Butcher calls for change in WI’s structure

Former England batsman Roland Butcher believes the West Indies will continue to struggle unless they change their cricket structure and prioritise youth development.

Butcher, the first black man to play Test cricket for England, gave this assessment during an interview with NATION SPORT ahead of last week’s opening round of this year’s West Indies Championship – the regional first-class four-day red ball tournament.

“The reason why we are in the mess we are in for these 20-odd years is because the West Indies structure has been one of regional Under-15, Under-17 and Under-19 tournaments. When the Under-19 tournaments finish, the next step for those players is to get into a franchise team [but] very few of them are good enough at that point to make them,” the Barbados-born Butcher said.

“That means about 100-120 of those players right across the region now have to play club cricket with clubs that are poorly resourced in terms of finances, infrastructure, coaching expertise and hardly practice,” he said.

“What you’ve done is you’ve taken the very best of the Under-19 talent and you’ve put them into an amateur setting at clubs that can’t help them progress to the next level. Those good Under-19 players regress and then disappear off the scene. The odd one will come through but you’re wasting talent. The region is too small to be losing around 100 of our best players every year,” said Butcher, who played for more than a decade in the English County Championship for Middlesex.

The former Barbados and West Indies selector believes the solution lies in the form of an Under-23 regional tournament focused on priming upcoming talent for the challenges that lie ahead in international cricket.

“The territories will add one more age group to their pathway and those players will get everything they used to before in terms of good coaching, access to physios, mentorship etc,” the 70-year-old cricket administrator and coach explained.

“In that four-year span, the territorial coaches will be able to develop players and see who will be good enough for the step-up and who won’t be. By having that tournament regionally, they’ll be playing competitively at a high level and those who perform can be fast-tracked.”

His comments mirrored those made by The Most Honourable Desmond Haynes late last year when he called out territories for their unwillingness to develop talented young players.

Haynes aired his grievances during a press conference which was held to announce the 15-man white ball squad to oppose England in the One Day International series, which the West Indies won 2-1.

The legendary opening batsman was asked about the ageing squad selected with the 2027 Cricket World Cup on the horizon, with only seamer Matthew Forde and batsman Alick Athanaze under the age of 25.

“I think it is up to the territories to show us that there is talent in the region that they can expose,” Haynes said. “It is not right to be playing Under-19 cricket and doing well and then not getting an opportunity to play for their franchise. There must be a lot more (instances like that) in the region.”

Haynes said it is a similar thing in Barbados.

“When you are selecting sides, we see the same old same old (names) all the time and if you are looking at 2027, it is the region and the territories that must expose these players to us so that we can start forming an early opinion of them. Then we can start looking at getting coaches to work with these guys so that we can have these young players for the future.”

The lead selector of West Indies cricket suggested a contractual stipulation which mandated the inclusion of Under-25 players in franchise squads for the CG United Super50 Cup. He was also keen on a competition being created for the younger players in order for them to have that pathway.

“I believe that we should have an A Team tournament for Under-23 or Under-24 every year. So that even if the territories were not going to expose those players that we are looking at, at least we as selectors can actually see them very early,” Haynes concluded.

The West Indies Under-19 team performed commendably in this year’s ICC Under-19 World Cup in South Africa. Starting in Group 2, they lost to the hosts but bounced back to beat Scotland and England before heavy rain effectively knocked them out of the competition as their decisive match against Australia ended in a no-result.

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