Thursday, January 18, 2018

The true bottom line

 My sister-in-law is not what you would call a cricket aficionado. But on Sunday last, she and her husband went along to the Queen’s Park Oval for an afternoon at the Caribbean Premier League Twenty20.

This is what she remembered--watching the fire-eater, listening to the rhythm section, experiencing the Mexican wave started by the man with the fake dreadlocks and seeing the stumps light up when they were struck. 

Sister-in-law did also manage to notice that one of the Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel players was out but then not out--Kevin O’Brien called back on a no-ball. It didn’t matter to her that O’Brien was as far removed from being Trini to the bone as Ireland is from being in the Caribbean. She had a good enough time that her husband would probably have no case to make for getting her to go the CPL next year.

That experience made even more clear to me what the franchise cricket series has illustrated in its two-and-a-half seasons thus far--that quality entertainment in whatever form is the cricket bottom line these days. So on the weekend as people continued to pack the stands in the Oval, the debate over what the franchise based here should be called seemed irrelevant and yesterday’s news. It is not really, because the issue will again come into focus when the revamped West Indies domestic season gets underway. This is because of what West Indies Cricket Board president Dave Cameron reiterated on the weekend.

“We are moving towards a structure where we are going to have players from all over the region playing for different teams,” said Cameron, during an interview on the Line and Length programme on the Sportsmax cable TV channel.

“Effective August and September we are going to have players from all over the region and potentially from outside the region who will be playing for these franchises and we are still going to call them Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad”.

These changes are part of the recommendations made in a report by the WICB’s new director of cricket, Englishman Richard Pybus, part of the Board’s effort to professionalise the game in the region.

“The draft allows West Indies cricket to level the playing field in resourcing franchise-type teams, affording all the TB’s (territorial boards) the opportunity to broaden and deepen their squads,” the report stated.

The franchise and draft system and the free movement of players across teams will therefore be the new reality in West Indies cricket. Supposedly.

If the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board’s undisguised lack of enthusiasm for the Red Steel’s adoption of the Trinidad and Tobago name is anything to go by, then the concept of territorial teams being mixed with non-nationals appears to be a hard sell. 

The West Indies are unique in the cricket world because they are a collection of sovereign territories playing as one team. And Caribbean cricket has been established on inter-territorial rivalry and competition. 

What these islands are being asked to do now is to break with tradition for the betterment of the sport; one can even say for the survival of the game.

Approaching two decades now, the standard of play in the region--and by extension--the standard of the international side has crumbled steadily like ancient ruins. For some time now, it has been clear that the regional first-class competition is not producing the quality of players that can return the West Indies side to the levels previously enjoyed. And there is no reason to believe that as things currently are, that suddenly batsmen averaging 20 and 30 will soon become 40-plus players. Radical change is needed. The question is whether West Indian administrators truly have the courage or the good motive to change. This proposed restructuring will be the acid test. 

It is not that making mixing up regional teams will be all it takes to raise the level of cricket. In the CPL, the ability to pick from anywhere has not made the Leeward and Windward Island franchises Antigua Hawksbills and St Lucia Zouks significantly better. They both missed the semi-finals in the inaugural season last year and are currently winless in the second edition. But the franchise initiative in first-class cricket is one aspect of the approach to professionalise. And how the various boards approach this will be an indication of how prepared they are to give up something-real or perceived--for the greater good. History does not offer much hope for progress. Just observe how the territories have stoutly resisted reducing their representation at the director level of the Board. 

So for all the nice-sounding and no doubt well intentioned words found in the WICB’s comprehensive strategic plan for 2011-16; and Pybus’ determination to effect change, let’s wait and see what really is this Board’s bottom line.