EDITORIAL: Arrest Test cricket decline
Tue, 08/23/2016 - 12:00am
Cricket is the lifeblood of this region. However, West Indies’ (WI) Test performances have not matched the passion of its supporters, as evidenced by our current ratings, nor does the public turn out in numbers to support the team. We have a stark choice on our hands. Is it time to pull the stumps on WI Test appearances?
There have been many reasons given for WI’s meagre performances in recent years: more interest in T20 cricket; a lack of discipline for the longer format of the game; off-field squabbles interfering with on-field play; poor management of the game and a paucity of talent; and even a shift from cricket to other sports. It also has not helped matters that WI rank eighth in the world in both Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Whatever the factor, or combination thereof, the public has shifted its attendance to T20 and ODI cricket. When one compares the turnout for the India series versus any Caribbean Premier League match, it is clear which version attracts the paying patron and avid supporter. Added to that, the WI senior men’s team is third on the T20 list and cemented their reputation of world-class champions by winning the World T20 Championship in April.
To the region, cricket represented the backbone of culture, identity and expression of independence – and indeed dominance – over former colonial powers, and formed another common bond among a group of nations hesitant to unite politically. It is a shame that, as we recently celebrated Sir Garfield’s birthday and contributions to the sport, the team’s fortunes have not similarly stood the test of time despite momentary flashes of brilliance.
Can this slide be arrested? WI could continue to limp along, with various captains trying their best to stay positive in spite of dispirited performances and lacklustre results. Or we simply decide that Tests and ODIs are not of interest to the WI and focus all attention on the party sport. Either choice is untenable; we have come too far to give up. Now is the time to redouble efforts and arrest this cricket decline.
Perhaps we can take cues from how German football officials overhauled their youth programme after embarrassing results at Euro 2000. Our young cricketers have tremendous potential. Indeed, the WI Under-19s who won this year’s World Cup; Alzarri Joseph’s promising introduction to the Test side; and Roston Chase and Jermaine Blackwood’s fightback in the second Test match against India show hopes for the future. In addition, tournaments such as the Sir Garfield’s International Schools’ Tournament have a tradition of identifying burgeoning talents that can be honed and developed. Any developmental programmes in the sport must also include an investment and management of playing venues, as proven by the recent delay of playing time at Queen’s Park Oval due to limited equipment for managing rain-drenched surfaces. And superior coaching at the primary school level is necessary to ensure technically proficient players.
More importantly, however, the public must become interested again. When T20 was introduced it was deemed as the vehicle to develop the Test game and push WI back to number one. What we’ve realised about T20 is that despite finishing faster and always guaranteeing a result – it can be quite banal if one team is stronger than the other. What we know about Tests and ODIs is that – despite their length, particularly Tests – they can be gripping, exciting and tense.
Perhaps this is simply a symptom of a worldwide feeling where – apart from historic tournaments like the Ashes – crowds shun Test cricket. Yet this game, invented in one country and spread across the globe to many others, still has life in it yet. Let’s find it, nurture it and retool it for our regional audience.