Andy Roberts could not conceal his sense of utter hopelessness for the future of West Indies cricket when he spoke after the completion of the KFC Cup last week.
“I watched and I couldn’t face it at times,” the great fast bowler of the golden era, once coach and now selector in these more desperate times, admitted in an interview with the Nation newspaper. “Everything bothered me. Every single thing. We have to admit we have a crisis in West Indies cricket.”
It is a crisis that has developed over two decades.
Its myriad causes have long since been recognised yet they all surfaced once again in the region’s premier limited-overs tournament.
Roberts bemoaned the fact that players had not emerged to press those whom he described as “the incumbents” in the West Indies team for their places. He noted the basic lack of batting technique, an observation starkly supported by a glance at the scores, and not only the 18 all out by the West Indies Under-19, our next generation, against Barbados.
Such observations are a strong indictment of coaching at the lower levels of the game in the West Indies, a deficiency that requires urgent attention.
There was much else besides that was discouraging, even more so since it perpetuated the deficiencies of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) in planning and organisation.
There were more teams but less cricket, a reversal of the ideal balance. To accommodate the puzzling addition of the Under-19s and an amalgamation tagged as Combined Campuses and Colleges, the qualifying round was divided into two groups, limiting each side to three matches, against five last season.
The semi-finals and final were sited at the Three Ws Oval at the UWI’s Cave Hill Campus while, less than a mile away, Kensington Oval, the multi-million dollar elephantine stadium that had staged the World Cup final six month earlier, turned a whiter shade of pale by the day.
When rain, which tends to fall in Barbados at the tailend of the rain season in October, drenched an outfield without the drainage necessary to cope with a deluge, one semi-final had to be abandoned, amidst heated controversy, with no provision for a reserve day.
Had Kensington been the venue, the problem would not have arisen for vast sums were spent on sanding and installing the most modern drainage facilities for the World Cup.
According to Paul Skinner, the Three Ws Oval was chosen because it was fitted with floodlights – and Kensington was not.
It was the first time major regional cricket was played under lights, 29 years after Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket (WSC) introduced it at the Sydney
Cricket Ground. As such, it was seen as helping the development of the game. Even so, other World Cup stadiums, in St.Lucia and Antigua, also carry lights.
And then there is the ongoing squabble between the UWI and the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), the accredited broadcasters, over the inadequate facilities provided.
Predictably, the buck was passed one way and then the next, from the UWI, to the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA), to the CMC.
In the end, there is only one place that it should stop in relation to all of the foul-ups and that is at the WICB. It was, after all, their tournament.
As the Nation cricket writer Haydn Gill pointed out, complaints such as those now heard from captains Chris Gayle, Daren Ganga and Corey Collymore, simply echo those of Courrtney Walsh and Philo Wallace eight years earlier when a washed out semi-final and the absence of a reserve day led to Barbados’ exit without a ball bowled.
The same thing occurred in 2001, prompting the Barbados manager at the time, Tony Howard, to pointedly comment: “The problem with this competition is that it seems to be organised by non-cricketers and there seems to be other issues which take precedence over the cricketing aspects.”
Howard, a past West Indies Test player, is now the WICB’s cricket operations manager and, presumably, responsible for cricketing matters. If the KFC Cup and other regional tournaments are still being planned by “non-cricketers”, he is serving no useful purpose.
If he does remain in office, he could do no better than to arrange with the Stanford 20/20 group to observe how to properly run a cricket tournament. It really is not that difficult – and money has very little to do with it.