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CARIBBEAN-CRICKET-West Indies cricket under the microscope

By Peter Richards

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Apr 25, CMC – A two-day regional conference on West Indies cricket got underway here on Thursday with stakeholders, including government and administrators, seeking to develop strategies to reinvigorate the game that once had the Caribbean at the pinnacle of the global sport.

The conference is being hosted by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping and host Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley emphasized the “cultural and emotional significance” of cricket in the West Indies, linking national pride to the performance of the team over several decades.

“West Indies cricket creates a strange nation, but it’s an effective one because we have been world leaders in this game that we love so much. And you may ask, why is it important for us to want a reinvigoration of West Indies cricket? It is because our Caribbean nation is lifted when we win when we play well, and we are depressed, and we don’t do well in cricket.”

But Rowley, who is the chair of the CARICOM Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on Cricket, acknowledged that there are “challenges in cricket management” noting the “dissatisfaction with the current management of West Indies cricket” while highlighting issues both on and off the field.

“We are not the first nation to have had issues with our game, but what drove this conference to its reality today is an impatience and an understanding that, unlike other nations that have had downs in their cricket history, we in the Caribbean seem to be taking a very long time to come out of our downturn in cricket.

“Many West Indies don’t realize that. We are, in fact, the smallest population of people who are playing this game and want to compete at the highest level and have set records of all kinds. But there’s something about us in the Caribbean that might be special in this game because we could play this game.”

Rowley said that there was also “the need to understand and manage cricket not only as a sport but also as a business” with a call for professional management of resources.

He suggested that the conference conduct a SWOT analysis to better understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing West Indies cricket.

In his address, Rowley said there is a need to revisit the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) contract to ensure it is “fair and beneficial” for West Indies cricket.

“One opportunity lost is to be in a position to ensure that in the billion-dollar industry, in the money-making part of the business that we are there to own. Ladies and gentlemen, on that comment, I want to say today that in the interest of West Indies Cricket and managing resources that are available to us or should be available to us, it is essential for West Indies Cricket to reopen the CPL contract and to look at the resources available to West Indies Cricket. That lopsided contract must not stand.”

Rowley also warned the region of the threat of losing cricket culture if facilities like cricket fields and nets are not maintained in schools and communities.

He said that despite management issues players often unite effectively as a team, suggesting that problems lie more with administration than with team spirit.

Rowley called for a commitment to strategic planning to ensure the future success and sustainability of West Indies cricket.

Cricket West Indies President, Dr. Kishore Shallow, in his address referred to the deep-rooted cultural and historical importance of West Indies cricket, highlighting its role as a unifying force and source of regional pride.

Using personal anecdotes and literary references, Shallow sought to connect cricket to the West Indian identity, emphasizing the challenges faced by the sport today.

“Despite its past dominance, West Indies cricket struggles to maintain its global status, facing issues of insularity and nationalistic behaviours,” he said, adding that the symposium serves as a platform for acknowledging deficiencies and initiating change, viewing cricket as a metaphor for broader societal themes.

Shallow emphasized the cultural and historical importance of cricket in the Caribbean, describing it as a “unifying factor and a source of pride” sharing his own stories related to cricket, illustrating the sport’s impact on his life and the community in St. Vincent.

“But for these people in this small community, it was never about celebrating these individuals who they know, but it was about celebrating West Indian people. And every time the West Indies team did well, as the Honorable Prime Minister said a while ago, you would almost feel that buzz. Everyone would walk with their chest a bit higher.”

His address sought to connect cricket to West Indian identity, suggesting that the sport reflects and enhances regional solidarity and pride. He referred, for example of an essay by Dr. Alfonso Alonso on Caribbean civilization, which includes discussions on the political aspects of cricket.

But as he spoke of the current vulnerable state of West Indies cricket despite its past dominance and the challenges it faces in maintaining top world rankings,” Shallow spoke also of the insularity and nationalistic behaviours
He referred to the works of the late C.L.R. James and former Jamaican prime minister, Michael Manley which looked at issues like insularity and nationalistic behaviours as part of the challenges.

“In fact, to the average fan, certainly the younger generation, our reality may even be perplexing, wondering, you know, what are we talking about? What great institution? If you’re only just tuning in to West Indies cricket.

“Quite often, I hear the question such as, how can an institution that held such dominance once upon a time be so vulnerable now? And why have we dominated in every single format of the game at some point, but yet there are still struggles for us to be in the top five of the world ranking?”

Shallow said that there is a need to accept and acknowledge the deficiencies and challenges documented in various texts to begin resolving them and that while individual brilliance is notable, sustained success requires collective effort and understanding of roles within the team.

He recalled the reactions of the global community to the failure of the West Indies team to qualify for the World Cup in recent years, and viewed the symposium “as a starting point for addressing and accepting the challenges faced by West Indies cricket”.

“So to proceed with fixing or resolving our issues and challenges, we have to accept the deficiencies. Those diagnoses over the years in countless texts that are so well documented and available to us, we have to accept what we need to fix.

“And I believe this symposium this morning is a starting point, of course, of accepting the challenges that we face, our shortfalls over the years, the countless suggestions made to us, including former heads of governments, but certainly cricket administrators, that these suggestions that have fallen deaf over the years must now be accepted.”

In her address to the opening ceremony, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said that cricket in the region is “more than bat and ball”  underscoring also the importance of having the game played by both boys and girls at the highest level.

“I place that in context because we need to understand that the mission must be the nurturing of a DNA of excellence that is allowed to spread beyond the boundary into every aspect of our lives as Caribbean people to reflect on the fact that because politicians can’t do better, this is still the best example along with the University of the West Indies of Caribbean civilization and to accept the obligation that in an interdependent world we must create global citizens with Caribbean roots.

“It is the young people and I’m happy that finally, it is not just boys but boys and girls who will become the men and women who can become these global citizens with Caribbean roots,” Mottley said, noting “my heart filled with pride this week when Hayley Matthews was heralded by Wisden T20 Cricketer of the Year”.

But Mottley said that there has to be an ecosystem that is developed and a recognition that a core part of the development strategy of the region must include opportunities for the region’s sportsmen of which “cricket is the one along with team sport that has most allowed us to be learned to be to be accepted globally as a legitimate brand.

“Despite the ups and downs the West Indies cricket brand is still strong and what does that tell you about it? It is enduring and we must be able to level the field by the investments that we have to make in this sport recognizing that not all may make the team the right to wear that maroon but all can participate at different levels to make a living….”

She said that this could be done by exporting persons to help in coaching across the world,  supplying world-class and first-class umpires as well as getting in the business of keeping the field and the outfield and the pitches in good form or in the ability to sell pitches to the United States instead of them buying from Australia.

Mottley said she has also indicated to the Barbados Cricket Association(BCA) that we were not only seeking to restore and to upgrade an iconic ground that has the distinction of hosting three will have the distinction of hosting three global finals “but there could be no investment that does not have in it the outfitting of an indoor facility with the highest and best technology available so that Barbadian boys and girls can benefit in the same way as any child in Australia or England or wherever else…”

The CARICOM chairman and Guyana President, Dr. Irfaan Ali in his virtual address, emphasized the need for strategic planning and brand repositioning.

Discussing the rise of franchise cricket, economic factors influencing player decisions, and the importance of talent development, Ali highlighted strategies for revitalizing the cricket ecosystem through governance reforms, fan engagement, and cultural integration.

“Cricket is played in the hearts of our people. It is played to encourage positive living, and we have to look at the entire cricketing ecosystem if we are to address the issues of cricket in the region.

“Cricket is linked directly to our economies, linked to our tourism product, and we have to honestly analyze whether we have redefined our brand to incorporate all the factors that cricket is linked to in this region,” Ali said.

Ali said that he has developed a comprehensive presentation in which he “sought to look at some threats, opportunities, and for us to redefine the ecosystem of cricket West Indies.

“There are some important questions that we must answer, and we have to appreciate that cricket is no longer what it used to be. It is being heavily commercialized. It is moving towards the football model of franchising, and we have to match the dynamics of the changing market to our brand and safeguard the fundamentals of what cricket means to us as a region. We have to redefine this brand and ask some very key questions.

“What are we known for? What is our brand? How do we recreate ourselves? Who owns the brand? In redefining the brand, we have to work on how we are going to protect the brand, expand the brand, position the brand, and create global ownership

“ I think these are fundamental questions that we will have to answer. This conference, I think this symposium, allows us to discuss what the brand should look like, who should promote the brand.”

The CARICOM chairman said “We have some low-hanging fruits in our legends, and how this brand should be positioned.

“I believe that we must, you know, the truth be told, the system of cricket, the global system of cricket conspired against us in their rules and regulations. We were known for fearsome fast bowling, real fast bowling, and then the system was changed.”

Ali recalled that the rules were changed to “deny us of this brand of our cricket, and we allowed the rules to change without much protest.

“We, in this region, bring excitement with our fast bowling, our attacking stroke play. We don’t need to change this. We need to master this. We need to grow this.

“We need to expand this as our brand. And then, beyond the bunk, there are some important things that we have to look at. Our vibes, our culture, our entertainment, our food, our tourism, our markets, our merchandising, integrating other sports with the societal integration, positive living, community orientation.”

Ali said that all of these are factors beyond the boundary that must be integrated into this cricketing plan that we must develop.

“When you look at West Indies fans and West Indies cricketing environment in the stands, you must not see sea drinking and clapping. You must see a different vibe, a different energy, Ali said that the symposium cannot end without discussing the threats to West Indies cricket, noting that the threats with the growing North American cricket can bring in a lot more fans, and a lot more revenue.

“I believe that we need to examine whether we need to move West Indies cricket board, West Indies cricket from West Indies cricket board to the American cricket board. Because we have to now work towards owning cricket in America.

“And how do we develop a strategy where West Indies cricket becomes the owner of cricket within the Americas? These are things that I think we have to address,” Ali added.

CMC/pr/ir/2024

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