Monday, January 22, 2018

‘Congrats to you and Liverpool’


WELL DONE CHAP: Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, right, celebrates his goal against Norwich City with teammate Lucas Leiva, left, during their English Premier League match at Carrow Road in Norwich, yesterday. —Photo: AP

Mark Fraser

Unlike my media colleague from Barbados, who texted that message right after yesterday’s early game in the English Premier League at Norwich City, that shaky 3-2 victory over a side in danger of relegation was no reason to celebrate as if a first football league title in 24 years was already in the bag, especially with three games still to play.

So the response was typically guarded: “Lucky...played poorly after bright start today. It’s a good thing Man City and Chelsea are faltering.” Not long after, a gentleman doing some plastering work at home on what—for me—was an unusually busy Sunday morning, paused from mixing cement to ask: “Ent it have a IPL match today?”

Indeed there was, with the King’s XI Punjab taking on the Rajasthan Royals, the franchise that prevailed over the Chennai Super Kings in the final of the inaugural season of the Indian Premier League T20 cricket tournament in 2008.

Nobody seemed the least bit interested in the semi-finals of the regional first-class cricket competition. Not the Bajan texter, not the mason, not even the neighbour up the road who sells newspapers at the front of his parlour and who, right up to the final rain-ruined day of the league campaign in Guyana a week ago, was always keen to know the score, especially as there has been no radio commentary throughout a season that started for Trinidad and Tobago right after Carnival.

It’s a reasonable question: If Barbados have been crowned champions after the league format, what are the top four regional sides now engaged in the semi-finals really playing for? Okay, so the simple, straightforward answer is the Headley/Weekes Trophy. But if that piece of silverware, named after the late George Headley and Sir Everton Weekes—two of the region’s greatest batsmen ever—is supposed to be the symbol of supremacy in Caribbean first-class cricket, why wasn’t it presented to Barbadian captain Kraigg Brathwaite after the conclusion of the league?

This is not intended to be any slight towards the West Indies Cricket Board president Dave Cameron or any of the previous or future holders of the office, but I would think a trophy bearing the name of two West Indian batting legends carries far more status and prestige than the WICB President’s Trophy, which is what Braithwaite received on behalf of the champion team.

Confusing matters even further and giving already disinterested fans more reason to ignore the competition almost totally is the inconsistency of its format and structure. Last year, Jamaica, champions for the previous five seasons, topped the league table but were not awarded the prize for a sixth successive year.

In 2013, the competition structure deemed that the first-class champions would have been decided by the result of the final, in which Barbados thrashed T&T by an innings in two-and-a-half days at Kensington Oval. That’s after the national side pulled off an upset victory over Jamaica in Kingston at the semi-final stage.

A year later and the rules are different, so even if Barbados are mauled by Jamaica in one of the semi-finals in Bridgetown or get to the final next weekend and are beaten by either Trinidad and Tobago or the Windward Islands—the other two semi-finalists—their official status as 2014 regional first-class champions is unaffected, although it will obviously be tarnished in the eyes of the few who still see value in the title.

These inconsistencies are nothing new in the regional game. Way back in 1996, Trinidad and Tobago, like Jamaica last year, defeated everyone in the league format yet lost the final to the Leeward Islands at Guaracara Park, with the visitors being crowned regional champions.

Ten years later, T&T finally ended the drought going back to 1985 when a 264-run hammering of Barbados in Black Rock saw the visitors confirmed as champions after the league format, even with the semi-finals and final of what was known as the “Challenge” trophy segment of the season still to come.

There are more than enough high-quality, well-packaged, well-presented “live” sporting events on television competing for fans’ attention even before considerations of the poor quality of Caribbean first-class cricket being a disincentive are taken into account. Is it too much though, to expect consistency in the format and structure of the competition?

By the way, on the topic of competition from sports on TV, how many of you realise the dilemma facing Test cricket fanatics who also happen to be eagerly anticipating the 2014 World Cup football finals in Brazil? It’s bad enough that the second Test against New Zealand at the Queen’s Park Oval is scheduled to start on a Monday (June 16).

Traditional Thursday or Friday starts to Tests throughout the Caribbean have been largely abandoned over the past three years, the reason given having something to do with tight, inflexible international cricket schedules. Worse though is the fact that two World Cup games will be on “live” on each of the five afternoons of the Test.

So, will you be in the Oval for day one when Germany are taking on Portugal at midday? What about day two, when the Brazilians kick-off against Mexico just after tea? Defending champions Spain face Chile from 3 p.m. on day three, another fixture to test your loyalty, much like Uruguay versus England on day four, the Labour Day holiday.

Much like now, will anyone really care what’s the score at the Oval?