Chris Gayle, harbinger of change
Russell Degnan

The West Indies have been semi-competitive at home and abysmal travellers for some time now. The funny thing is, it only just occurred to me why that is, and why they seem to be in such an irretrieval funk.

They don't actually like playing cricket that much.

I've been where Gayle is: asked to captain a side when I was the senior player, rather than through burning hunger for the job. It isn't fun, so I'm sympathetic to his comments.

We all point at the West Indies and say they are unprofessional, casual, disinterested. That they don't like the grind of modern cricket and prefer home games, or 20/20s. But what hasn't been recognised is the root cause.

The West Indies talent pool is shallow. For a long time great talent hid that, but of late, for whatever reason it has reverted to what you'd expect for a poor community of 3 or so million people. If you want to play test cricket for Australia, or England, in the modern game, you need to live cricket, you need to want to play it all day, tour constantly and train religiously and effortlessly. It is your job, you are a professional. If you aren't, you won't make it.

But to play test cricket for the West Indies, you don't need to do those things, you just need a bit of talent above and beyond your peers. So you can become a professional, but not be a professional. You can spend your days wishing you weren't suffering in the cold in northern England, and still take the money. And there isn't much the WICB can do about it.

It is sad, but it is also a symptom of modern cricket. The best national sides have professionalised, built academies, career paths, lifestyles. When the West Indies ruled the world, it was an honour to play for your country, not a job. They were driven because they wanted to prove something, and they competed irregularly against semi-professionals like themselves. I am sure the West Indies still has enough cricketers to fill a squad with talent, but I am not sure it has enough cricketers to fill a squad with talent who want to devote their lives to cricket. The teams with small player bases have therefore been left behind, in skills, in drive, in results.

And that is where the worries in cricket are coming from. Other sports don't manage to maintain 12 months a year national competition, because national competitions are inherently uneven. We didn't know it at the time, but constant touring and high salaries beget professionalism, and the pool of potential professional cricketers is too big for national competition.

The future of cricket is not necessarily 20/20, but it probably is club cricket. As any follower of associate cricket can see, the talent pool is expanding, and as any follower of test cricket can see, the competition is become less even. Cricket is growing, but it needs to grow through the club. Too many national sides just won't reach the required level.

Idle Summers 15th May, 2009 12:10:08   [#] 

Comments

Chris Gayle, harbinger of change
It's a persuasive argument that I don't quite buy. It's a matter of leadership - Clive Lloyd, like Frank Worrell, bent the disparate peoples to his will and forged a team that had firepower with bat and ball and a ruthlessness unseen before or since. They all played for comparative riches in the county game and, if you ever saw Big Clive, King Viv, Mako or Andy Roberts playing for Lanky, Zummerset, Hants or Hants, you'll know that they gave 100% (as did the likes of Franklyn Stephenson and Sylvester Clarke who barely played Test cricket).

Brendan Nash might be the man to do it. I hope so.
The Tooting Trumpet  16th May, 2009 04:18:02  

Chris Gayle, harbinger of change
Toots, I agree it is leadership, but it can be hard to differentiate leadership from the players in the side. The 80s were an amazing era of cricket for the West Indies, and I agree that then, their team then was extremely disciplined, but that was also because in order to be in it, you needed to be. That was, to an extent, a fleeting period though, much as the greatness of New Zealand in that era was fleeting (and even under the captaincy of Fleming, prone to poor discipline as well). Is it a coincidence that once the greats were gone, the amount of cricket increased, and caps became less worthy, the discipline of the team fell to pieces?

As a counter-point to the names you mentioned, consider Curtly Ambrose.

"It was not another win for Curtly Ambrose because it's West Indies cricket and it belongs to all of us West Indian people. Over the years, I have said I do it for the people and not for me. If I had to do it for me, half the times I would not go out there because sometimes I just do not feel like it." - Ambrose on how the West Indian cricket lovers motivate him to do better always.

Ambrose is an out and out great, close to to the best bowler ever. Not liking the professional side of the game wasn't necessarily a problem with his skill level, in his era. But today, it definitely is.

Sport, generally, changed in the late-90s. The lazy genius just doesn't cut it anymore.
Russ  16th May, 2009 12:15:14