Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Just a day or two

 “I looked at a couple games yesterday (Saturday) in the Premier Division, which is our top competition and if you look at it, a batsman doesn’t have time to really stay and bat for any long period of time. It is a hustle game. If you play out a maiden over, the next over you want to catch up because of the shortness of a two-day game... 

“The people in charge have to look at it and maybe try and extend it to a three-day competition and that is one way I can think of that we will help the batsmen learn to concentrate for a longer period of time.” 

I agree with current Trinidad and Tobago cricket coach Kelvin Williams. 

Teams in the Premier Division cannot afford to bat an entire day or more if they want to win games and gain as many points as possible. A “hustle game,” the top competition certainly is; a glorified limited overs setup. However, it is from this breeding ground that the authorities hope to produce champions in the regional four-day tournament, which by the way starts officially on Friday.

What is the likely result this year for T&T? Well, in 2013, the records will show that they got all the way to the final, which they had not done since the Carib Beer Challenge Final of 2008. Like in ‘08 however when they lost to home team Jamaica, T&T were also well beaten by hosts Barbados. The damage was by an innings and 22 runs. The game was over on the third day of the scheduled four, primarily because T&T only managed a combined total of 347 runs over the two innings at Kensington Oval, which could not even match the 369 Kirk Edwards’ team made in their one turn at the crease.

An aberration? Not exactly.

T&T’s first meeting with Jamaica that seaosn had also ended in a three-day licking—by 93 runs, as did their game at the Queen’s Park Oval with the Bajans when the teams met in the league phase. That time, the match lasted two days, the T&T batsmen mustering totals of 109 and 129. They found new seamer Miguel Cummins irresistible in that match. 

To its credit, it was Denesh Ramdin’s side that ended Jamaica’s five-year stranglehold on the competition when T&T went up to Sabina Park and pulled off a victory by three wickets chasing a victory target of 179. To put it mildly therefore, the national team had an up-and-down first-class campaign. But as some of those scores show, at the heart of their troubles was brief batting. Poor batting. 

It was not a case of Ramdin having to shepherd a green lineup. While seamer Marlon Richrads and wicketkeeper Stephen Katwaroo made their first-class debuts and the Ottley brothers Kjorn and Yannick—having played previously for Combined Campuses—made their first four-day appearances for T&T, the side had plenty of first-class experience. So even while Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine were hardly present because of other commitments, T&T were still able to call upon Adrian Barath, Justin Guillen, Lendl Simmons, Jason Mohammed, Rayad Emrit, Imran Khan and the like; players who have the experience and one would expect the knowhow to deal adequately with bowlers and conditions at regional level. The reality was however, that they struggled to cope, especially when the ball moved around.

Thinking again about coach Williams’ statements at the start of this piece, it could hardly be coincidental that T&T’s repeated successes in Twenty20 cricket, stretching back to their Stanford 20/20 victory in 2008, has paralleled a fall-off in the four-day standard over the last five years or so.

The T20 riches to be had all around the globe nowadays have been a major temptation for all players in the West Indies. But since the cricketers from T&T have been the best in the region in that format, they have been more in demand and the Dwayne Bravos, Pollards, Narines, Ravi Rampauls, Kevon Coopers and Samuel Badrees no doubt have provided inspiration for their Red Force colleagues who want to follow suit. First-class cricket; regional first-class cricket cannot compete with IPL glitz and US greenbacks. 

I know West Indies Cricket Board president Dave Cameron and CEO Michael Muirhead will argue the opposite given the bright future they now anticipate given the newly approved bilalteral structure for arranging tours. However, if the trend continues at international level where the West Indies team’s Test commitments form the smallest part of its annual schedule, then what real motivation will a player have to focus on the four-day game?

Why should a Yannick Ottley who has over the last couple of years been making a name for himself in T&T’s T20 lineup focus on becoming a Test cricketer to play five to six games a year when he can keep working the T20 and ODI circuit at West Indies and franchise level?

That T20 problem is larger than territorial boards in the West Indies can handle. What they can do however, is give their players every chance of becoming good cricketers. That means setting up a proper system for identifying talent and attaching coaches who know what they are doing to that talent. It also means that the club structure must encourage good cricket.

The three-day format has been used here before. But difficulties for players to get time off from work and instances of varying pitch conditions from one weekend to the next encouraged a change to two days. Those are real challenges but not insurmountable ones. 

In the end what the cricket fraternity must decide is what is the real priority—having a nice, neat competition or giving local cricketers a chance to play proper cricket: regional championship cricket.

In the meantime, if you plan to go and watch T&T play this season, don’t plan for too many days. Just a day for two will do.