Delivering West Indies cricket as a world class product

Tue, Feb 23, '21

by CARLOS RAGOONATH

Commentary

What a run chase by our boys in the recently completed 1st Test in Bangladesh! My phone was being lit up for days following their spectacular performance as my colleagues on WhatsApp group chats went berserk. It served as a reminder that the passion for West Indies cricket around the world was still alive; we may have only lost the appetite for indifferent results.

There was now a newfound interest in WI cricket as a result of Kyle Mayers and Co and, with all teams apparently at full strength with most of the WI regulars who opted out of touring Bangladesh making themselves available, it seemed then that the stage was set, in the best possible way, for the start of the CG Insurance Regional Super50 Cup. To add to the glamour, CWI had just announced a major broadcast deal and the tournament was to be live streamed around the world.

The excitement was understandable as I tuned in on match day #1 to the live telecast. By the end of what was an exciting game, between the Leewards and the Windwards, my phone was lit up again as my chat colleagues went to work; this time though they were not being as complimentary in sharing their views on what they had just witnessed.

Cricket boards and broadcasters today have gone the route of employing former, and current, international players to deliver commentary to their audiences. In an effort to be inclusive, and feminist, female players are also now a regular on panels, and rightly so. West Indies cricket, be it board and/or broadcasters, have also now adopted these initiatives. On the face of it these appear to be fair; after all, it stands to reason that past players should be more knowledgeable on the game than the average layman, right?

Spare a thought though for the regional and international audience and their take on the delivery of the final product.

I grew up playing cricket from about as soon as I could walk. For many years the dream was making it to the international stage and playing in front of a full house, in the maroon cap. There was just one small problem; I was never a good enough cricketer! It did not matter that I played the sport for years; I was never going to be good enough.

Unfortunately, the above holds true for every aspect of life. While practice and repetition can bring improvement, they do not guarantee becoming international standard.

The common ongoing theme from my group chat colleagues, and others around the globe apparently, is that the quality of delivery of the Super50 as an international class product is being compromised by the lack of an international-standard panel of commentators. Something must be amiss when the audience decides to comment on the presenters instead of the event!

Some years back the late great Martin Crowe was given responsibility for Sky’s New Zealand cricket TV production. One of the first things he insisted on then was a panel of presenters that were not only capable but who would also endear themselves to a worldwide audience.

Let’s be fair; it’s no fault of our past players that some are not of the requisite standard as commentators.

While the world trend is towards international past players as cricket presenters, we must not lose sight of the fact the main duty of a commentator is commentary; the international playing experience, it is hoped, could only add a perspective. It begs one question though; should international experience be a prerequisite? Consider these: Harsha Bhogle in India, Mark Howard in Australia, Mark Nicholas in England, Alan Wilkins in Wales and Mike Haysman in South Africa, to name a few. These are household names that are much sought after worldwide in the biggest leagues and tournaments as cricket commentators. Between them they have played a grand total of ZERO internationals. During the recent India v Australia series Down Under, Mr. Bhogle did not travel to Australia for the series, as he would normally have done, because of the pandemic. That did not stop FOX from having him on their panel though; he joined in from India virtually. FOX simply ensured they did not have to do without the services of one of the best available to them. In the 2019 World Cup in England, the BBC, an international standard broadcaster, saw it fit to have West Indian representation on their panel for all West Indies games. Who did they go for? The best available, and of international standard, naturally; Fazeer Mohammed, he of ZERO international games as a player as well.

The point is that not all international cricketers are necessarily international quality commentators. If one has played at the international level and is capable of doing the job to an international standard, then it’s a ‘win win’. However, even if one has played a hundred International matches, and is highly proficient academically, there is still no guarantee that one will make a good commentator. Specific skillsets are required to make a good presenter. Being a good communicator is a must; having a good command of the English language, in our case, is absolutely necessary. How we say it is as important as what we say. Consider this - In 2011, a homeless Ted Williams, ‘the man with the golden voice’, was taken off the streets of Columbus, Ohio and given a radio deal. He was considered as having a voice that would be receptive to consumers, a requirement in the industry.

Cricket West Indies and its stakeholders, including broadcast partners, need to accept that all facets of our sport must be of international standard. Live streaming is an integral, and possibly the most lucrative, component and therefore needs to be given the attention it deserves so that it may have the opportunity to compare, and compete, favourably with standards set by our global counterparts. A huge part of that is having presenters that are attractive to audiences based on their ability as presenters. The question for the region’s decision makers is, do we continue to insist on quantity over quality or do we strive to be world class?

The Cricket West Indies president, Ricky Skerritt, is credited with saying recently “With our new TV production presentation, CWI is delivering a modern, vibrant and diverse mix of experienced and insightful presenters and analysts to deliver a more appealing and engaging viewing experience.” Great claim indeed, isn’t it? The only problem is that it is all relative and devoid of substance without concurrence from those that matter; the audience.

This is not an attempt to smear our great West Indians who now find themselves in the ‘com-box’; frankly, it’s quite the opposite. When our greats, who represented us with such distinction on the field, are being frowned upon around the world because they are not seen as being good enough presenters of the game then their respective legacies are at risk. This latest role is what they will likely now be judged on. As a born and bred West Indian, and an avid student of the game, I continually look forward to supporting our cricket and following our teams. Like all WI fans, I want the best for our cricket and our cricketers alike. The region has been blessed to have produced iconic presenters such as Tony Cozier and Reds Perreira, who graced world audiences with their eloquence, knowledge and satire in equal measure. In more recent times we’ve been privileged to have the likes of Andrew Mason, Donna Symmonds - a trendsetter for female commentators around the world - and Fazeer Mohammed, to name a few. It’s difficult to accept that professionals of this ilk are not being considered as good enough, simply because they did not play the sport at the highest level, while we continue to deliver a sub-standard product, with those that did, to the world stage.

There’s much about West Indies’ cricket that’s currently ailing; none, though, is as easy to remedy as this one! We can do a lot worse than simply getting the best equipped commentators for the job, be they international players or not. Come on West Indies, we are better than that….and we have what it takes; our new look team, containing several members with no prior international experience, just showed us the way in Bangladesh!