Tony Cozier On Sunday

Concerned with the prolonged degeneration of West Indies cricket, as so many outside the Caribbean appear to be, Mark Nicholas recently made an earnest call for help to the International Cricket Council (ICC) to prevent, as he put it, its “drift into mediocrity and underachievement.”

As familiar as he is with the workings of that organization, Nicholas was hardly convinced his words would make any difference to its mindset.

“The ICC pump millions into the global development of the game, often wasting cash in places where it has little impact, while the Caribbean continues its freefall out of cricket and into a world that offers its youth myriad distractions from the game it once so loved,” the one-time captain of Hampshire, now internationally renowned commentator on the game, wrote in his column in the London Daily Telegraph.

“The richer the ICC become the more scandalous it is that the Caribbean, with its third-world limitations, is left to wallow in the misty memory of days and heroes long gone,” he added, acknowledging at the same time the contribution of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to the state of affairs through “years of arrogance and neglect.”

Nicholas’ contention was that if the game is to “survive and flourish worldwide, it needs its ethnic kaleidoscope.” As such, he stated, West Indies cricket, so “synonymous with a colour and style that makes the game so attractive,” is paramount.

His comments, devoid of condescension, simply recognized reality.

His intimation was that the ICC should use some of the vast sums it now assigns to some of the pointless exercises aimed at boosting standards among its associates to bolster them for a full, well established member with a great tradition presently fallen on hard times.

Certainly there is no ICC venture more illogical or costly than the one dubbed the Inter-Continental Cup.

It is an annual tournament, described by the ICC as its “flagship first-class competition”, comprising round-robin, four-day matches between its second tier members, those one below Test status. Bermuda, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, Namibia, Scotland, the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates compete for a place in the grand final between the two top teams.

These are countries where the game has always been based on amateur, weekend, one-day club cricket. They play no four-day domestic matches and almost certainly never will. One-Day Inter-nationals and International Twenty20s are their go, as they should be.

Yet the ICC doles out heaven knows how much cash every year to fly them, and their own entourage of officials, across the world and to house and feed them at venues as scattered as Aberdeen, Dublin, Namibia, Toronto, Sharjah and Windhoek for the Intercon-tinental Cup.

The 2006-07 final, bet-ween eventual champions Ireland and Canada, was staged in England, at the county ground in Leicester, of all places.

The 2007-08 tournament is now underway with Bermuda and Canada completing a jaunt through the African continent. The merry-go-round continues into next summer.

Canada were unable to raise their strongest team for the African tour because many of their best players simply could not get time off from their jobs. The same problem affects others, rendering the tournament even less relevant.

So what is the point? Why did the ICC believe that it was worth it in the first place and why has it continued since 2004.

Here, in his own words, is the explanation, given by Richard Done, the ICC’s High Performance Director.

“The world has seen the top associate teams taking part in the ICC Cricket World Cup in the West Indies but it’s important to point out that they do not just play ODIs, that they also get the opportunity to play the longer form of the game.

“Multi-day cricket presents challenges to players that they just don’t face in one-day cricket. They need more depth in their skills, more patience and a different approach. The skills they develop at this level can then be transferred and adapted to make them relevant to the one-day game.”

Whatever you make of such gobbledygook, it means that the Intercontinental Cup is here to stay and that, as Nicholas observes, the ICC will continue to squander a lot of money on areas that have little impact.

It also means that the West Indies can expect no handouts from the ICC or from anyone else and must check their “drift into mediocrity and underachievement” on their own.

It was a point deliberately directed at WICB president Julian Hunte by Sir Allen Stanford in his address at the Wes Hall 70th birthday dinner last month.

The assertion of the Antigua-based Texan billionaire may have been based as much as anything on ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed’s dismissive attitude to current West Indies’ woes during their feisty meeting in Johannesburg during the Twenty20 World championship in September. But it is hardly off the mark.

With the hefty investment of some of his wealth, even into non-traditional cricketing outposts in the Caribbean, Stanford has taken the lead for others in the public and private sectors to follow.

His emphasis in on his 20/20 tournament but, in a reversal of the roles as the ICC’s Richard Done sees it, the shortest form of the game could be the catalyst for lifting the West Indies back into the reckoning in the longest.

When that happens, there will be no thanks to the ICC.

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