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Caribbean T20 success has pointers for regional development

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There is precious little these days for the embattled West Indies Cricket Board (WICBC) to crow about, so it must be elated with the success of the 2012 Twenty-20 (T20) competition, which concluded in Barbados on Sunday night. The full participation of all the top regional stars, save Chris Gayle, still apparently a pariah in the eyes of the WICBC, and the tremendous crowd response, both in Antigua and Barbados, must have caused swelling of not only the coffers of cricket authorities, but also puffing of chests as well.{{more}}

Congrats are in order to all those responsible, including the facilitation of live broadcast on cable television by the top international sports channel, ESPN. With the great difficulty encountered in providing live coverage of regional cricket these days, in contradiction to the trend of more and more live sports coverage world-wide, the ESPN coverage also allowed for the involvement of millions at homes and via public facilities. Even in Carnival-mad Trinidad and Tobago, it is reported that there were special ‘cricket fetes’ organized, allowing ‘party people’ to follow the cricket via big screens. No doubt the continued success of the T&T team must have created a favourable environment!

As we offer congratulations as well to the victorious T&T team, once more emphasizing its regional superiority in this form of the game, our heartiest praises are reserved for the third-placed Windwards’ team and young Vincentian pacer Delorn Johnson. More on him later, though.

The enthusiastic responses of fans, not only from the host centres, but from all parts of the Caribbean, as well as from North America, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, from which countries invited teams participated, gives a strong message to cricket authorities in the region about T20 cricket and its future. Many cricket traditionalists among us may fume; (some are reported to literally foam at the mouth), given the attention towards T20 as against traditional Test cricket, but we cannot ignore reality. It is going to be more and more difficult to sustain Test cricket, in its present form, in a rapidly modernising world. The contradiction between this week-long form of the game and the fast pace of modern society becomes more glaring every day. By contrast, T20 cricket is, as we would say in economic jargon, demand-driven, and the response of the players today verifies this.

That is not to say that Test cricket is dead, though it would be increasingly difficult to sustain it in its present form. There are already calls for innovations such as night Tests and shortening Tests to a four-day span. What ought to strike us is that small countries in the Caribbean, with limited natural resources and hugely challenged economically, cannot afford to ignore opportunities presented by such developments as T20 cricket. We have to try to harness our resources and utilize our potential to its fullest.

This applies not only to cricket authorities but to governments and the private sector also. Indeed, the success of T20 cricket, internationally, owes a lot to private sector initiative and investment as well. The disgraced financier Allen Stanford is the most outstanding example of this in the region, but in India, Australia, England and now, Bangladesh, private capital is making T20 happen in a very big way. Whatever Stanford’s sins, it is to his eternal credit, (and to the benefit of West Indies cricket as a whole), that he used his wealth, however obtained, to give an enormous boost to the regional game. It is a pity that those from our own region, who plundered CLICO and British American insurance companies at our expense, did not even see it fit to make one-tenth of Stanford’s investment in regional sport. They’re not even in the caboose, like Stanford, awaiting trial for their heinous crimes!

Our regional private sector needs to become more innovative, creative and responsive to the changing environment. It is true that the cooperation of governments and regional cricket authorities is not always as forthcoming as it should be, but public response alone would indicate the tremendous possibilities before us. Joint cooperation can bring about much-needed and massive investment in facilities and create opportunities for us all.

The signs are there. As mentioned above, Bangladesh has organised its own international T20 League, attracting players from all over the world. The Caribbean is much nearer to the cricket markets in the UK and North America, and would be an even more attractive destination for a perfect cricket holiday. In addition to our natural physical attractions, nothing can beat the ‘fete atmosphere’ at a Caribbean T20. If we look around us, we have venues like Arnos Vale for instance, grossly underutilized, which, with requisite lighting and facility improvement, not just for International Cricket Council events, as we are wont to do, can spur our own national economic and social development. Private sector investment is a necessity and our cricket authorities must wake up to the fact that the world does not consist solely of the ICC, WICBC and Windwards’ Board. There is room for collaboration and forward thinking.

Such an approach can only be a win/win for all involved. It has possibilities for a flowering of initiatives, in entertainment, regional and extra-regional tourism and for providing a catalyst to popularize cricket. Our media has an important role to play in this, in promoting our talent. I return here to Delorn Johnson. This is a young man, who powered the Windwards to third place by blowing out Barbados in front of its own thousands of fans. Unfazed, the 23-year-old Vincentian returned the best-ever figures in regional T20 cricket. In addition, his figures of 5-for-5 have been bettered, at the international level only by Sri Lanka’s Ajantha Mendis’ 6 for 16 against Australia last year.

But how do we handle it locally? We read sports reports from non-Vincentian reporters, giving number 1 prominence to T&T’s win. We should be lauding Delorn first and foremost, holding up his achievement to inspire our youngsters. If we are to go forward, we must learn to see where there is room for initiative and maximize the space. A whole new world of possibilities is before us, if only we have the foresight, the acumen and the will to succeed.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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