When Ricardo Lloyd Powell made his ODI debut for the West Indies in 1999, he was touted as the next big thing in the Caribbean cricket. Though he had his moments of glory in the 109 ODIs and a couple of Tests, the all-rounder fell way short of what he could have achieved.
The team he belonged to was in a transition phase, with most of the young players trying to fit themselves. But, even two decades later, as West Indies plays the first Test against India at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, things look pretty much the same. And, Powell believes that things could only improve if the domestic cricketing structure improves.
The 39-year-old, who is now the chairman of selectors for the USA cricket team, is in India as a radio commentator for the series. Despite his hectic schedule with the microphone, Powell spoke exclusively to Sportstar on Thursday evening on the current state of West Indies cricket, the game’s prospect in the USA and more.
You came into the West Indies team at a time when it was in a transition phase. But, two decades later, the picture hasn’t changed much. Even today, the West Indies team looks like a side going through a transition phase. What is the reason behind it?
It has been looking like this for a while, especially at the Test level. We have been rebuilding for a very, very long time and the problem is that we don’t have a structure in terms of how much players have come through the system, and how much of experience they gain. Unlike India, where you need to play the first-class level and you need to dominate, the West Indies Cricket picks players based on talent alone. If you play one first-class and you score a 100, you are immediately in. The structure in West Indies cricket is no longer where you have quality across boards. You might have one or two first-class teams which are outstanding, then the others are not so good in parts. We are producing players who have talents, but a majority of them are not ready for this level yet.
The Caribbean cricket carries a rich legacy. Does it hurt you to see the structure in a shamble? What do you think has gone wrong?
If you look at cricket internationally, in some way, the best players in the country sometimes don’t want to play Test cricket anymore. They want to focus on the limited overs cricket and play the T20s may be for financial reasons, the same thing happens in the West Indies. If you look at the structure of cricket and quality of players that west indies have, the best players of the country are not playing enough Test cricket. They are playing 50-over cricket and T20s. The disappointing fact is that most of the guys who play Test cricket are not developed to consistently compete at this level, at this moment.
Do you think it is possible to bounce back from here?
Maybe, in the next two-three years, these guys who are playing now will be different players. Shanon Gabriel came into the scene as a fast bowler. He was pretty much a raw talent, now he is heading the attack. That’s what is going to happen.
The BCCI doesn’t allow its players to feature in any franchise leagues apart from the IPL. Do you think even the West Indies board should follow a similar policy?
I don’t think they can afford to do it. It is that simple. I don’t think the West Indies board can afford to keep their best players in the country, playing around the year. They have a system which works for them and financially they can invest. The respective boards in the Caribbean cricket do not have that much of revenue to shout at players and say, ‘Hey, we want you to play or want you to do this or that.’ That is not possible at the moment.
Is there at all a way out?
Unfortunately, this is something the West Indies cricket is going to face until we get better wickets to play on. There needs to be more amount of play. The season is so short. Right now, if we look at the 50-over championship, which started on October 4, it will get over by 23-24. And, that’s it for the year. When you look at first-class four-day cricket, it is possibly going to be for a month and a half. It’s then done for the year. You play first-class and domestic cricket may be for three months in a year. What happens in the next nine months?
Moving away from the West Indies, you are now associated with USA cricket team. How are things shaping up for the side?
I am currently the chairman of selectors for the USA team. There are quite a few players who have played first-class cricket in India and are now in the US. Couple of them are qualified to play. USA cricket is going stronger by the year. More guys are becoming qualified and cricket is growing around the United States. What we are lacking more than anything else is the right surface to play cricket consistently. We are division-three qualifiers coming up in November and we are optimistic. The team is well prepared and are now playing the West Indies 50-over championship and that’s a good lead, going into the division three.
The USA has a large Indian population. Do you think that has helped develop a cricketing culture and bring out newer talents?
You have naturally a lot of Indians living in America, but most of them are kids, who are 15,16,17. They are now in the U-19 squad. 100 per cent of these kids are US-born, but are of Indian descent. It shows the talent pool is growing and USA cricket landscape will change in the next five or so years. That is the time which will take your cricket to a different level.
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