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COZIER ON CRICKET: Lack of hype hurting PCL

Tony Cozier

COZIER ON CRICKET: Lack of hype hurting PCL

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These are early days yet for judging the impact of the new, enthusiastically heralded West Indies Cricket Board’s (WICB) Professional Cricket League (PCL). What is certain is that things haven’t gone as planned.

Even before the 90 recently contracted pros, each potentially earning basic fees of between US$33 500 and US$53 900 a year, could step onto the field, the six franchises baulked at the idea of free movement among teams.

Only two players from the five each franchise was obliged to place into a draft were chosen by coaches and selectors, who preferred to keep their squads of 15 exclusively home-based.

As it turned out, a chronic back injury immediately eliminated Ramnaresh Sarwan, the most experienced on the list with his 83 Tests, who had transferred from Guyana to Trinidad and Tobago. All-rounder Raymon Reifer (Barbados to Guyana) was the only mover.

Such exchanges were one of the tenets of the makeover.

“It is a deliberate attempt to move away from just saying that you have to be born within the territory to play for that franchise,” WICB president Dave Cameron explained. “It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world and we don’t see any reason why it has to happen in the West Indies.”

Obviously, others did.

The season has expanded under the PCL from the previous one round to two, home and away. It clearly offers players more opportunity of first-class cricket. The snag is that its inaugural season is split into two distinct parts, divided by a break of two months for the Christmas period and the one-day NAGICO Super50 tournament in January.

The first series ends December 8, the remaining six resume on February 6. It is an unnecessary disruption, especially for those not also engaged in the Super50.

Matches are carded between Friday and Monday. As such, a rearranged competition without interruption would last ten weeks. In this instance, a schedule of January 30 through April 6 would have provided the continuity blatantly lacking under the inaugural arrangement.

Given Cameron’s description of the PCL as “an historic endeavour”, “a revolutionary introduction into the West Indian cricketing landscape” and “the only way we are going to go forward”, the complete lack of promotion to stimulate progressively waning public interest was confounding.

There were no television, radio or newspaper ads. No distinctive, high-profile launch. Nothing.

It revealed the ingrained anachronistic belief that cricket sells itself. That might have been the case generations back; the increasing evidence of empty stands proves that it no longer does.

The team’s shocking, unheard of abandonment of the tour of India has left once devoted supporters utterly disenchanted and turning elsewhere for their sporting fix. They need to be lured back.

The absence of the best known, most charismatic individuals made the case for an intense marketing of this “historic endeavour” even stronger.

Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell, Darren Bravo and Keiron Pollard were in South Africa boosting its domestic Ram Slam Twenty20 tournament; so was Chris Gayle, thumping the ball around for the Highveld Lions in spite of his back injury that prompted him to opt out of the upcoming Test series there. Darren Bravo and Kieron Powell were missing for “personal reasons”.

They were joined after the second round by 15 others for the three Tests against South Africa; some will stay on for the two Twenty20 Internationals and five One-Day Internationals before heading for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

All that carries them through to late March (March 26 if, by chance, they make the World Cup final); the PCL ends March 23.

The prospect of emerging new stars in their absence was worth some speculative publicity. As it turned out, no such individuals made an early impression.

It was unrealistic to expect an instant improvement in standards simply through the introduction of PCL’s professionalism. If anything, they have been as ordinary as they have been for a decade and more.

In the first eight matches (a ninth was made meaningless by weather reducing it to 43.4 overs), there were four totals over 300, none higher than Barbados’ 360 against Trinidad and Tobago. Seven were under 150, three in double-figures.

Average team totals, in descending order, were Windward Islands 255, Guyana 246, Barbados 217, Trinidad and Tobago 198, Jamaica 192, Leeward Islands 184. Only five of the 25 completed innings lasted more than 100 overs.

Set 69 to beat Barbados at home at Providence last Monday, Guyana could muster only 66. It made for a pulsating finish but feeble batting more than devastating bowling was the cause (the destroyer was medium-pacer Dwayne Smith’s 5/17, his first return of five wickets in his 87 first-class matches).

The Leewards were knocked over for 94 by Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago for 96 by Barbados, Barbados for 101 by Guyana, the Windwards for 110 by Jamaica.

As usual, spinners have reaped their harvests. Veerasammy Permaul, omitted from the Test team a year ago, collected 28 wickets in the three matches, including returns of eight wickets in an innings twice. Trinidad and Tobago’s leg-spinner Imran Khan has 20, the Windwards’ left-armer Alston Bobb 17; both are aged 30.

It is not to say that pitches were so devilish as to merit such mediocrity. Judging by the WICB’s live streaming video on the Internet and from reading knowledgeable reports, they appeared perfectly reasonable.

Of the four batsmen with hundreds, three are Test players (Narsingh Deonarine with two, Kraigg Brathwaite and Devon Smith one each). The odd man out was the 26-year-old Leeward Islander Orlando Peters who averaged 11.86 before his 106 against the Windwards.

The most disappointing aspect was that the up-and-coming brigade, indentified with international exposure in the “A” team, in ODIs and, in the case of Jermaine Blackwood, in Tests, haven’t been able to assert themselves at this level. The exception was Brathwaite, 21, Barbados’ resolute, mentally strong opener whose solitary innings was 182 against Trinidad and Tobago. It followed his first hundred against New Zealand in June and double against Bangladesh in September.

A genuine challenge awaits him against the rampant South Africans yet he is the one glimmer of hope on the batting landscape.

In the meantime, as it has been and, seemingly, forever will be, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, even aged 40, continues to shoulder an enormous burden.

Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and commentator in the Caribbean.