tor Fazeer Mo­hammed. He be­lieves he has been watch­ing the game de­cline in the West Indies over the course of the last 20 years, long be­fore Twenty20 cricket started dom­i­nat­ing the cal­en­dar.

Other than when they have toured Bangladesh or Zim­babwe, the West Indies have won only three of the last 97 Test matches they have played away from home. The heady days of Test vic­to­ries in Mel­bourne and Perth in 1996/7 are but a dis­tant mem­ory. It is in­struc­tive to note that leg­ends such as Brian Lara, Shiv­nar­ine Chan­der­paul, Curtly Am­brose and Court­ney Walsh were still play­ing when this dis­mal run be­gan with two in­nings de­feats and a loss by ten wick­ets on the 1997 tour of Pak­istan (mind you, the for­mi­da­ble Wasim and Waqar were still play­ing then as well). Mis­man­age­ment at board level has been the root cause of the de­cline. Pol­i­tick­ing and in-fight­ing in the cor­ri­dors of power have dogged West Indies cricket for too many years. A gulf of mis­trust be­tween play­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors has got wider and wider.

So the de­cline is not a re­cent phe­nom­e­non to be blamed solely on the ad­vent of lu­cra­tive T20 Leagues, which have lured Chris Gayle and oth­ers. Th­ese leagues have taken ad­van­tage of a sit­u­a­tion where in­ter­na­tional cricket be­came an unattrac­tive op­tion to the best play­ers in the Caribbean.

The man now tasked with the mam­moth chal­lenge of try­ing to build the West Indies back up is former PCA com­mer­cial di­rec­tor Johnny Grave. He has been in the job for six months, and was at Edg­bas­ton to wit­ness the team’s in­nings de­feat first hand. In an in­ter­view with the Ja­maica Gleaner this week, he ac­knowl­edged the scale of the prob­lem fac­ing the West Indies and stated his de­sire to change a cul­ture – which might be eas­ier said than done.

“Af­ter years of pol­i­tick­ing, and in­ter­minable row­ing be­tween the board and play­ers,” he said, “it is pos­si­ble to see the con­tours of a new age for Caribbean cricket; one in which the Windies will fo­cus on ex­ter­nal foes – their op­po­nents on the pitch – rather than in­ter­nal strug­gles.”

His ef­fort at chang­ing the im­age of the board started with the re­brand­ing of West Indies Cricket to ‘Cricket West Indies’. One of the first things to have been im­ple­mented was the tem­po­rary ‘amnesty’ over the reg­u­la­tion that al­lowed only those who played in the coun­try’s do­mes­tic 50 over com­pe­ti­tion to rep­re­sent the na­tional team.

A change in el­i­gi­bil­ity rules won’t nec­es­sar­ily make the show­piece play­ers flock back to the na­tional Test team, though. Grave does, how­ever, in­tend to of­fer white-ball only con­tracts to cer­tain play­ers in a bid to se­cure their ser­vices for ODIs as well as T20s. In the mean­time, Gayle and Marlon Sa­muels are re­turn­ing for the ODI se­ries against Eng­land next month. It looks like Su­nil Narine will make him­self avail­able for se­lec­tion soon, but he wants to have a stint in the Re­gional Su­per50 first. The avail­abil­ity of big names is surely only a tem­po­rary so­lu­tion. A short term fix. Trust and work­ing re­la­tion­ships need to be es­tab­lished for the long term. More sig­nif­i­cantly, play­ers need to be com­pen­sated at a level that bears a more favourable com­par­i­son with the pay deals on of­fer in T20 leagues.

This is­sue is cer­tainly not one that is con­fined to the West Indies, but Grave is

It is pos­si­ble to see a new age for Caribbean cricket; one in which the Windies fo­cus on ex­ter­nal foes rather than in­ter­nal strug­gles

at least aware of the bare eco­nom­ics of the sit­u­a­tion and the ne­ces­sity to in­cen­tivise play­ers, par­tic­u­larly to play Test cricket. The ques­tion is, where will this money come from? To what ex­tent should the ICC be re­spon­si­ble and of­fer a help­ing hand? How many coun­tries can the ICC do this for and, then, where does it end? Cricket West Indies have been able to se­cure an ex­tra US$48 mil­lion from the ICC – an in­crease on the amount orig­i­nally al­lo­cated to them in the fund­ing pe­riod 2016-2023 – but the board will need to work hard to add to that in a sus­tain­able way.

A bright note at least is that from con­ver­sa­tions with Fazeer Mo­hammed and also Curtly Am­brose in the TMS box, it seems the pas­sion for cricket among fans in the West Indies re­mains strong. Cricket mat­ters in the Caribbean. What the pub­lic re­ally want is a na­tional team to be proud of – now, and into the fu­ture.

Ali­son is a com­men­ta­tor with BBC Test Match Spe­cial and pre­sents Stumped, the weekly cricket podcast from the BBC World Ser­vice­world­ser­

Back for ODI se­ries: Chris Gayle and Marlon Sa­muels

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

Hang­ing his head: West Indies cap­tain Ja­son Holder leaves the field af­ter be­ing dis­missed by Stu­art Broad in the first Test at Edg­bas­ton

New broom: Johnny Grave

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