So Team USA has been relegated back to Division 4 of the World Cricket League. Although this is a crying shame for the talent we have in our country, we have nobody to blame but ourselves, and it is absolutely imperative that we look at this abject failure, for that is what it is, as a window of opportunity. We've had such windows before, but we haven't taken advantage. We simply must not make the same mistake.
More than anything, we can learn from the examples of Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea. From their basic cricketing infrastructure and structure, to they way they select their teams, to the way they prepared for this tournament. The single unifying tenet, and this also applies to the West Indies in the 1980s, Australia in the late 90s and 2000s, and the current Indian, South African and English teams, is long-term thinking. Every one of those teams has set itself up for the long haul, and not been afraid to make hard decisions in the process.
Papua New Guinea have been working to a plan, with their young team, for the last two years. They didn't change their playing XI through the tournament. Hong Kong invested in their young talent, stuck with it, and a 16 year old batsman rewarded them with the Man of the Match, tournament winning performance in the championship game. The performances of the young bowling attack improved with every game. It doesn't get better than that. For those who argue that our youngsters are not quite as good as our thirty-somethings, right there is your answer. It's about trajectories, and the long term, and if those in charge cannot grasp and embrace that, then we are never going to learn.
We complain about our players being spread around the country, being busy working professionals, and the advantages of smaller countries in which the team can get together every weekend. That excuse is poor, at best. Hong Kong flew their team out for a week in Sri Lanka as preparation for the tournament. Their players go to school and work as well. Could we not fly our players out to the Carribean in much the same fashion?
Our preparation for this tournament was surprising. Most surprising because when I spoke to the coach and others about a week before the tournament, they had been given to believe that we were headed out to play on big grounds which would be spin friendly. Did nobody even look at the grounds on Google Maps? Or Bing Maps? Or Yahoo Maps? Hong Kong is not North Korea. We ultimately went into the tournament knowing what we'd face. The coach and I even had a discussion on how PNG bowling first at HKCC might be the biggest challenge we would face. 44 all out tells you how we handled that challenge. The point here is that, once again, we have no business complaining that we were unable to prepare. We simply failed to prepare professionally, and administrators have to take the bulk of the responsibility for that.
The bottom line continues to be that we have the young talent, but we are not giving them the opportunity. And not only are we not giving them their head at the senior level, we're not even giving them an opportunity to develop their cricket. I continue to see it every year in Northern California - we have had several cricketers over the years who at 14-16 have looked to have some quality. By 19 or 20, they've been reduced to playing in the manner that we laud and reward - hoiks across the line on small grounds against mediocre bowling to post scores at a high strike rate. We encourage that, and then wonder why, one after the other, they fall off the map by the age of 23-25, rather than becoming stars. We don't even reward those who play their cricket properly, we don't encourage them - and yet they are the ones we need as we move up a level.
There's a lot of work to be done, and that's a separate subject, but we can start right now by taking this opportunity to clean house. From the top down. It doesn't mean that everyone is bad, but sometimes when things just aren't working, you really have to shake them up from all angles. And we need leadership, from CEO to captain, from Directors to Selectors, from Coaches to League Presidents, all of whom share a vision of a long term future. Not for themselves and their own self-aggrandization, and not even for the star cricketers of today. But for the star cricketers of tomorrow. Only then will something sustainable emerge.