After slumping to another embarrassing test match loss to Sri Lanka, the West Indies test cricket team is now a shadow of its former self.
After being forced to follow on, the Windies were no match for the seventh-ranked Sri Lankans, who won by an innings and six runs.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, their star all-rounder, Marlon Samuels, was reported for a suspect bowling action for the third time and will be required to undergo testing.
As quality players continue to opt for more lucrative contracts elsewhere, the longevity of West Indian test cricket is becoming questionable.
Currently eighth in the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings, the West Indies have won just six test series in the past 10 years, with four of those series wins coming against lower ranked nations, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
Former Australian test cricketer, Merv Hughes, tells upstart that the future of West Indies cricket hangs in the balance.
“West Indies cricket is in a really interesting position,” Hughes says.
“They’ve got to find a way to become competitive because if they get knocked over by the Bangladesh’s and the Zimbabwe’s, there’s a real good chance, in the not too distant future, that they may be lost to test cricket. That would be sad to see given their history.”
Hughes, who famously took a hat-trick against the West Indies in the Perth test of 1988/89, says that West Indian cricket culture has dramatically changed since their periods of dominance in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s.
“In 1991 when we went to the West Indies, we played to packed houses all the time because cricket was their life. Now it’s very different and it’s sad to see the decline of West Indies cricket because there are still some very talented blokes playing,” Hughes says.
With quality players like Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy and Kieron Pollard all opting out of test cricket in favour of more lucrative short-form contracts, the West Indies Cricket Board is struggling to retain talented players within the test side.
Hughes believes the West Indies Cricket Board simply does not have the finances to compete against leagues like the Indian Premier League.
“In the West Indies, the West Indian Cricket Board don’t have the finances to pay the money so the players just turn their backs. $250,000 a year to work your backside off and play 10 test matches or $1.2 million to play six weeks of hit and giggle cricket,” Hughes says.
“It’s an easy option, it’s an easy decision to make.”
Unlike many other professional sports, there is no salary cap that exists within test cricket.
Hughes believes the ICC would have to take unprecedented action to create a model that is economically viable and financially attractive enough for the top West Indian players to play in the test side.
“To be able to get them back to play, the ICC has got to step in, pool some money and introduce salary caps. If they can see the value of playing test cricket, that’s what they’ll strive to do. But it’s pie in the sky stuff.”
With that option highly unlikely to eventuate, Hughes says the West Indies Cricket Board needs to start by creating an academy style system similar to Australia’s.
“There’s been times when England has been ordinary and Australia has been ordinary but they’ve got the base and they’ve got the foundations to rebuild. I don’t think the structures in place in the West Indies are strong enough to rebuild test cricket.”
Hughes says cohesion between the islands that make up the West Indies has not been forthcoming.
“My understanding is they have tried to set up a cricket academy,” Hughes says.
“None of the countries want to give another country a leg up. They all want the cricket academy in their country. They need to unite. It’s not Barbados, it’s not Trinidad, it’s the West Indies and they need to do what’s best for the West Indies.”
The second test between the West Indies and Sri Lanka begins on 22 October in Colombo.