Thursday, January 18, 2018

No barriers too big for cricket


Trini to the franchise: Irishman Kevin O’Brien, left, celebrates with wicketkeeper Nicholas Pooran, one of his four wickets in a Man-of-the-Match performance for the Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel in their 13-run victory over the Jamaica Tallawahs in Limacol Caribbean Premier League action at the Queen’s Park Oval, Saturday. Photo: Ishmael Salandy

Mark Fraser

Love it or loathe it, when it comes to T20 cricket, people just want to be entertained.

Anil Roberts’ apparently unauthorised intervention over the country’s name being attached to the Red Steel of the Limacol Caribbean Premier League has brought to the fore issues of nationality and patriotism.

These are matters we’ve come across before in sport.

When Trinidad and Tobago qualified for the 2006 World Cup football finals in Germany, coach Leo Beenhakker went searching for players with T&T roots who could strengthen the side, even if they had previously shown no interest in representing the red, white and black. Otto Pfister did the same thing three years ago during his brief tenure in the post.

As professionals hired to do a job, the priority for both the Dutchman and the German was to put together the best team possible. Commitment to country was essentially irrelevant.

At the 2012 London Olympics, Carlos Suarez, the American-born son of a Trinidadian father, represented Trinidad and Tobago in the boxing ring even with questions being raised over whether this was an arrangement of convenience given his failure to qualify for the United States team. Following his first-round loss in the light flyweight division to Ferhat Pehlivan of Turkey, the then 19-year-old promptly ended his association with the nation he represented, accompanied with a few choice words for Buxo Potts and others in the boxing administration here.

Now we’re hearing that he wants to represent the country again, obviously with eyes on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Even if his outburst in London is accepted as the impetuosity and intemperate manner of youth, this attempt at a return reeks of opportunism.

There will always be widely divergent views on this matter of nationalism, not that it appeared to matter too much to anyone at the Queen’s Park Oval for the three LCPL matches over the last four days. All tickets sold out (even if some might have remained in the hands of the ever-present scalpers), ground nearly full and national flags being waved with a Panorama-style frenzy in support of a Red Steel team including New Zealand’s Ross Taylor, Ireland’s Kevin O’Brien and Barbadians Sulieman Benn and Fidel Edwards.

Franchise cricket is further blurring nationalistic lines in a part of the world where our history of colonisation and subsequent international representation under the banner of the West Indies can create considerable confusion over issues of loyalty and patriotism.

O’Brien’s “Man of the Match” performance on Saturday against the Jamaica Tallawahs, especially the wicket of Chris Gayle, made him an instant hero to many Trinidadians and Tobagonians. Yet it is quite possible that, at some point in the not-too-distant future, he could be performing in the colours of the Tallawahs or the Guyana Amazon Warriors or any of the other three franchises involved in the competition.

Whatever the motivation of the Sports Minister, and indeed the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board, who raised their objections even before the start of the inaugural LCPL season in 2013, there is compelling evidence to suggest that the fundamental issues of nationality and national representation have very little traction with citizens here, or anywhere else in the Caribbean for that matter when it comes to cricket.

We generally accept that Jamaicans are the most fiercely patriotic and nationalistic. Yet hardly a discouraging word has been heard from last year to now about the name of the island being attached to the Tallawahs given that non-nationals have been representing the proud people of the green, gold and black.

Much was made last year in the Bajan media of Trinidadian Kieron Pollard captaining the Barbados Tridents. Yet apart from one man’s protest in Bridgetown and a few who raised concerns on radio call-in programmes, the full houses and unrestrained enthusiasm for the three matches at Kensington Oval last year sent a clear message that fans were prepared to support the format of the game and the franchise based in their country as if it was wholly and totally their own.

Will this eventually contribute to the disintegration of the West Indies as a cricketing entity, with the regional side continuing to struggle in the lower reaches of Test cricket and more and more interest being shown in the T20 format?

Let’s not get too carried away. There’s always talk of territories going it alone when they appear to be at the height of their powers, from Barbados in the 1960’s to the TTCB suggesting five years ago that One-Day International status was something worth pursuing.

Cricket, whether under the banner of the West Indies, the individual territories or now the franchises, will continue for some time because love of the game and its contemporary entertainment value breaks down all barriers, nationalistic or otherwise.