Tuesday, February 20, 2018

In the realm of T20

Maybe five years ago, in my dissertation on West Indies cricket, I digressed to touch on something that had intrigued me as a cultural shift in the world, but one that would augur well for West Indies cricket in the realm of T20 and 50-over games.

It had to do with what I believe is a contraction of time; in the sense of what it yields—its output—and what it takes to generate it (and of course, the increased levels of stress it has brought to daily living). An hour today is ram-crammed with "very important things'' vying for attention, leaving the brain dishevelled. Multi-tasking, this century's byword for trying to process that bombardment, has demanded a recalibration of the human mind that I am not sure the human body has found a way to do, and I believe that accounts for the increase in mental illness and stress-related ailments.

Before I digress too much again, I want to pull out a couple of paragraphs from my thesis digression to go to the point on cricket.

"The time spans that allowed for assimilation no longer exist.

"This has created a new state of mind for this generation. The thoughtlessness they have been accused of demonstrating is a symptom of a thought process that does not run through the same kind of sequences of the past. Linear thought—tracing an idea from seed to fruit, seeing consequences of yesterday's actions—has evaporated under the heated pace of modern life. Things are happening everywhere, at the same time (just as they always did), but with the dizzying impact of immediate access to data and information, they can all seem to be happening at the same place.

"A person is now bombarded by everything universal from within the confines of the home. With everything being brought into the home and being accessible by simply pressing a remote control button, there is no time to assimilate. Multi-tasking became the buzzword of a decade that invited the doer to manage several tasks simultaneously; developing skills generated from focusing attention in short spurts. While it requires intensity to succeed in such limited intervals, it does not allow for leisurely contemplation, does not facilitate deep analysis and limits visibility to only objects within the parameters of seeing range.

"It can be seen in the way current cricketers, known to have exhibited enough skill to be considered talented, sometimes rise up to produce an innings of high quality in batting, bowling or fielding, and then slip into troughs that suggest mental sluggishness. It may be a reason why Twenty20 cricket will succeed beyond the expectations of purists, as this version will rely heavily on these bursts of intensity.

"Performance excellence is attained by sustained intensity, not in bursts, and the ability to focus for longer periods in training and on the field, will need to be consciously developed to achieve consistency. The challenge will be to harness this skill and put it to optimal use in the longer spells required of Test cricket. Test cricket requires durability, the ability to stay for long periods at the wicket, or to bowl for sustained lengths of time. What the youngsters have to learn is not just how to maximise those intense bursts, but what to do in the periods between."

I go on of course, but enough of that here.

On Sunday, the West Indies Women's team took a six-wicket victory over South Africa, winning the two-match T20 series (2-0), after drawing the five-match ODI series (2-2, rain washed out one match). Their confidence was evident; one of the players said, as if surprised, that they really enjoyed T20 cricket.

It is striking how much pleasure players (and spectators) derive from the headiness of a T20 environment, wherever it is. The Caribbean T20 that ended with a rightful victory to the deserving T&T team was a site to explore how well-fitted this generation has become to the game that fits today's culture.

In 2010, I had publicly said that West Indies cricket would find its resurgence in T20 cricket, and that this would be the form of the game where it would regain dominance. People felt there was too much indiscipline for that to become a reality. I think the indiscipline is at all levels and occurs in many forms. In a team being scrambled together one week before the tournament; in players who might have been playing together but were not working together on the field; in such ways are rebuilding efforts thwarted. In commentators gloating; because that unnecessarily builds barriers towards the region building a West Indies force.

Trinidad and Tobago demonstrated its camaraderie at all stages; a unit that takes its training seriously, they played as a team. When the amazing Chris Gayle show began on Saturday night, its fireworks conjured the scent of victory; but the fact was that Gayle had put 122 into a score of 183, and his team did not deserve the victory that Guyana rightfully claimed with its teamwork.

Gayle's fate invoked the memory of Brian Lara and his brilliance muddied by loss after painful loss. That was an epoch that still needs to be analysed, because despite all the players who turned up in this final CT20 to put a glimmer of hope in our eyes; we know we've seen them come and go, and something fundamental has still been missing.

Could the T&T team spirit be the model to follow? Darren Sammy seems to think so.