Sunday, December 17, 2017

Case of questionable tactics


Well deserved: Barbados players celebrate with the Clive Lloyd NAGICO Super50 trophy following their 17-run win over Trinidad and Tobago in the tournament final at Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain on Saturday night. —Photo: Anisto Alves

Mark Fraser

Congratulations to the Bajans.

They came to the Queen’s Park Oval and defeated the host nation, not once, but twice in the same tournament in front of hugely partisan crowds, especially in Saturday’s final when, as is usually the case for these big regional cricketing occasions, corruption, inefficiency and officiousness combined to leave hundreds of legitimate ticket-holders outside the venue.

But that’s another story.

Having lost to Barbados by 28 runs after being set a target of 270 two weeks earlier in the group stage of the Nagico Super50, it was always going to be a challenge for Trinidad and Tobago to chase down 253 on a pitch obviously affected by almost continuous usage over the fortnight, although the much-maligned groundstaff, headed by former national opening batsman Ron Faria, deserves commendation for their hard work in presenting a surface for the final that saw 487 runs scored.

In looking for critical moments in the match, it is impossible to avoid Evin Lewis’ dropped catch at deep backward square-leg when Dwayne Smith, then on 22, attempted to repeat a leg-side heave for six off Ravi Rampaul. The opener went on to get a topscore of 83, a difference of 61 runs from the point when he was missed. So in a match where the home side lost by 17 runs, it is the easiest thing to assume that we would all be celebrating an 11th regional one-day crown and sixth straight victory over Barbados in a 50 overs-per-side final but for that error.

Of course, nothing is ever so straightforward. Who’s to say that Jonathan Carter, who scored a hundred in the zonal duel 13 days earlier, might not have had the opportunity to repeat the effort with Smith’s early dismissal? Would T&T have paid the price anyway for complacency if they were faced with a relatively small target? We can go on and on with the assumptions - on both sides - but hopefully you get the point.

Things happen in the heat of the contest, some of it planned, much of it unplanned. Yet it’s the tactics which give a clearer indication of a team’s priorities and strategies. Kevin Stoute, a surprise choice as Barbados captain for this competition (just as Kraigg Brathwaite is for the first-class campaign by the way), will rightfully be showered with praise as the man at the helm, although how much he was actually in control is another matter, given the repeated intervention and intrusion of so many senior players on the field of play that left the impression of a young man often bowing to the insistence of more experienced colleagues.

But what of Trinidad and Tobago’s planning, and more specifically, the failure to have an established top-order batsman in the key number three position? For the semi-final against Jamaica, when the hosts were only left with a target of 50, leg-spinning all-rounder Imran Khan occupied the spot and fell leg-before to fast bowler Jerome Taylor for just one. Come the final and Yannick Ottley, more reputed at regional level for his left-arm spin, is named in the final 11, the explanation given by skipper Dwayne Bravo following the toss is that Ottley is considered a better batsman than Khan.

Thrust into that pivotal position following the fall of the first wicket, Ottley miscues a pull off tall fast-medium bowler Jason Holder and Smith takes the catch at square-leg that sends him back to the pavilion without scoring. However the issue is not whether it should have been Khan or Ottley at number three, but why didn’t one of the senior batsmen, those with considerably more experience at the top of the order, not take on the responsibility of such an important position, especially given the need for a solid foundation in pursuit of 253?

Hasn’t Darren Bravo been the established number three for the past few seasons? What about Jason Mohammed or the captain himself, or even Denesh Ramdin? Weren’t they better suited to fill that important role given the circumstances on Saturday night? Whether it’s the captain, coach Kelvin Williams or the selectors headed by former national fast-medium bowler Alec Burns, someone should be asked to explain the rationale behind what appears to be “one-down” experimentation in the semi-final and final.

Lendl Simmons batted at three in Trinidad and Tobago’s first two matches of the competition while Adrian Barath tried, without success, to re-establish himself at the top of the order. Normal programming seemed to have resumed with Darren Bravo coming in at the fall of the first wicket in the last Zone B fixture against the Combined Campuses and Colleges, only for a more drastic ringing of the changes to follow in the knockout stages. Why?

Look, there is nothing wrong with innovation, assuming there is a plan to it. In the game of musical chairs at number three during the Nagico Super50 though, the national team’s tacticians and decision-makers have left the impression that they were merely tying a thing and hoping that it worked out. Well, it obviously didn’t, and while it cannot be the only reason the team fell short in the final, it must be looked at as a significant contributory factor.

Cricket has seen many, many changes over the years. Yet one of the constants amid the shifting sands has been status and often game-changing role of the “one-down” batsman. If a pivotal position like that can be treated with such indifference, what else can we expect as the 2014 season unfolds?