West Indies cricket will continue to lose its young talented players to countries like England because there are no systems put in place for their development beyond the Under-19 level, says former Barbados and England cricketer Roland Butcher.
The first black player to represent England in the 19080s, Butcher’s comments followed this week’s announcement that 17-year-old Barbadian Jacob Bethell will co-captain the England Under-19 cricket team against West Indies in the upcoming Royal London International series starting tomorrow September 4 at Beckenham.
Butcher said Caribbean people must face the reality that there are many more young cricketers who may take such a path because they have that bonus of holding a British passport.
The likes of Che Simmons at Warwickshire and Nico Reifer at Surrey who all played for Barbados at the regional Under-15 and 17 levels could also join Bethell if they so desire to play for England.
“In terms of losing talent to England that will happen because people like Jacob and others have got options. He has an English passport as well so it doesn’t mean that he has to commit to the West Indies.
“His parents see England as a more viable option because it also initially included him going to school. It was only a matter of time before he finished school that he would get a full-time professional contract and that is exactly what has happened,”
He added: “I don’t think there is a lot that you can do because a lot of these guys go to school and at expensive and top academic schools, so they get the education and most of the time they don’t pay for it because the clubs are willing to do that.
“So, if you are a parent and you have plans for your child, do you keep him in Barbados? The reality is no. He will go to England, go to a public school, get an excellent education, play good cricket and make a living as a professional and an international player and that is where Jacob is aiming now. The first time for him now, he is in the England Under-19 team, he is one of the captains so that tells you how highly he is rated.”
While congratulating Bethell who played Under-13 and Under-15 cricket for Barbados and also captained the team, Butcher pointed to the lack of funding as one of the main reasons young talented players continue to look outside of the region for greener pastures.
“The problem you have in the Caribbean is that you just don’t have the funding to really fund professional cricket so to speak. I mean we have contracted players in First-Class cricket, I mean the money is not huge for the Caribbean but for persons younger than that there is nothing.
“I mean for Under-19 players what is there for them? You don’t have the system where you can send them to a top academic institution that is paid for so I mean there is not a lot that can happen in the Caribbean. So, most players will always be looking for the option of getting away.
“So, really the Caribbean has to do the best with what we have got. You don’t have the financial might to invest that way in players, so quite rightly the players have to seek elsewhere.
As I said if you have a British passport then that makes it so much easier,” Butcher stated.
He added: “The ones that struggle are the Under-19 players in the region with no British passport because your options are limited. You just don’t have the same option. You are hoping that you get a break and make it. But if you get to a public school in England as those boys get, while there you get the opportunity to play second eleven County cricket, academy cricket which is all high-level cricket.
“Obviously when they show that sort of skills there the club just waits for them to be able to sign a full-time contract and that is something that will not happen to a local Caribbean person without that passport (British). There is not much you can do and the family will make the decision on what is best for them and you must respect that. As much as we would like to see the best players represent the region, the reality is parents have to do what is best for themselves and their children.”
As chairman of the Sir Everton Weekes Center of Excellence Program which has produced many outstanding Barbadian cricketers, Butcher said that the Barbados Cricket Association recognises the importance of development beyond Under-19 cricket.
“What needs to happen in this region and quickly – we recognise that at the BCA – we have introduced an Under- 23 age group which means that all the players who finish in Under-19 don’t have to drop out of the system. They go into Under-23 and continue their development in terms of the good coaches, all the things they were getting before. The only thing they don’t get is the level of competition they need to push themselves forward because there is no regional tournament.
“You cannot lose your best Under-19 players every year and that is what has been happening for a long time because there is nothing for them to do after Under-19. So, our players do not develop as quickly as other countries because from 19 is when you need that quality coaching and everything else.
“You cannot expect a club like YMPC to have a mental skills coach, strength and conditioning coach, and those sorts of things, they are just local clubs. But yet the system is asking those players to flourish in those circumstances and they can’t,” he said. ([email protected])