Jamaican cricket has stirred the emotions, the whole vista of emotions, as no other. From the mastery of George Headley, the stylish grace of adopted son Frank Worrell, the menace of Roy Gilchrist and silky pace of Michael Holding, to the stubborn fluency of Allan Rae which made such an impression on my infant mind – Jamaican cricket had it all. Yet, alas, no more, it seems. Eric McClymont who keeps Caribcommx abreast of current conditions in the Caribbean has drawn attention to the present parlous condition of the island’s youth and school cricket. It is reported that only 41 schools played under-19 cricket across the island in the 2023 season.
Coach Kirkland Bailey, who guided Excelsior High School to the final of the Grace Shield as well as the all-island T20 competition, took time off from his pressing administrative schedule to help us understand why and what, in his opinion, could be done to remedy the situation.
“Jamaican youth cricket has been crippled because of a lack of a concerted effort over decades to improve the coaching level at the primary school level” he told us. “Not enough youth development camps to target young talent at various levels of their development. That is allied to lack of funding to purchase cricket gear at the secondary school level which has led to a number of schools not entering the yearly school competitions. The preparation cost and the high cost to provide meals twice in a match for both schools has drained the schools’ sporting pockets. The lack of interest in the sport by young children has led them to gravitating to other sports that have given greater priority and prominence by sporting administrators”.
Mr Bailey pointed out: “These issues have not just come out of nowhere but some of them have always been there. The issues stated above, coupled with the increase in popularity of sports like basketball and track and field has led to some of our better sporting talents opting not to play cricket. The success that the West Indies team had over three decades, also gave administrators a false sense of security with regards to continuously producing talent”.
He recommended that the situation could be remedied by an “increase in coaching education at the early childhood level and more competitive experiences for the youngsters at that level. Subsidisation of cricket gear for schools who have an interest of having their students play cricket. Giving cricket some highlight to attract the better young talent. Scholarships to attend local colleges and universities being offered to adolescents by senior administrators or major sporting bodies would be great start”.
Mr McClymont, meanwhile, who had told us last month about Arnold Bartram’s landmark book Jamaica At The Wicket has also given a high recommendation of Mark Peel’s published book Gilly: The Turbulent Life of Roy Gilchrist, one of the most controversial Jamaican fast bowlers, a genre which has inspired considerable controversy over the years. Gilchrist’s story is both illuminating and entertaining.
Mark told us of his recent meeting to the promote the book. “I had a most enjoyable time at the Civil Service Club. Everyone was very friendly and I think they were quite interested in the Gilly story because a lot of it is fairly unknown”.