Under whatever dispensation, and there have been numerous, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has never appeared to grasp what should be the structure or the purpose of its annual one-day tournament.
Since it was initiated in 1976, it has had five different sponsors and, for the past two years, none at all. At various times, it has consisted of between six and 10 teams, some outside the WICB’s authority, and been divided into two zones, except for two years when it was on a round-robin basis.
It has simply lacked an identity and, as a consequence, has rarely been regarded as significant.
Given the circumstances surrounding the 2009 version later this month in Guyana, coming as it does immediately prior to three tough Tests in Australia and with the agreed return of those players at odds with the WICB, the indecisiveness remains.
Although no detailed itinerary has been issued, even less than three weeks before the assumed start, it is clear from what is known from the WICB’s chief cricket operations officer Tony Howard that, lacking a sponsor and a name, it will be an exercise in futility.
No limited-overs competition at home can be proper preparation for a Test series overseas and surely performances in Guyana can have little bearing on those chosen for the subsequent series in Australia.
Its more significant function will be to indicate which of those players who absented themselves against Bangladesh on the advice of the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) are now ready to sign contracts and return to the West Indies team.
The first item on the Caricom’s recommendations for settling the WIPA’s interminable dispute with the WIPA states that “players (are) to make themselves available for selection in accordance with normal WICB requirements, in particular participation in the regional tournaments”.
Judging by their participation in recent territorial trial and club matches, it seems that most of those who sidelined themselves back in July will be in Guyana. After that it will be up to the selectors – unless Dinanath Ramnarine can find something else to protest against.
Apart from bringing them back into West Indies cricket and hopefully starting out on the road to normalcy, it is difficult to see what the tournament, constituted as it will be, can achieve.
Howard has revealed that there are to be eight teams, divided into two zones, with the top in each meeting in the final.
That works out to three matches for those eliminated in the first round, four, five at the most, for those going through to semi-finals and final.
Most players would hardly have loosened up muscles tightened by their recent lay off by the time it’s over. And they are unlikely to be tested by the standard of play.
The six territorial teams (Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago and Windward Islands) are to be joined by the Combined Campuses and Colleges (CCC), which has now become an established entity at both first-class and one-day level, and the West Indies under-19s.
The stated reason for the inclusion of the under-19s is as preparation for the ICC’s Youth World Cup in New Zealand in January. That was exactly the purpose also given for their appearance in the 2007 tournament a couple of months prior to their World Cup in Malaysia.
Inevitably, they were out of their depth. They were bowled out for 18 in 14.3 overs by Barbados, 110 by Jamaica and 159 by the Leewards.
All their presence did was to undermine their confidence and diminish the standard of the competition. Losses to South Africa and India put them out of the first round in Malaysia but they did have the consolation of defeating Nepal in the Plate final.
Yet they are back again.
It would have been better to have excluded them and turned the tournament into a straight round-robin. It is not sponsored and it would at least save on accommodation and airfares for the 15 or so who would be in the youngsters’ entourage.
Indeed, with Australia in mind, it would have been better to have rescheduled the tournament until the new year and replaced it with three four-day trial matches between teams chosen by chairman Clyde Butts and his selection panel.
If that is deemed too potentially disruptive an idea, the players, all of them, have got to come together in the burgundy colours sooner or later and better before than during a Test series.
Whatever happens in Guyana this time, the WICB must decide what it wants from its one-day tournament. It has to determine how many teams it involves and lay down a set format. It might even follow the increasing global trend of reducing innings from 50 to 45 or 40 overs.
Whatever it settles on, it should stick with it and not be all over the place as has been the case for more than 20 years.
Since its inception in 1976 as the Gillette Cup it has gone through several incarnations. Apart from Gillette, it has been backed by six sponsors – Geddes Grant/Harrison Line, Shell/Sandals, Red Stripe and Kentucky Fried Chicken – but the WICB has failed to attract another for the past two seasons.
Initially, the tournament was divided into two zones with the winners in each contesting the final, sometimes via semi-finals.
The arrangement no doubt reflected the WICB’s financial strictures but it was clearly unsatisfactory. It meant no more than five matches for those eliminated in the first round, seven for those going on.
Three times, in 1982, 1992 and 1993, it was properly extended into a round-robin set-up with each team meeting the other. According to the West Indies Cricket Annual at the time, “it helped to raise the public interest considerably”.
In 1995, costs put an end to that although not to the chopping and changing.
When Shell/Sandals arrived in 1995, there were two zones but each team played the other twice on the way to semis and final.
Teams outside the WICB ambit – Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, the United States – were occasionally included. None contributed much to either the standard or interest. The University of the West Indies (UWI) first appeared in 2003, a forerunner to the present CCC.
For a while, there was the strange system of dealing with the Leeward and Windward Islands. Antigua and St. Vincent appeared separately as the respective champions alongside the Rest of Leewards and North and South Windwards. The under-19s were given their first run in 2004.
Last year, even without sponsorship, the WICB again brought Canada and the U.S. into the mix, restricting it to two zones, reducing the number of matches and the quality.
When they were sponsors, Red Stripe, the beer of Jamaica, insisted that the semi-finals and finals be played in Jamaica. As it will again this time, Guyana has been used as the base for the entire tournament, a decision based on costs.
Like so much else under the WICB’s management, not much thought appears to go into the organisation of what should be a highly important event. So it remains.