Thursday, February 22, 2018

Choices for the 'bench crew'


DISAPPOINTED: Trinidad and Tobago batsman Jason Mohammed, left, stands after being given out lbw against CCC (Combined Campuses and Colleges) during their West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) Regional Four-Day Tournament clash earlier this month at 3Ws Oval in Barbados. Looking on are bowler Nkrumah Bonner and wicket-keeper Chadwick Walton. —Photo: courtesy WEST INDIES CRICKET BOARD

(BI) Feedloader User

The Trinidad and Tobago selectors must be having a challenging time this week.

Quickly they have had to assess the weekend's defeat in Barbados and then respond by picking a team to beat the Windward Islands starting on Friday at the Queen's Park Oval. They would have had to do so and do a head count at the same time.

The bruising loss at Kensington Oval left Lendl Simmons, captain Denesh Ramdin and Adrian Barath with damaged fingers, Simmons' so severe that his broken joint will keep him out of the game for at least a month.

T&T's  worries would have been eased somewhat by confirmation that Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo will be back from the Bangladesh Premier League in time to face Darren Sammy and company. The timing of their return could not be more perfect.

That five-wicket loss at bouncy Kensington certainly produced some lively cricket. The fast bowlers enjoyed themselves, but Sunil Narine also had a good time, spinning out eight batsmen, while despite the chin music they had to dance to, batsmen on both sides produced five half-centuries, four of them coming in the Trinidad and Tobago first innings.

But T&T's plummet from 338 to 119 in the second innings raised again some questions that are not going away.

 It was good that in his post-match assessment, coach Kelvin Williams did not use the injuries to Barath and Simmons as excuses for the collapse that virtually handed Barbados the match.  

A look at the Trinidad and Tobago scorecard in both innings reveals that the runs came from a small group of usual suspects.

In the first, Ramdin got 88, Darren Bravo 54, Simmons 52 and all-rounder Rayad Emrit 62. In the second, Ramdin with his damaged finger made 37 and Bravo 28. They were the only ones to cross 20.

By contrast, Justin Guillen's contributions in the match were zero and six as opener, Jason Mohammed's 26 and 11 and all-rounder Imran Khan's 26 and two.

What is it that they say about chains and sporting teams?

Well, the Kensington Oval scenario was one to test how strong is T&T's "bench". The result gave food for thought.

Mohammed, Guillen and Khan are not rookies anymore.

 Mohammed has played 24 first-class matches, Gullen 20 and Khan 34. Over those games, they each have been good enough to score a century apiece and they each also have earned the attention of the West Indies selectors who have given them A team caps.

Mohammed even made his One-day International debut for the senior  Windies side last year against India.

What is also true of the trio, however, is this: 25.05; 21.89 and 24.03. Those are the career first-class averages for Mohammed, Guillen and Khan, respectively. Those would be acceptable figures for bowlers, but not for an opener or middle order bats. Especially not when the standards of bowling in regional cricket remain average at best.

Now these are attractive players, good strokemakers, and in Khan's case, his leg-spin bowling (109 wickets, Av 24.74) has been an even greater asset to T&T since he first came into the side in 2004.

 But something is missing. There is that patent lack of consistency. There is the absence of a voice in the head that says: "This is my time; I am going to take charge here; I am going to get us those runs; I am going to win us this match."  

Trinidad and Tobago needed those voices in the heads of this trio badly last weekend, just as they have needed them in crucial losses in matches since 2006; matches that ultimately cost T&T the chance to win more first-class titles.

 How can these players be helped over their humps? Is the problem mental only? Is it technical? Coaches of every other team in the Caribbean must have asked themselves these questions, because they all have players with similar issues.

Granted, not everyone is Test or limited overs material. But many in the islands can be much better than they now are. And there are examples of excellence in other fields from which to draw inspiration.

Aspiring Jamaican cricketers can study their friends and schoolmates in track and field to see how inner hunger, perseverance and self belief can put you at the head of the field.

In T&T, a trip to the nearest panyard might surfice. If the journey was to "Hell Yard" where Trinidad All Stars reside, better yet.

Listening to the pan Sunday morning, I heard band stalwart, the ex-parliamentarian Eddie Hart,commending the All Stars youngsters for their dedication to the rigourous practice sessions.

All Stars' margin of victory—the difference between their successful defence of their Panorama crown and failure so to do—was just four points. How did they manage that four-point separation from Phase II Pan Groove? It could all have been a matter of execution.

The ears of this listener told me it was not by way of arrangement that Phase II's sweetness was overcome.

 The difference might just have been the commitment of those All Stars

youngsters to the task at hand; the determination they showed to stick with the job, to represent the band, to satisfy the thousands of All Stars followers at home and abroad. To finish the job at crunch time.

On final night, All Stars was an irresistible force, the precision and fire of their tenor playing waking me out of my wee-hour slumber.

How far are today's cricketers prepared to go for what they want? Or are they happy to settle for what they already have?

I think not only of Mohammed, Khan and Guillen, but also too of Adrian Brarath.

Starting out at age 16 for T&T, success came quickly. His first hundred was struck  in his second match. His first Test ton in his first game—in Australia. He also can already count a century in just nine One-Day Internationals. In Tests though, he now averages 28.11 and 28.27 in ODIs.

Output is not matching ability. Frequent injury has played a big part in slowing Barath's fast start.  But in professional sport, performance is what counts with the coaches. Already Barath is no longer earning automatic selection on the international team.

He may get some more time with T&T and he probably needs it to mature as a player. But this is a time for some sober thinking about choices. For a man deciding what to him matters most. For the "bench" crew to get with it.