Thursday, December 14, 2017

A lot to be worried about

With so much attention focussed on faraway Dhaka and the World T20, has anyone really bothered to take notice of what transpired in Bridgetown on Saturday?

Kensington Oval has more often than not been the venue of cricketing nightmares for Trinidad and Tobago, especially in the traditional game. Just last year, the national players were battered, bruised and comprehensively beaten by Barbados in the league format and then again in the final, the supposed showpiece of the regional first-class season which was over in two-and-a-half days.

Over the decades of duels between these arch-rivals, the moments the visitors have had to savour are so few and very far between, like the team led by Ian Bishop breaking a winless run of 56 years in the last match of the 1995 campaign, or the 1979 side amassing over 500 to take first innings points off a Test-strength Bajan line-up that had confidently declared after their score had reached 400. By the way, the title-clinching 264-run demolition of the hosts by Daren Gangaís side in 2006 did not occur at Kensington but at the Desmond Haynes Oval in Black Rock.

But for all the humiliations endured by the Trinis over the many years of this notable fixture, few can possibly compare with what transpired on the second day of the 2014 third-round fixture when a team that had won its first two matches of the campaign on home soil just didnít seem to turn up against the title-holders, who were off to a stuttering start in defence of the title with a win, a draw and a loss from their first three matches.

Letís just look at the bare numbers of the day.

Resuming their first innings from the overnight 243 for five off 90 overs, Barbados captain Kraigg Brathwaite declared when his namesake, Carlos, was eighth out for 109 with the score at 479 off 124.5 overs. That works out to 236 runs plundered off 34.5 overs at 6.78 runs per over. Primarily responsible for that carnage were Brathwaite and Ashley Nurse, who both raced to maiden first-class hundreds in a partnership of 190 for the eighth wicket that occupied 28.3 overs after fast bowler Shannon Gabriel removed Shane Dowrich and Jason Holder within the first half-hour of the day.

So from 289 for seven, with Trinidad and Tobago surely thinking of limiting the opposition below 350, everything turned ole masí after that to the extent that 184 runs were smashed off the bowlers in the two hours before lunch, and another 52 came at better than a run-a-ball after the interval before the Barbadian skipper decided to put the visitors out of their misery.

Nurse, a lower-order player averaging 9.26 from 16 previous first-class innings with a highest score before Saturday of 29 not out, finished unbeaten on 130 off 111 balls with 16 fours and four sixes. Carlos Brathwaite, obviously much more capable with a previous record showing an average of 26.45 and a highest score of 81 unbeaten from 29 innings, reached 109 off 136 deliveries with six fours and two sixes before falling to a catch by T&T captain Rayad Emrit off Jason Mohammed, prompting the declaration.

What the hell was going on? Were the authorities at Kensington Oval showing the T20 cricket ďliveĒ from Bangladesh on the big screen to inspire their lower-order players to beat ball and at the same time distract the fielding side? A classic example of taking their eyes of the ball maybe?

Okay, so the first half of the day was bad enough for Trinidad and Tobago. But then it got worse, considerably worse.

After the opening pair of Adrian Barath and Evin Lewis had seen off the new ball burst of Holder and Miguel Cummins to take their side to 32 without loss after ten overs, Carlos Brathwaiteís removal of Barath to a catch at second slip by Nurse in his opening over triggered a slide to 120 all out off 37 overs. Thatís all ten wickets going down for 88 runs in less than 26 overs. At one point it was 64 for seven, so I suppose 120 could be seen as a bit of a recovery, thanks to Emrit, who was last out for 25, only the third player in the innings to reach double-figures.

Barath got to 20 while the topscore of 43 came from Mohammed. An analysis of the middle-order batsmanís innings though reinforces the observation of Indiaís Suresh Raina that West Indian cricketers lack the ability to alternate the strike with singles and are preoccupied with only smashing sixes and fours.

Mohammedís innings spanned 64 balls in which he struck eight fours and one six. Thatís 38 of 43 runs coming off nine deliveries. Even if the other five runs were collected in singles, it means that he was scoreless off 50 of his 64 balls faced. You can certainly appreciate the importance and match-winning value of big-hitting in the T20 game, as weíve already seen in the early stages of the World T20 in Bangladesh, but the art of batsmanship as against shot-making is being lost in the Caribbean, to the continuing detriment of our chances of ever being a force to reckon with at Test level anytime in the foreseeable future.

You canít chastise contemporary cricketers for gravitating towards T20, but so long as we hold Tests to be important, just that one day at Kensington Oval suggests we in Trinidad and Tobago especially have a lot to be worried about.