Grooming our youth cricketers as a forceful senior unit
Much credit is owed to those who advocate an institutional approach towards seeking the further development of the West Indies Youth team. It is, all well and good to heap praise upon the youngsters for winning the Under 19 World Cup over in Bangladesh. However, there is need to select a properly charted way forward – a systematic movement progressively geared along lines calibrated in the success vein. Clearly, the boys are a work in progress – the kind of human resource initiative which, though buoyed superlatively by the impetus derived from urging them to adopt the view that they are superior material to their opponents, must avoid looking at the tournament result as an ultimate achievement in itself but one critical to embarking upon sustained advancement at the senior level.
Keeping the youth players in a team to contest the four-day and 50 overs per side regional competitions would have much to commend it. Even though there are reservations about the standard of play in our Caribbean championships, it must be seen as a desirable concept for the promise exuding from the team itself to be extended in the area of their being used to elevate our regional standards. Just as well, a highly improved 'A' team, strengthened by graduating players from our Under 19 sources, would stand to viably benefit from rubbing shoulders with counterparts from Australia, England, India, South Africa etc.
One hindrance to all this will be a hardening of outlook by several of our territories preferring the stellar performers of the Youth World Cup to help beef up respective national teams. Thus, the Leewards who have been consistently the weaker brethren in the last several years, would have their eyes fastened on Alzarri Joseph continuing as their fast bowling spearhead.
We recall the forward thinking effort of the early 1980's which saw the successful Dominica Youth Team bodily commissioned into the Summitts First Division team. Summitts went on to win the top national league in very short order, but it was not long before the team dissipated by recruitments of several of its stalwarts into other more established league teams… Net result was the demise of Summitts – only to be followed eventually by the disappearance of the other teams themselves! Effectively the standard of Dominica league cricket has plummeted beyond recognition – and so has our national cricket team!
It would, come to think of it, hold out very much good for West Indies cricket if each of the territories positions its youth (Under 15) teams to participate in their individual senior domestic league competitions, as happens in Barbados. Pushing things further, we could look to a Caribbean Under 15 side playing at a higher level in the region.
I should urge strongly that such repositioning must go well beyond the matter of mere token representation. There must be decent up- scale training of junior teams suitable to their going into the relevant higher competitions. In this mode they will be more likely to materialize as assets to Caribbean cricket along serious developmental lines. They should by no means be introduced as weaker units.
What has to be digested fully is the vital usefulness of getting the wherewithal for our young promising players to accept and imbibe appropriate prescribed "medicines" judiciously applied towards the betterment of their cricket. In short, a brand of undisguised professionalism has to be superimposed – leaving no place for the haphazard and the laissez faire.
Already there exists scope in the West Indies for some youth cricketers to avail themselves of Retainer Contracts. This is wonderful, for a youth player to receive payment to remain in readiness to play, hopefully at the highest level in due course. Still, the utter need remains for such youngsters to be well protected against becoming losses to the system merely because of an absence of quality training mechanisms. What we saw of the senior West Indies team recently on tour to Australia was an abject poverty of all that goes with elementary fitness – physical and mental!
Anything said about fitness raises much risk of misconception as regards what is applicable. In a sport like cricket no amount of conditioning can be considered useful unless it is allied to consistency towards an ability to be repetitive of favorable outcomes, whether in batting, bowling and fielding. Hence, any inputs must be consistent with applications to reinforce desired trends. Put simply, for instance, there is not much to be gained if a fast bowler gains strength if it comes at an expense in accuracy or even decreases his flexibility of movement. By the same token it is an adverse factor if a batsman becomes stronger but tends to lose his wicket earlier. Herein it is necessary to avoid a diminishing of returns.
Another consideration when it comes to advancement of our elite youth is the usefulness of fashioning their development within configuration of a team framework. So, it is improvident to push each batsman into becoming a power hitter – without any emphasis on some being groomed as supporting actors willing to stand up as repair men in times of crisis. Case in point, how wonderful was it in the Youth World Cup final that Carty and Paul to weld a match winning 6th wickets partnership based on essential watchfulness and sensible grafting. They could have ignorantly indulged instead in the abysmal bravado so commonly the curse with our senior West Indies team.
For a prospective emerging team to be well equipped with required personnel blessed with the adaptability demanded by the vagaries of fortune a clear perspective is vital at the very outset as to which individuals are suited to the fundamental team plan – and in the variety of its needs. I hope I haven't given to rambling within a circuitous pathway. At best, anyway, cricket has never really been as straightforward as we would like. That's why it is labeled as a game of uncertainty. Who would have predicted the outcome of the World Youth Cup? At least, with accuracy – given the outcomes of its initial phases? India, undefeated up to the semi-finals, were the prohibitive favorites, and on the other hand West Indies only sneaked into the elimination stages by virtue of the unlikely presence of mind of one player to seize upon heaven sent opportunity to effect a readymade run out at the eleventh hour! Now is the juncture for strengthening our prospects in less sketchy and more scientific manner.