Colin Thompson, The Royal Gazette (Bermuda)
An All-Star or an elite cricket team comprising of players from the ICC Americas region competing against teams in places such as the West Indies could benefit smaller associate member countries like Bermuda in the long term.
That's the opinion of ICC Americas Development Manager Martin Vieira who believes that a combined team from the region playing abroad in tougher leagues could go a long way towards bridging the gap between the Americas and Europe.
During the recent World Cricket League in Kenya, it became evident that the gulf between European and Americas associate members had widened considerably.
'I certainly think it could work and be beneficial to the better players in the Americas. It would be a good method of allowing the better players from several countries like Bermuda, the United States and the Cayman Islands to get experience playing among good competition on a more frequent basis,' Martin said.
'What the players need is more exposure. The European associates seem to be widening the gap because their better players are playing English county cricket. And so maybe this would be a way of keeping pace with the European associates. I think what this would do is improve the best players — they would become the core and leaders of your national team. They could then impart knowledge to the other players in the squad when they returned on just how international cricket is played and the mental toughness that is required at that level of cricket.'
Since qualifying for the World Cup in 2005, Bermuda have struggled at the next level. And one of the team's biggest shortcomings, Martin believes, is the limited amount of players the Island has to choose from.
'I think Bermuda's progress has maybe been disappointing to some in the sense that it's not been as rapid as hoped. But when you look at the pool of players Bermuda has to select from . . . it's somewhat limited compared to some of the other associates,' he said.
'Scotland and Ireland, for example, have thousands of players. And if they were to lose two or three of their top players it really doesn't really affect them. But for Bermuda, any sort of injury or setback to maybe one or two of their players is a tremendous blow. And so the depth isn't there as it is in other countries.'
Martin defended the ICC's decision to increase associate member involvement in the World Cup in the wake of recent criticism from former West Indies pacer Michael Holding who believes that the cricket minnows will 'devalue' the event.
'I know there's been a lot said and written particularly about the World Cup. There are pros and cons as to whether all six associates or just one or two should or shouldn't compete. But I think we must remember that it's a World Cup and not a Champions Trophy where just the elite go,' he said.
'In the World Cup you only have four groups of four with only the top two teams from each group advancing to the Super Eight. So it's an excellent format . . . the so-called minnows will be eliminated if they are not good enough to beat the full member countries. And so there really shouldn't be any concern about associate members being in the World Cup.'
The real challenge, Martin added, was getting amateur cricketers on even par with their professional counterparts in a short period of time once teams like Bermuda had qualified for the World Cup — hence the need for the ICC's High Performance Programme designed to bring associate players up to scratch.
'The ICC High Performance Programme has pumped an awful lot of money and energy into the project and in time results will come,' Vieira added. 'But those who are expecting amateur players to become professionals right away, I think they are being sort of narrow-minded in their thinking because it will take time. Basically what the ICC like to see is a chart of progression, both a learning chart of an upward trend and a performance chart with an upward trend. That's what we are hoping to do by having this High Performance Programme. The World Cup is certainly the pinnacle of the programme, but it's not the end of the programme. This is a continuous programme that should last for many, many years and bring the top six associate members up to a better standard of play.'
Former West Indies skipper Clive Lloyd agreed that having an Americas team compete in a competitive league abroad could only benefit smaller countries in the future.
'When you are constantly playing against top sides you will always learn, picking up one or two things along the way. And I think this would certainly give the Bermuda players something to look forward to,' he said.
'There are so many things for Bermuda to look forward to now. But first they must realise that they can play the sport for a living because at the moment they are not thinking about playing for a living. They could be playing in a professional league instead of having a job and only playing cricket part- time. And this is what I think is lacking in Bermuda at the moment — a professional attitude."
'Bermuda are playing a lot of competitive cricket now and if you look at Sri Lanka . . . in 1975 they were in the same position. They were one of the so-called minnows. But now look at what they have achieved — they have already won the World Cup. And so I think constant competition, and having more passion for the game will only bode well for Bermuda cricket.'
Canada national coach Andy Pick would also like to see the plan come to fruition.
'The concept is a good one. And I am a firm believer that players need more exposure because in Canada at the moment we don't play enough high quality games. And I also think all of the teams will improve from that,' the former English County cricketer said.
Former West Indies quickie Kenny Benjamin said the Island's cricketers would get a 'better understanding' for the game.
'I certainly would want to see them playing more cricket against tougher opposition,' he said. 'They would get a better understanding as to how the game is progressing. The more they can play against teams like Barbados and Leeward Islands or any other opportunity they can get, the better. We need to go way back when there was only England and Australia playing Test cricket and then others started coming through and the West Indies eventually. And when you look at team like Sri Lanka, they were associate members but now they are a team to be reckoned with. They have won the World Cup already while Bangladesh are moving up quite nicely."
'So while it's going to take some time for Bermuda to progress, if they continue to invest in cricket and development then I'm sure they are going to start to see the quality rise. It's not easy to be an amateur and perform consistently well against the guys who are doing it for a living. But I'm sure if Bermuda continue to strive forward they are going to make good progress.'