Friday, January 19, 2018

Genius and ‘trying a thing’

Britain England West Indies Cricket


Tom Hevezi

Maybe it’s time to get a new dictionary, one that offers considerable latitude in meanings from what has obtained over the last thousand years or so.

When Azim Bassarath, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board, referred to Denesh Ramdin’s declaration during the semi-final of the Headley-Weekes Trophy match between the national team and the Windward Islands as a “stroke of genius” in a telephone interview on Sporting Edition on TV6 last Friday morning, I needed reassurance that there hasn’t been some fundamental transformation in the English language over the past fortnight.

You see, the word “genius,” as I have always understood it, refers to, as the Collins Concise Dictionary (Third Edition) elaborates: “a person with exceptional ability, especially of a highly original kind.” Granted that edition was published way back in 1996, but I’m almost sure I would have noticed if an edict was handed down by the supervisors of these matters indicating that ratchifee decisions can now be categorised as falling under the heading of “genius.”

That’s what I understood the declaration to be, a piece of good old-fashioned Trini ratchifee, the classic combination of cunning and trickery that falls within the rules but is more about “trying a thing” when conventional tactics, like actually playing better cricket, don’t appear to be viable options.

In case you missed it (and that would be understandable over the Easter weekend, even moreso given the continued poor attendances and absence of “live” radio commentary throughout the just-concluded regional first-class season), Ramdin chose, on a rain-affected second day of the four-day fixture at Queen’s Park Oval, to declare Trinidad and Tobago’s first innings at 140 for eight, 108 runs behind the Windwards’ 248 all out.

With a bonus points system in place this year instead of the usual first innings points format, clearly the thinking was, with both sides on three bonus points apiece at that stage, a rain-ruined draw would have taken the home side through to the final. Opening batsman Evin Lewis, who was trying to hold the faltering innings together with an unbeaten 47 over the 203 minutes that the innings lasted, must have had it explained to him subsequently that it was important to not lose a ninth wicket and therefore see the visitors earn a fourth bonus point.

It was indeed a rainy weekend, with numerous stoppages on that second day, so with the batting once again failing abysmally and no realistic prospect of Lewis getting the necessary support from Shannon Gabriel and newcomer Ricky Jaipual to get anywhere close to the Windwards total, Ramdin gambled, seeking a backdoor into the final that hinged almost entirely on rain ruining the remaining two scheduled days of the match.

Should it have been any surprise then, with the weather failing to cooperate on the third day, that the home side were routed for 105 in less than 30 overs on that Easter Monday afternoon after the Windwards’ second innings total of 231 left them with a winning target of 340? By that declaration, Ramdin, and whoever else influenced him into making it (coach Kelvin Williams and manager Manohar Ramsaran would be obvious candidates), essentially telegraphed to the opposition that Trinidad and Tobago felt they had no chance of winning and were therefore reinforcing our nickname as “Trickydadians” by seeking an unusual way to get to the final.

Is that the way we play cricket around here, banking on rain for two days in the height of the dry season? The simple answer is “yes.” Maybe not to the extent of willing a Noah’s Ark-type deluge to ensue but anyone with even a cursory understanding of the local club game—at all levels—will fully appreciate that it is an environment that rewards smartmen and underhand tactics as much as it develops natural talent that may or may not go on to higher levels.

In certain club matches across the country you wouldn’t even be leaving things to chance by relying on the vagaries of the weather, not when someone under the cover of nightfall can provide the required levels of moisture (delayed start, sticky dog or complete abandonment) with the assistance of a trusty garden hose and strong water pressure.

By the way, don’t think for one minute that such “re-engineering” of playing conditions is the sole preserve of unscrupulous low-lives in the rural hinterland. You’d be surprised where water tables and aquifers rise unexpectedly in the midst of a severe drought, and just in the area of the cricket pitch only, and just when the home team needed that sort of intervention desperately.

Of course, none of that is necessary if both sides are prepared to concoct a favourable result. Someone should take note of how often captains of different teams at different levels of competition are keen to “open up the game” all of a sudden.

For a nation that is now embarked on another nine days of shallow introspection following the killing of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal just after midnight on Saturday, you would like to think that cricket, or any other sporting triviality for that matter, offers a window of hope to the ideals of playing hard but fair, of succeeding through skill and not sleight of hand, of playing by the rules and not manipulating the rules.

It is in the celebration, not just acceptance, of a by-any-means-necessary culture that can be found the genesis of the skewed perspective over what an act of “genius” means.