West Indies count cost of inactivity as rain swamps series

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The Independent Online

In one respect, this past, saturated week may have taught the present generation of England cricketers an important lesson. If there is one thing worse, much worse and much more debilitating, than playing too many games, it is not playing at all.

Before the series of seven one-day matches in the Caribbean began, concerns were openly expressed about burn-out and the need to nurture players carefully. This bowler here (usually Steve Harmison) and that all-rounder there (definitely Andrew Flintoff) were to be monitored. The batsmen probably had to get on with it, and quite right too.

In the event, nobody has got on the park and what a forlorn state it has been. This has gone beyond players to the whole caravan that accompanies modern tours, but the plain truth is that the performers, both from England and the West Indies, have felt at a loose end. Without exception, they all feel tired because they have had few channels through which to direct their energies.

This series, it is generally agreed, has been unparalleled for the chaos caused by the persistent rain. True, the odd whole Test match has been abandoned before, but this Cable & Wireless series has yet to witness a full one-day game.

"Are you ready for home yet?" the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, was asked after the third game in Grenada was called off without there having been a realistic chance of a ball being bowled for a week.

Fletcher, not a man habitually given to public jocularity, had a rejoinder: "How am I meant to reply to that?" You knew what he meant.

Frustration has been the most oft-used word and it was intriguing to hear how Fletcher embodied that. At the launch of the series he denied quite righteously that there was any intention for England to rotate their 15 players. The story is different now. "There are two concerns," he said. "We wanted to have a look at everyone and give them a good run. With seven one-day internationals we were planning to have a look at a couple of players. The other one is that with the rain like this we could be called upon within an hour for a 25-over game and we haven't really fielded a ball."

This is good coach-speak but it was refreshing to hear Fletcher concede that he really planned to have a look at a couple of players all along. He had to. England have largely been denied competitive one-day cricket since their overwhelming triumph in the NatWest Series last July.

Three wins in Bangladesh were jolly training runs but they have been followed by an abject defeat (87 all out) and two wash-outs in Sri Lanka, and in the Caribbean an unsatisfactory 30-over match, a game which lasted 16 overs, and two outright cancellations. They have visited Guyana, Trinidad and Grenada since 15 April and it has rained every day. Anthony McGrath, potentially a key member of the one-day squad, has not appeared in a single game all winter.

To console themselves, cricket followers throughout the region are revelling in the blackly humorous improbability that the only game finished, albeit reduced, was in Guyana. There is precious little solace otherwise. The West Indian Cricket Board is reluctant to be downbeat but they could lose around US$1m (£560,000) as a result of the lack of action. It depends on how many purchasers of tickets claim refunds and on negotiations with their insurance underwriters, but whatever happens the premium will go up next time.

Cricket's main, virtually only, source of income here derives from gate receipts. There are no television rights to speak of because there are only a range of small, individually owned, impecunious stations in this bunch of island nations. The WICB was widely condemned for charging English fans a massive premium on tickets for the Test matches (foreigners had to pay more than £260 for a five-day ticket) and are now thanking their lucky stars they did so.

Darren Millien, who, no matter the spelling, must wish he could simply hand over his name to cover the possible losses, is the board's chief commercial officer. "It is a hard job at the best of times," he said. "We can never compete for money with the likes of England who negotiated a television deal of £147m last time. We don't know what is to happen yet but this is a huge missed opportunity because England is easily our biggest tour."

There are dozens rather than hundreds of English fans here for this series, but locals, as they do everywhere, love to go to watch England play and preferably beaten. In a department store the other day, a smiling assistant called Evelyn Whatmore gleefully brandished her precious ticket for St George's and said how much she was looking forward to her great day off. Occasions like this in Grenada are rare: there have been only eight one-day internationals there before, none involving England. In St Lucia there have been only five and ditto.

There is one other huge worry, which was not lost on Millien. This rain which has followed the teams around since the final Test is said to be unseasonal. So it may be, but in April and May 2007 the World Cup, easily the game's biggest tournament, is due to be held in the West Indies.

"It won't rain then but I'd like to move it forward to February and then we can be sure," said Millien. It is too late for that. At least three Test match series due to be played in the early months of 2007 are set in stone. Three years is a long time to be holding your breath.

The frustrated players may well like to reflect on what happened in early January 1971. The Melbourne Test was abandoned without a ball being bowled, so immediately afterwards a 60-over match was arranged. One-day cricket was born because an entire, five-day Test match was rained off.

WEATHER WATCH

Forecast for England's remaining three one-day internationals against West Indies

MAY 1

St Lucia: Sunny. Max 28C. Wind: 18mph easterly.

SUNDAY MAY 2

St Lucia: Sunny. Max 29C. Wind: 17mph easterly.

WEDNESDAY MAY 5

Bridgetown, Barbados: Thunderstorms. Max: 27C. Wind 15mph easterly.

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