It is not easy supporting cricket in the West Indies and it hasn’t been for quite a few years. Not only has success on the field been restricted to Twenty20, off it there has been player walkoffs, contract disputes and almost constant upheaval.
This week there has been yet another argument between those selected for the World T20 — the players’ union led by Wavell Hinds and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) — that may well see the best players skipping the event.
Update: The contract issue has been resolved and 12 members of the original squad have confirmed their participation in WorldT20
It is in this backdrop that their U19 boys have been competing in the junior World Cup in Bangladesh.
Very few would have given them much of a chance beyond the quarter finals, with a semi-final perhaps an outside hope.
That they made it to the final against India, the overwhelming favourites, was remarkable. That they bowled India out for 145 to leave themselves as favourites at the halfway stage was something approaching a miracle. That they then went on to win the whole event is incredible!
It is not surprising that the Indian player who made the biggest contribution was Sarfaraz Khan, the young man from Royal Challengers Bangalore has the most runs and the best average of any Indian player, with only England’s Jack Burnham above him on the run-scoring list for the tournament.
His knock of 51 is what took India to a total that was small but defendable. This was a tired Dhaka pitch that was absolutely perfect for the Indian spinners.
All that was needed for the West Indies to succeed in this game was application, a trait that has been sadly missing from the senior team for quite some time.
The youngsters from the Caribbean were also guilty of playing rash shots. First Shimron Hetmyer went for a big shot over long-off and was caught in the deep, then Shamar Springer played an injudicious slog sweep that saw him go in the same way.
When Jyd Goolie tried to hit the ball back over the head of Mayank Dagar and only succeeded in hitting it into the bowers’ hands, they had lost three wickets in quick succession to poorly thought-out and badly executed shots.
The man who held it together for the West Indies was Keacy Carty, whose unbeaten 52 was brilliantly tenacious. His refusal to give his wicket away is what earned the West Indies their first ever U19 World Cup title. His partnership with Keemo Paul (40 not out) was the highest of the match and while both men were dropped by the Indians they never panicked.
For years there has been talk of the young people of the West Indies turning to American sports rather than taking up cricket, but there is little evidence to suggest that this is the case.
Sport is, by its very nature, cyclical and the reason for the sustained success of the West Indies in years past was as much to do with the good fortune of having hugely talented individuals all arriving at the same time as anything else.
Once the golden generation had moved on, the structural issues of West Indies cricket were brutally exposed and on-field success was not there to hide their blushes.
This run at the U19 World Cup has shown that there are talented cricketers in the West Indies, the real question will be what the future holds for them as professionals.
We are already seeing the rise of a three-tier situation in Caribbean cricket.
There are those who are in the first-class structure that struggle to make a living out of cricket, then those that have central contracts with the WICB and as a result miss out on T20 earnings, then those at the top of the tree who are essentially freelancers who play for their national team when time allows and when the money is right.
The likes of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy have not been centrally contracted to the board for a good few years now, and the chances of them putting pen to paper to do so again are remote.
Whereas in years gone by the teenagers who played in this tournament would have dreamt of a maroon Test cap, it could well be that these boys these days are thinking about the blue of Mumbai Indians.
There are many reasons to be worried about the future of cricket in the West Indies. But this victory shows that all is not doom and gloom.
There are players coming through the system who can help the West Indies compete at the highest level and this win will be celebrated widely across the islands. It allows those passionate fans across the region to hope that the future is a bright one.
The issues that Caribbean cricket face are many and varied, with the largest being that the board does not have the money to pay the best players what they are worth, but this will give those that care about cricket in the West Indies a reason to smile, those opportunities have been few and far between of late.
When Paul hit the winning runs, the joy in the faces of the West Indies players was wonderful to see.
Let’s hope that we get to see these young men doing the same for the senior side in the not too distant future.
Shamar Springer celebrated with his “trademarked” chest roll dance; it would be the owner of a heart of ice that didn’t want to see that again in the future.