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The rationale for a revised regional first class season

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Ernest Hilaire, CEO West Indies Cricket Board 30.DEC.09

Yesterday, throughout the regional media, the President of WIPA was quoted as calling for an extended regional season to the fourteen rounds as hosted in 2009. The President of WIPA also called for WICB to meet with WIPA claiming that the WICB/WIPA MOU calls for agreement of the cricket schedule and there had been no consultation with WIPA on the schedule.{{more}}

My instinctive reaction to the release was one of disappointment with the President of WIPA. After the recent dispute with WIPA, it was publicly expressed by the WICB that it would be seeking to establish a relationship based on mutual trust, respect and co-operation. As CEO, I expressed a desire for maturing our relationship by moving from a situation where every disagreement or difference becomes a public spat. It is unfortunate that behaviour patterns cannot change so easily and as WIPA has not gotten its way on this matter, it seeks public announcement of its position and creates the context for a public fight. It is ironic that WIPA is calling for a meeting and doing so not through the established and respected procedures but through the public medium. Nevertheless, I agree with WIPA that we should discuss the matter further and look forward to another meeting. However, I think it is prudent that I provide some explanation to the public on the issues involved in the WIPA release.

There are two issues to be considered in the WIPA statement. Firstly, WIPA is claiming that there was no consultation and that there must be agreement before the schedule is announced. I am aware of numerous meetings with WIPA discussing the cricket schedule for 2010. I am also aware that WIPA did object on the length of the tournament notwithstanding the explanations provided by WICB. The fundamental issue arises as to what is the course of action when the WICB and WIPA disagrees and having due regard for the need for regional and international cricket to be hosted.

The situation is that WIPA requested a minimum of 12 rounds as stated in the WIPA release and WICB expressed that in accordance with its strategic objectives it was not possible to host 12 rounds in 2010. Once WIPA establishes its minimum requirements which remain in variance to the WICB position, who has the final call? If it is WIPA to make the final call, then consultation or agreement with WIPA in reality becomes a veto by WIPA on any proposal made by WICB. If WIPA’s view that it must agree, then once WIPA opposes a position put forward by the WICB there is no agreement and WICB cannot proceed with organising cricket in the region. This is an undesirable interpretation and cannot be the way forward for the development of cricket in the region. I hope sometime soon in the future to say more on this subject.

The second issue with WIPA’s public release is related to establishing the strategic objectives for West Indies cricket. The strategic consideration centres on the optimization of the limited resources of the WICB. Let us start with the fundamentals. It is a basic law of financial management that you spend what you have the capacity to earn. To do otherwise is to court with financial disaster. The WICB has limited resources which have been further affected by the global economic crisis. This places a major challenge to balance the critical components of a cricket development programme with the limited resources that are available in the present circumstances. Let us not pretend that WICB has unlimited resources. These circumstances may change in the short-term but until then the WICB has to be responsible.

Then consider the major cricket development objectives before us. Firstly, to have a regional tournament that promotes quality of cricket and not quantity for the sake of quantity. That does not mean that quantity does not lead to quality but surely the preconditions must be established, like player fitness and adequate preparation. Secondly, we must urgently bridge the gap between our first class level and the international level. That is best captured by the quoted comments of Coach David Williams on the performance of our younger players “it’s all about exposure and if you can keep exposing our young players to that level of cricket sooner or later the guys will get better and better as time goes by. It’s all about being prepared, being exposed….”. Thirdly, we must take up on Coach Williams call for preparation. We need to establish the programmes that ensure that our teams leave the region fit and ready for competition. Cricketing nations are just not offering sufficient lead up matches for visiting teams to adequately prepare them for the international series. Fourthly, we need to establish our High Performance Centre immediately. Fifthly, we need to place great focus on the development of the women programme.

Having considered the above, allow me to focus on only the first two objectives as they are directly relevant to the call made by WIPA. The four day tournament in 2010 will be seven rounds of matches with each round in one territory and each team playing one day/night match. Last year the tournament was fourteen rounds and costed the WICB US$3.5 million. In an unprecedented move, the tournament was expanded at the same time that regional fees for players and officials were increased and in some case significantly. It is also worth noting that it was a year when there was no sponsorship for the tournament. It begs the question – how can this be sustainable especially with the cricket development agenda increasing? As I said earlier, in an ideal situation there should be an expanded round and hopefully that can be achieved sooner rather than later.

Part of the savings from the regional tournament will be forwarded to developing an active “A” team programme. In 2010, the WICB will host Zimbabwe in the first quarter, travel to Bangladesh in the summer for a triangular tournament, and host an ICC full member in November. In addition, we are awaiting finalisation of an invitation to send a team to an emerging players’ tournament where primarily under-23 players participate. An Academy Team will travel to the sub-continent for a series of matches. Finally, a developmental team of test and emerging players will visit Canada later in the year as part of our commitment to develop cricket in the hemisphere. We are also finalising the “A” team programme for 2011-2012 which will see greater emphasis on bridging the gap between the regional level and the international level. This can only be achieved if we use our limited resources efficiently and effectively and hopefully an active “A” team programme will be more efficient and effective use. The net effect is that the best regional players will not have any decrease in first class cricket but rather increase and at a higher level. Further, they will be exposed internationally and learn to play under different conditions even before reaching test level.

Savings will also be used to establish the High Performance Centre, provide better preparation for international teams in a year when much preparation will be expected and to increase support for the women programme.

I am conscious that there will be objections to the changes in the four day tournament. I was warned that it reduces earnings for players and officials since they are paid per match, that territories would lose their home advantage and that decision making was proceeding too quickly. However, I am also conscious of the policy directions of the Board which requires that we do not remain in our comfort zones. The cricketing world has moved so far ahead of us that we need to take a giant leap forward, trying new and better ways of doing things. It is always easy to do new things but more difficult to determine that they are better. We need to be brave and trust our innate capacities to be creative and innovative. We will fail sometimes but that is a lot better than never trying.

I look forward a very challenging but exciting year. I am anxious to engage WIPA in dialogue and discourse on the various issues facing West Indies cricket not in an antagonistic and hostile manner but with respect and regard for each other’s role. We have reached the point where it cannot be business as usual. We have to move forward and there must be no reverse gear.

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