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WICB must alter system

Ezra Stuart

WICB must alter system

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The time has definitely come for the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to review and change the method in which the champions of their regional first-class championship is decided.
For a long time, I have advocated that in any round-robin league format where teams play each other, the team with the most points at the end of the competition, should be the champions.
Most national associations and federations seem to believe that they must climax their domestic competitions with finals, whether it is for the league or knockout cup.
Whereas I can understand that the knockout competition should conclude with a final, because in most cases, the teams would not have played each other, the league is different, unless teams are in different zones. Hence, I have no problem with the manner in which Football World Cup finals are structured.
But the traditional way that the champions were determined over the years when the first-class competition was known as the Shell Shield between 1966 and 1987, was by most points after the territories played each other.
It continued along that line when there was a change of sponsorship and the competition became known as the Red Stripe Cup from 1988 to 1997.
The same thing existed the next year when the Leeward Islands won the unsponsored President’s Cup and the first two years of the Busta Cup in 1999 and 2000.
But then came a change in 2001 when the Busta International Shield was added. However, the team which won the round robin first-class championship, wasn’t denied their glory.
The Shield was added to provide the international team, which was ineligible to win the regional first-class title, a chance to go back home with silverware.
Barbados, under the leadership of Sherwin Campbell, won the traditional four-day competition while Jamaica, with Jimmy Adams at the helm, took the Busta International Shield.
It remained that way the following year and even when there was a new sponsor with the Carib Beer Series, there was no change between 2003 and 2009.
Barbados did the double in 2003 and 2004 under the captaincy of Courtney Browne and Jamaica did likewise in 2005 with Wavell Hinds and Tamar Lambert as joint captains.
Daren Ganga followed in the same vein for Trinidad and Tobago in 2006 but there was a split in 2007 with Barbados, led by Ryan Hinds winning the Carib Beer Cup and Ganga and his T&T side, getting some revenge by lifting the Carib International Challenge Trophy.
That year, Barbados defeated Trinidad and Tobago by three wickets at North Stars in St Lucy when Kieron Pollard made a swashbuckling 126 on his first-class debut.
Since then, Jamaica have reigned supreme, doing the double in 2008 and following up with championship wins between 2009 and 2012.
It should be noted that from 2009, there was no longer a Challenge Cup, a move that should have been made a few years earlier. There was no need to have a second trophy once the tournament did not have the presence of an overseas team (since 2003).
It could have been argued that the purpose of the Challenge/Shield was to give teams the opportunity to play more matches in what is considered a relatively short season.
One can’t fault the organizers for that since the team that gained the most points in the league phase had something to show for it.
That’s not the case now since the present format was introduced in 2009. We had the situation in 2011 when Combined Campuses and Colleges (CCC), because of the format, topped the points table at the end of the round-robin competition but had no silverware to show for their top performance because they were soundly thrashed in two days in the final by Jamaica.
From last year when Barbados led Jamaica on first innings but batted poorly in the second innings and lost, it should’ve been clear to all and sundry, that having this sort of final, would not be the fairest method.
You could also have a situation where in a low-scoring match, one team could eke out a slender first innings lead and then rain washes out play.
My feeling is that the team which play consistently the best cricket throughout the year and earn the most points, should be the rightful champions. Somehow, I feel sorry for Jamaica this year after beating all their opponents in the round-robin stage, only to lose in the semis to Trinidad as they certainly played the best cricket throughout and stumbled in just one game. But they were aware of the format.   
The WICB must seriously look at what is the real purpose of having semi-finals and final. For starters, the crowd at such matches has been very modest and they have also been watered down by the absence of the top players from teams.
Just imagine, we will have a regional first-class final starting at Kensington Oval tomorrow and Trinidad and Tobago won’t have the services of their stars like Dwayne Bravo, Ravi Rampaul, Sunil Narine and Kieron Pollard.
On the flip side, Barbados won’t be represented by Fidel Edwards, Dwayne Smith, Jason Holder and Christopher Jordan, who are all unavailable.
My suggestion to the WICB is at the end of the first-class season, they select the best 24 players, based on performances and divide them into two teams to play a two-match All-Star series.
Such a series can be used as a trial for selection to the West Indies Test and “A” teams while at stake would be the appropriate incentives for highest individual score, best bowling and a Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.
Hence, before the start of the competition, players will know that in order to gain selection on West Indies’ teams, they must perform with distinction in the first-class competition.
What really is the sense of having a final between two teams, who scraped into the semi-finals because the other three, in this case, Guyana, CCC and the Leewards were extremely poor.    
Conversely, the WICB, if they really want to have a final showdown between two territorial teams, they could simply stage a winner-takes-all match for a separate trophy when all the leading players are available.
But for the time, let’s still hope that Barbados can continue their winning ways against T&T in this four-day competition.    

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