The focus on ODIs and T20

Perusing the statements by West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) chief executive officer Michael Muirhead and newly elected Board president Whycliffe ‘Dave’ Cameron regarding Pakistan’s tour of the West Indies this year, which will comprise five One Day Internationals (ODIs) and two Twenty20 (T20) matches, one is left none the wiser as to what precisely were the “circumstances” Mr Cameron was referring to that “dictated” that no Test matches would be played.

The fact remains that the West Indies will have played a grand total of only four Tests by the end of 2013. Mr Cameron’s supposed dissatisfaction with this state of affairs is not convincing. It has been brought about by the earlier decision of the previous Board – on which Mr Cameron served as vice-president – to host a tri-nation ODI series, with India and Sri Lanka, starting in June and replacing a full tour with Tests by Sri Lanka, mainly to facilitate players participating in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Of course, the surfeit of T20 is making it increasingly difficult to find a window for Test matches but it is a particularly disappointing development in the context of the West Indies’ current six-match winning streak in Tests against Bangladesh, New Zealand and Zimbabwe, and the encouraging signs in 2012 that the Test team was becoming more competitive against higher ranked opponents.

Already, former Trinidad and West Indies cricketer Bryan Davis has publicly stated the obvious, “I think the lack of regular Test cricket will definitely affect us badly because you need to play Test cricket regularly to be able to be a force in the game,” linking the unavailability of Test cricket playing days to the growth in popularity of T20 cricket.

The inescapable conclusion is that the WICB and much of the regional public, buoyed by the West Indies’ success in the World T20 last October, thrilled by the pyrotechnics of Chris Gayle and other regional stars in the IPL, and with the inaugural Caribbean Premier League due to start in July, have been seduced by the big money and bling of T20 and the instant gratification of the shortest form of the game – fête match cricket really, as far as the purists are concerned.

But who is to say that the players themselves do not support this new dispensation? After all, they can earn a lot more for a lot less, while having a rollicking time, even if they, for the most part, continue to pay lip service to Test cricket as, literally, the ultimate test.

A few years ago, Trinidadian cricket historian and writer Vaneisa Baksh posited, almost presciently and not a little dispiritingly, that “Twenty20 has become the game of our time. It fits today’s culture and West Indian cricketers are well suited for it, and with the right guidance, can find some resurrection here. Test cricket requires strategy, technique, discipline and long periods of focus; the difference with Twenty20 is that it asks for short intense bursts of concentration – and how often have we lamented that our cricketers can only hold it together for a few overs? We can channel this Test flaw into a Twenty20 strength.” And she concluded that “ cricket today suffers from weakness of character.”

Well, the West Indies’ World T20 triumph and recent Test performances have proven Ms Baksh wrong in the latter regard. There is strength of character in the team though it is still short of the type of consistency required to get back into the top tier of Test cricket. But to achieve consistency, the players have to be afforded more opportunities in the longer version of the game to build greater mental fortitude and hone their technique. This focus on ODIs and T20 just will not cut it.

Perhaps the WICB, in its infinite wisdom, has a cunning plan, as yet unannounced, to move incrementally from T20 success to ODI dominance, but the mind boggles at this almost nonchalant disregard for the rebuilding of the West Indies Test team and the obsession with short-term gain over the long-term sustainability of West Indies cricket. As our Sports Editor Donald Duff suggested on Tuesday, not a lot seems to have changed at the WICB with the replacement of previous president Julian Hunte by Mr Cameron.

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