Can Windies players be lured out of a cash pool?
Barbados: Less than a year as West Indies Cricket Board president, Dave Cameron has set himself and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) what appears to be nothing less than a mission impossible.
Kieron Pollard during a Big Bash League match for Adelaide Strikers at Sydney. Pic/Getty Images
He asserted in a newspaper interview last week that his board considers West Indies' value to be based on the team's Test status so that "the plan is clearly to get us back to the top, not just the top three, but number one."
It was a U-turn since its cancellation last year of two Tests each against Sri Lanka and Pakistan in favour of a couple of one-day, the first also involving India. Now Cameron said that, "if the West Indies can be a force again in the Test arena, I would feel that strides have been made under my tenure". It was understatement.
To produce such a transformation calls for a rapid rise standards on the field, at the same time, reigniting the flame among a passionate public, so depressed after years of an unrequited love affair with Test cricket that it has found a new infatuation in the glamorous attraction of the Twenty20 version.
The West Indies presently languish at No 8 on the ICC's Test rankings, below all the major teams. Since toppled by Australia in 1995 from the top spot they held for 15 years, in which they did not lose a series, they have rarely risen above half-way on the table.
They haven't won a Test against India in their last five series, only one each against Australia and England in their last six. So how can Cameron's goal be achieved?
The board's directors are to discuss setting up "professional structures" at a meeting in Port-of-Spain this weekend; Cameron regards this as a priority. So does new director of cricket, the widely-travelled Englishman Richard Pybus.
Pybus, formerly in coaching positions in Pakistan (twice), Bangladesh (briefly) and South Africa, arrived last November to find obvious talent but a system that is well behind those of West Indies' competitors. At its forthcoming meeting, the board is to thrash out how best to implement his proposal to "professionalise the game properly".
The brevity the first-class season is a long-term problem, especially since opportunities with English counties dried up and, more recently, as the top men were lost to overseas Twenty20 franchises. One round leading to semi-finals and final limits teams to a maximum of eight matches each; it is hardly ideal for developing Test cricketers.
It is a handicap compounded by slow, turning, unsatisfactory pitches, sometimes doctored to provide home advantage. They flatter bowlers and drain batsmen's confidence. In the 2013 tournament, eight totals were below 100, 34 between 100 and 200, just one over 400.
Four of the highest wicket-takers were spinners, Nikita Miller's 52 were taken at eight runs each. Even with a longer season, properly marketed and promoted in a fully professional set up, combined with more attention to pitches, there remains the predicament of how to retain players lured by the lucrative contracts of domestic Twenty20 tournaments across the globe.
More and more are concentrating primarily on six-hitting and tight bowling. The latest prodigy is Nicholas Pooran, 18, a slim left-hander from Trinidad. He belted 54 off 24 balls in his first match in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) last year; his 143 off 160 balls, with six sixes and 14 fours against Australia, was the innings of January's Under-19 World Cup in Dubai. He is yet to play a first-class match.
Chris Gayle, a batsman with a Test average of 42 from 99 Tests and a couple of triple-hundreds, is now universally acclaimed more for his Twenty20 exploits. Sunil Narine, ranked by the ICC No 1 bowler in Twenty20 and No 3 in 50-overs ODIs, comes in at No 68 in Tests. Shivnarine Chanderpaul doesn't get a game in the abbreviated stuff.
Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago are the oldest and fiercest of sporting rivals. A couple of hundred diehards turned up for their current first-class clash at Kensington Oval where there used to be thousands. They were confined to one stand, the others closed to save on security costs.
When the Twenty20 CPL comes around in July and August, every gate will be open, every seat taken, as they were last year. The situation is not surprising. When they triumphed in the World Twenty20 championship in Sri Lanka in 2012, the Trinidad Express declared that it had "lifted the spirit of the entire region as one". It was a sentiment not heard since the days of Test dominance under Clive Lloyd. It would apply again with a turnaround over the next two years and fulfill Cameron's impossible dream.