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TTCB probe a good idea

Tony Cozier

TTCB probe a good idea

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Exasperated by their team’s weak record in the 2013 regional Super50 and first-class tournaments, the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) has moved swiftly to announce an inquiry into the reasons.
Significantly, it hasn’t used the loss of seven of their leading players to the Indian Premier League (IPL) as an excuse, as others might have done.
It realizes that the IPL won’t go away; although it will always attract the top players for the top dollars, West Indies cricket cannot simply throw its hands up in despair.   
The TTCB expected a lot more of those who were available, especially the more experienced, than defeat in three of their round-robin league matches (two in three days, one in two) and the humiliation of an innings loss to Barbados in the final for the Headley-Weekes Trophy (inaugurated in 2009 to mark the 100th anniversary of the great George’s birth and the 50th of Sir Everton’s enduring record of five consecutive Test hundreds).
Whatever the results, it is surely obligatory in any sport for the administration to review its team’s performance at the end of a season – or, as in the case of English Premier League football with its constant dismissal of failed managers, even during it.
The TTCB’s is an example others would do well to follow, although, given the irrefutable evidence of declining standards in domestic cricket for a decade and more, it appears unlikely in a West Indian context. Far from improving, things go from bad to worse and little has been done to reverse it. The situation has long since passed crisis point.
The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) pats itself on the back for the lucrative sale of its annual Twenty20 tournament to Verus International’s Caribbean Premier League and its television rights to Taj TV that, according to immediate past president Julian Hunte, “will ensure the financial viability of West Indies cricket for this decade”.
All well and good, but the future, whether in Tests or the abbreviated formats, will be determined by the quality of its cricket and its players.
This is an urgent job for its cricket committee, with essential input from the several great and interested past stars available; its findings and recommendations should not be blocked by a directorate with little background in the game.    
Even they cannot be so indifferent as to disregard the reality that, in every way – the cricket itself, the promotion, the organization – could hardly have been more mediocre than in 2013, unless it was 2012, or 2011 or 2010 or . . . you get the drift.
In the 24 first-class matches this season, there were just 14 individual hundreds, divided among ten batsmen. There were nine totals under 100. The most shameful were the Windward Islands’ 44 and 67 in the semi-final against Barbados.
Only two batsmen, the 31-year-old Windwards opener Devon Smith (70.00) and the 20-year-old Barbadian Kraigg Brathwaite (50.70), averaged more than 50. Third best was Trinidad and Tobago’s Lendl Simmons (36.38).
All but one of the 15 leading wicket-takers were spinners. Barbados’ newcomer Miguel Cummins, a nippy outswinger, was the odd man out, with 35.
The most revealing numbers were that Jamaica, champions of the previous five years, won all six round-robin matches in three days without a single individual hundred.
So are the spin bowlers so outstanding and the batsmen so clueless against their wiles as to warrant such returns? Not likely, yet it leaves West Indies selectors in a quandary to know how much store to place on performances in such circumstances.
One repeatedly noted problem is sub-standard pitches that flatter spin, some prepared specially for the purpose.
It is far from the only one.
As crucial is the general lack of professionalism that exists, to varying degrees, in all the teams. It is understandable to an extent since most of the players at domestic level are not professional in the strictest sense, as they are, for instance, in Australia, England and India. Yet the problems are as much off the field as on it.
It is typified especially by the Leeward Islands. Once a powerhouse that produced a bevy of distinguished players (Viv Richards and Andy Roberts are two fit to be classified among the all-time greats), it has recently finished bottom of the table with upsetting regularity; its supply of West Indies players has all but dried up.
Admirable administrators within the six constituent territories complain of insularity and officials’ self-indulgence. Gregory Shillingford was unseated as president of the Antigua body earlier this year; he remains president of the Leewards association and, as such, a WICB director after seeing off an attempt at a no-confidence motion against his leadership.
Last season, internal divisions within the team caused Anthony Martin to quit as Twenty20 captain. When the experienced, valued Sylvester Joseph was brought out of retirement this season to skipper in all three formats, he immediately noted that his squad had no pre-season preparation.
Lack of money to stage the annual Leewards tournament was the explanation given by Shillingford.
A clue to what affects Leewards players can be found in the promising careers of Chesney Hughes, Kieron Powell and Devon Thomas.
Hughes, a heavy-set Anguillan left-hander, earned a contract with English county Derbyshire three years ago through Cardigan Connor, the former Hampshire swing bowler himself an Anguillan. He was then 19.
A couple of big hundreds early on made keen observers take notice and wonder whether he might be eventually available for England since Anguilla remains a British overseas territory. Back in the Caribbean, he could hardly get a game or a run for the Leewards; his batting faltered when he returned to England.
He wasn’t picked for the county in 2012 but on Derbyshire’s pre-season tour of Barbados in March, scored a hundred against another county, Nottinghamshire, at North Stars.
In this season’s opening county match, he amassed 279 not out (a total only surpassed five times by teams in the regional season) against Yorkshire at Headingley. It was just four runs short of the long-standing Derbyshire record.
The difference is that Hughes is in a professional environment at Derbyshire; he is not at the Leewards.
So it is with Powell, the languid left-hander from Nevis, and Thomas, the Antiguan batsman/wicket-keeper.
Powell has chalked up three hundreds for the West Indies in the past year; in six first-class innings for the Leewards the past season, he averaged 30 with a highest score of 51.
Thomas’ potential in both disciplines has been so obvious that the selectors first picked him in 2009 in the One-day Internationals (ODIs) against Bangladesh at home (when he also bowled a couple of overs), then for the 2011 World Cup in India and the ODI series in Australia in February.
For the Leewards, his returns have declined; he averaged 22 in the season’s 10 first-class matches, lost his place in the West Indies team and shared keeping duties with the Anguillan, Jamarh Hamilton.
These are just a few isolated instances. Every team can tell similar stories of others. It is one of the drawbacks that our best cricket brains can help address – if called on by the WICB.
• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.