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Playing Cricket – Critical Matters for consideration

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by R. T. Luke V. Browne 09.JAN.09

The overseer enters the field to realize that local tree growth is stunted; plants seem to fare better on other plots. He is enraged and forgets the basics of growth. Thankfully, Malcolm Gladwell-in his book Outliers-reminds us of the ecology of an organism:

“The tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured.”{{more}}

Unfortunately the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Cricket Association and the Windward Islands Cricket Board (and other ‘interested’ parties) have-directly or indirectly-been blocking the sunlight; depriving the plants of water and minerals; chewing at the bark; and, plainly, cutting down the trees. Yet, they expect Windward Islands cricketers to be exceptional. Do the gentlemen, and ladies where applicable, understand the problems? Are they concerned about the development? Is this their way of playing cricket?

First Hand Experience

The performance of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Under-15 team in the recently concluded Windward Islands Tournament has attracted much criticism, most of which is off target. In 1999, I played in the equivalent tournament. Then, six (6) consecutive victories; now six (6) consecutive defeats. You may conclude that the conditions could hardly be more similar (the players even stayed in the same hotel); and, logically, the results for the local team could be no more different. As it turned out, a nephew of mine played in the recent competition; as if to say that nothing was different as far as talent was concerned.

Essentially, though, a lot was different and some problems persist.

1. It is reported that the Under-15 cricketers had little match practice, since their older counterparts (senior cricketers) enjoyed preferential access to the best pitches. With the absence of school cricket, these shoots have been planted below the canopy of a forest, and forced to compete-in vain-for sunlight. The remedies should be obvious to everyone, including those who developed the schedules, to the frustration of any decent coach and manager.

2. Compared to their rivals, our players started the competition dressed in shabby clothes; who would blame them for shabby cricket? During a SVG vs. St. Lucia match, I decided to help deliver drinks to exhausted players. The teams shared a common cooler, in which there were bottles of Gatorade and bottles of water. Before getting very far, the St. Lucian management gently informed that they owned, exclusively, the Gatorade; none was provided for the Vincentian cricketers. I would later learn that the players were asked to endure long spells without fluid and that during the drinks break players came off the field to fetch their own water – tap water, in recycled bottles. Who could allow the players to continue suffering in this way? Why deprive the plants of water and minerals?

3. In the Searchlight Newspaper of January 2, 2009, Rohan Thomas appears to condemn our Under-15 cricketers, and goes on to say of Windwards cricketers in general: “Sadly, no one seems to have it.” This is unfortunate, and his comments do not seem to be constructive; he may be chewing at the young bark!

4. Be assured that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is not deprived of cricket talent. Sometimes it is the innocent, and ignorant, rabbit chewing the bark; on other occasions, a lumberjack cuts down a career. Remember, the players are the products of the community. Let us create the success climate.

Planting the Wrong Seeds

The poor conditions for growth have been highlighted. But what if the hardiest acorns never get planted in the first place? Malcolm Gladwell also demonstrates that simple decisions, like a decision on the eligibility cutoff date, have significant implications. Consider the following, where I adapt Gladwell’s reasoning to our circumstances.

Quite arbitrarily, September 1 is regarded as the cutoff date. Without presenting all the details, this means that a cricketer born in August may play in the Under-15 competition for the last time when he is about 14 years 4 months. However, the cricketer born in September is still eligible to play at 15 years 4 months. The 15 year old would play better cricket than the 14 year old not always because of superior talent, but because of greater physical maturity. Consequently, and inadvertently, selectors favour players born in the six month period September to February. In this period, at least 10 of the 13 players selected to represent the Windward Islands in the regional 4-day competition celebrate birthdays. Gladwell explains the phenomena:

“If you make a decision about who is good and who is not good at an early age; if you separate the “talented” from the “untalented”; and if you provide the “talented” with a superior experience, then you’re going to end up giving a huge advantage to that small group of people born closest to the cutoff date.”

So it happens; more than half our cricket talent may be sidelined. Why then, would there be a push for Under-13, even Under-10 competitions? One of the results of this may be a straightforward domination of cricket by islands/nations with larger populations. In such an event, the Windward Islands would always be found among the losers. Could these arguments explain, at least in part, the international cricket rankings? The decline of the West Indies? What about their relevance beyond cricket?

To his credit, Osborne Browne of the National Sports Council seems to understand that the interests of cricket are best served if competitions at the Under-15 level are more concerned with exposing the broadest cross-section of cricketers to the rigours of the game, than with teams blindly pursuing titles. I am persuaded by his reasoning.

Conclusion

It is straightforward that systematic training should be organised for players selected to represent the Windward Islands at any level, and equally straightforward that solving the problems requires more than this. And what of St. Vincent and the Grenadines? We must shake up the Executive if the tallest trees are to ever again grow in our garden.

lukebrowne@yahoo.com

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