Sunday, February 25, 2018

Giving the fans value for money


POLLARD POWER: Trinidad and Tobago middle order batsman Kieron Pollard blasts this ball for six when his team tackled Guyana in the final Caribbean T20 match on Saturday at Queen's Park Oval. T&T won by 80 runs. —Photo: ROBERT TAYLOR

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"All ah dis…for a man who ain't even play a Test match yet."

That comment, uttered with more than a hint of disdain by someone in the media centre at the Queen's Park Oval, came at the tail-end of the thunderous ovation that greeted Kieron Pollard's arrival at the wicket on Saturday night. Indeed it is safe to say that no-one – from Headley to Lara or from Hendren to Tendulkar – would have walked to the middle at this famous old venue to the accompaniment of such a combination of sustained cheers, applause, cacophonous miniature vuvuzelas and other noisemakers, vigorous flag-waving, soca booming from giant amplifiers and dancing girls wining down the place.

It was a scene more associated with a Fantastic Friday/Carnival Tuesday hybrid than a cricket match. Indeed, for those who somehow feel their beloved game is being defiled and violated by the fast-food format, by the crass commercialisation and by the attendant frivolous and tantalising frills, there is some consolation in believing that T20 is just not cricket, that it is little more than vulgar, money-spinning entertainment that has to be endured because it brings in the revenue which sustains "real" cricket.

So let's entertain that notion for just a paragraph. What is cricket, any cricket, if not a trivial pastime? Whether it's the careful accumulation of runs by Gavaskar over an entire day or Pollard's six-hitting pyrotechnics for a couple overs, people are entertained by these contrasting spectacles. Those who are enthralled by an absorbing duel between bat and ball on the last day of a Test are not superior to those who gravitate towards the boundary-bashing slugfest that defines the typical T20 contest. They may like to think so, but they're not.

Cricket is sport and sport is entertainment, a means of escape from the drudgery and seriousness of everyday life. So rather than wasting time and space arguing over a phenomenon (the resistance by some to innovation and change) that is as old as time, we should be looking at ensuring that people are given value for money, that they are not taken for granted and that every reasonable effort is made to give the patron what he or she is paying for and is not left wondering what the hell is going on out there.

Take all those delays to get play underway after a shower last week at the Oval. Some, maybe most, will say what's the big deal? It was only a 20 minutes here and a half-hour there. And in any event, all the Caribbean T20 matches, with the exception of the opening fixture between Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, were completed. Well, to cut to the chase: that is not the blimmin' point.

It is nothing short of discourtesy and disregard for the spectator to keep them waiting when conditions are obviously eminently playable if only they would get the damn covers off. Hiding behind all sorts of complicated rules and clauses both avoids the issue and fuels the pretence that cricket is this oh-so-delicate and treasured commodity that nothing must ever be done to interrupt its long-standing routines, never mind how doltish or illogical they are.

We're not talking about something important here, like trying to work out an agreement in war-torn Syria to save lives or trying to curb the senseless violence in areas like Laventille where my former colleague at the "Guardian," Junior Valentine, lost his life last Friday. It is only a game, so whether there are 20 or 20,000 in the stands, whether it's a preliminary fixture or the final, whether or not the home team is involved, every effort must be made to facilitate play, to show the fans that there is at the very least a willingness by all concerned to offer them the entertainment they have paid to see.

Someone will say that tickets were only $40 so what I getting on about. Again, and apart from the fact that scalpers were making 1000 percent profit (they don't call us Trickydadians up the islands for nothing) outside the ground on Saturday afternoon, that is not the blasted point! Should the willingness to maximise entertainment be contingent upon the price paid to observe said event?

And what about those who paid for legitimate tickets well in advance and were denied entry, both on the opening day of the tournament two Sundays ago and for the highly-touted clash with Guyana last Saturday? Will there be any public explanation for why people were locked out of an event for which they had paid to attend? Again, for those who will shrug their shoulders and say these things happen, why don't you plan your business and purchase your tickets well in advance, why don't you organise with your regular liming pardners to make it a date for a particular event, why don't you come from far, struggle to get a park somewhere reasonably close to the venue and then when you get to the gate half-an-hour before the start, be told that you can't go in because the place full?

Imagine sitting on the pavement on Elizabeth Street, tickets in hand, and hearing the roar as Pollard walked in to bat, the volleys of unrestrained celebration that followed every towering blow into and over the stands…and wondering why these things happen as a matter of course in this unbearably corrupt land.

Instead of engaging in these elitist discussions about Pollard's credentials as a cricketer, just try to give people the entertainment they paid for.