We played Cricket! We killed Cricket!

To what do Caribbean people owe another report presumably as brilliant as Sir Shridath Ramphal’s “Time for Action” on the future of CARICOM? The latest report declares ‘ACTION’ against a governance system, which, some argue, has been lacking sound judgment and enlightened thinking for decades.

But has the CARICOM Cricket Review Panel on West Indies Cricket diagnosed the correct cancer or have they rushed to ‘de-life’ an organism which, though malignant, is essentially symptomatic of a larger diseased body to be found crawling and gnawing in every Caribbean nation where cricket has been played for decades and where the prerogatives of sovereignty sometimes render many good things ‘dead on arrival’?

Taking stock, can it be convincingly maintained that when the West Indies dominated the sport at the global level, the then Board was fit for the times and that such fitness for governance is what influenced that level and quality of performance? Think on this well!

Sports, like food, dance, music and language is a defining feature of the culture of a people. The sport of cricket was not created for competition although it has found ample expression in that arena within and among nations.  A fundamental requirement of culture is that the people who practice it must take ownership of it. Otherwise, its longevity will be interrupted and curtailed.

When the West Indies dominated the world in cricket we, the people, at village and community levels, owned the sport and there were important roles to be played by youngsters, parents and clubs. We became masters of a sport that was not natural to our African fore-parents, but which we copied from the British colonisers and boldly took possession of the blueprints.

In the days when the WI team brought us glory, little boys in these islands played cricket from sunrise to sunset, sometimes with coconut bats and green ‘gospoes’, and listened cricket commentaries by radio. There is a defining point here. While the WI team positions us in the sport worldwide, that positioning is a function of the standard and status of the game in each of our islands.

This realisation brings to the fore the relationship between the governance responsibility that has fallen to the WICB, principally to handle the positioning of the team and, only secondarily, the development of the sport.

The responsibility to ensure that we remained owners of the sport of cricket was abandoned much in the same way as other features of our culture are being diminished today. Food is a classic example of this problem. It may well be that visiting tourists to our islands consume more of our indigenous food than we do ourselves! Certainly much more than Caribbean children do! This very morning, whereas the young Japanese maker of technology had his bowl of rice tea, the young Grenadian worker who must buy, borrow or beg for technology said “No” to a cup of bush tea!

When did we drop the ball? It is clear that cricket’s downfall commenced with our fascination with American stardom and branded sportswear on show in NBA basketball! We received it through the television and regional Governments hurried to build hard courts to satisfy the teeming hunger of its youth to bounce and shoot the ball!

Sadly and ignorantly, our youth were no longer prepared to bowl the ball or to hit the ball! We therefore wrote our eulogy to cricket as shabby mimics of another sport! Interestingly, while the Caribbean has been a world leader in cricket it is highly unlikely that we could become a world leader in basketball in the foreseeable future.

Did we consciously lead ourselves astray, or did our Governments abandon their role as custodians of our culture, one component of which is cricket?

Now, the leaders of Caribbean politics have determined and resolved that the ‘time for action’ on cricket has come. Many intelligent observers of the sport will agree that action is needed, but the question is whether our leaders have set out to determine the right course of action?

For some time now, there has been very blatant, if not obscene conduct by the WICB and its agents, the selectors, which has not been helpful to the positioning of the team. Nevertheless, we have already established that positioning is often a reflection of the standard and status of the game across the region. Therefore there appears to be at least two dominant issues before us, each of which must be clearly understood. These are; firstly, locating the responsibility for in-country development of cricket and; secondly, the function of selection, marketing and positioning of the team.

The former goes to our future as a cricket-playing nation, i.e. the cricket product; the latter raises the issue of the management of the team for purposes of competition at the regional and global levels. Evidently, each requires separate and distinct competences, structures and resources for its successful delivery.

With this approach in mind, one can isolate those factors which affect the status of the sport, but which may not be directly attributable to the WICB.  This is important because the governance structure may be changed, but the product to be positioned by a successor governance entity remains deficient and incapable of bringing us glory once again.

In other words, will the dissolution of the WICB stop the fall of WI cricket? Do we need a purpose-built ship to take us to the top, or do we need to produce high value cargo so that we attract the best ship to take us to cricket’s ‘glory-land’?

Looking into the ‘theatre of the sport’ enables one to put one’s finger on the hotspot in testing the validity of dissolution to provide a solution to our cricket dilemma.

In this context, consider:

i.    The distinction between the team and the sport

ii.    Acceptance that crisis of the sport impacts the stature and positioning of the team

iii.    How have other cricketing nations managed periods of decline to hasten recovery?

iv.    What did they keep intact even in the midst of decline?

v.    What have we in the Caribbean given up, diminished or abandoned such that our cricketing roots have begun to rot?

vi.    To what extent can we restore what we have squandered and/or abandoned or otherwise resurrect what we may have killed?

Beyond this limited environmental scan, there is a set of issues that must be specifically targeted by Governments, principally, for restoring the sport and meeting the challenges by nations that are now playing better than we are.

Here we go:

*Skill development to tailor and maximise raw talent

*Scientific methods now applicable to the game

*Thinking for mastery

*Physical readiness and durability

*Individual mindsets and attitudes

*Disorientation of players induced by a few dollars when much more is available

*Work ethics (drawing on the positive examples of Afro-American basketball stars who are millionaires…it’s not a race impediment)

*Coaching competence.

The foregoing does not purport to be a critique of the Review Panel’s Report. Instead, it is a sharing on the status of cricket in the region, clearly triggered by one aspect of the Report.

William B. Joseph

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