T20 threatens West Indies cricket’s future

28 September 2023

Written by: Connor Burns

West Indian teams that were once dominant in the 70s and 80s are now threatened by the T20 franchises and their larger contracts.

Australian men’s test captain Pat Cummins wakes up to sunny days in Sydney, just near Bondi Beach. He makes a few calls to his sponsors, checks in with his company, which work on limiting climate change in cricket, and then he heads off to training. Cummins is part of one of the best teams in the world. He’s won Ashes series’, T20 World Cups and individual accolades, and his national contract is more than two million dollars a year.

One of the West Indies’ finest players, Jason Holder, wakes up to sunny days too, in the Caribbean. But Holder doesn’t have the sponsorship like Cummins and earns just $270,000 from his contract playing for a team that has become somewhat uncompetitive. This is why Holder is grappling with the decision of whether to continue to represent the West Indies or to take a lucrative T20 franchise offer to help support his family.

Numerous players like Holder are opting out of playing for the national side due to being offered far more money in new T20 competitions. Players often make at least double the amount of money in several months from these competitions as they would for a yearly national contract.

The temptation may be greater, too, because the West Indies Cricket Team is made up of a large group of countries and islands, meaning players may not feel as much patriotism or desire to represent their team as most national teams.

This loss of players to other franchises has thrown the West Indies a major curveball which threatens their future in international cricket.

Once among the most dominant teams in world cricket in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the introduction of T20 cricket franchises in the 21st century has caused a significant decline for West Indies cricket. This begs the question: How does the West Indies national team return the team to its former glory?

Michael Hewitt, host of the Caribbean Cricket Podcast believes this problem is only going to get worse over time.

“The worry is that we are going to get an increasing amount of West Indian players who only see their future in white ball cricket,” Hewitt tells upstart.

“Financially every West Indian player who can get a T20 contract is in a much better position than accepting a West Indies national contract.”

This is not a problem faced by the more dominant players like Cummins in nations such as Australia, England and India. These countries are able to provide their players with hefty contracts that allow them to turn down T20 opportunities and represent their country. This pay gap makes it nearly impossible for the West Indies to compete with Australia and the other strong cricketing nations.

Hewitt also believes that there is now a lack of trust amongst the West Indian board and their players, which is perpetuating the national availability problems.

“The West Indies Cricket Board didn’t adapt and waged a propaganda war against the players and made it out like the players were mercenaries and they didn’t care about representing West Indies,” he says.

All of this is before even considering the West Indies’ defunct first-class cricket pathways. With limited red ball opportunity to prepare for long-form cricket due to scheduling issues that have come with the popularity of the T20 format, West Indian cricketers have faced major challenges in achieving their test cricket aspirations.

“Our red ball season tends to coincide with either West Indies duties or the IPL. Usually there’s a crossover in one or the other so the calendar doesn’t allow it [to play first class matches],” Hewitt says.

The impact of T20 cricket has been felt throughout a cricket-mad Caribbean region, with many people fearing the worst for the West Indian test side. Senior cricket writer and author at The Australian, Gideon Haigh, tells upstart that the West Indies are at threat of losing their opportunity to play test cricket if the decline continues.

“West Indies are in serious danger of dropping out of test cricket, the effect on red ball cricket has clearly been devastating,” he says.

While the introduction of T20 competitions has brought about new challenges for teams, Haigh believes that it has intensified many issues that West Indies cricket was already facing.

“They [International Cricket Council] are also aggravating weaknesses in West Indies cricket that already existed. West Indies are an isolated and thinly-populated region, with limited infrastructure, a small and static talent pool, restricted range of broadcasters and sponsors,” he says.

“It is a wonder the West indies were so successful for so long.”

Haigh says that a major overhaul by the ICC would be needed to return the West Indies to their former success.

“The ICC would need to completely rethink its funding model, which at the moment is dedicated to enriching the already rich and keeping the poor in their place,” he says.

“They [other nations] have more money. Also, they are nations, and the West Indies is not. Never underestimate the handicap under the West Indies operates because of its fissured governance.”

Photo: CHRIS GAYLE by NAPARAZZI available HERE and used under a Creative Commons license. This image has not been modified.