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The weight on the shoulders of Jason Holder and his men

Monday, January 28, 2019

Ask those closely associated with the game and without exception they will tell you that cricket is extremely expensive.

Back in 2016, Mr Clive Ledgister, cricket coach at highly successful St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS), sought to give an inkling of the costs.

“A good cricket bat will cost $20,000, a pair of pads $10,000, a pair of batting gloves will run you eight to $10,000; then there are all the other costs to prepare the pitch and field, nutrition programme, transportation, wages for coaches and groundsmen…,” Mr Ledgister said at the time.

Of course, such costs have soared since.

Cost is one reason participation in cricket has dwindled markedly in recent years. In today's Jamaica, there are leading high schools which no longer play the sport.

And yet school leaders readily agree that cricket, more than most other sport, encourages behavioural discipline, leadership training, team building/cooperation, strategic thinking and sportsmanship.

Recognition of cricket's value in nurturing a sense of order and discipline largely influenced governments in decades past — dating back to British rule — to actively encourage participation at the community and grass roots level.

Sadly, economic crises of recent years mean successive governments no longer feel able or motivated to support cricket with resources to the extent of yore. Though to be fair, the Social Development Commission–run T20 competition continues to be a beacon of hope.

Crucially, economic crisis led to the divestment in the late 1990s of the State-owned Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) which had, for close to half a century, consistently provided radio broadcasts of regional and international cricket, and in later years, television coverage. To put it mildly, the positive impact of cricket broadcasts on the popularity of the sport and the spontaneity of participation was considerable.

Unfortunately, alongside the divestment of JBC came the start of a prolonged, calamitous slump in the fortunes of the West Indies cricket team. Missteps by administrators made the situation worse. As people grew increasingly disenchanted with a losing team and perceived dysfunctional administration, so the marketability and popularity of West Indies cricket as a broadcast product declined. It's been a slide so extreme that in Jamaica there was no free-to-air television broadcast of last week's shock triumph over England in the first Test of the Sandals Home Series.

Similarly, private commercial sponsorship of cricket competitions in Jamaica and, we suspect, the wider Caribbean have largely dwindled away. The regional four-day competition has not had a title sponsor in many years.

It seems to this newspaper that apart from pride, which naturally comes from achievement in sport, last week's triumph by the young West Indies team led by the inspirational Mr Jason Holder should be seen in the context of all of the above.

It is important that Mr Holder and his men appreciate that on their youthful shoulders rest the responsibility of helping Caribbean people, governments and business leaders to once again see cricket as a force for progress and good, worth supporting no matter the monetary cost.

If they can stay focused and lift themselves to press ahead and beat England in the three-Test Sandals Home Series, and continue to grow from there, Mr Holder and his men will have done Caribbean society a priceless service.