Thursday, February 22, 2018

Taking the bad with the good

"Richard Nieuwenhuizen was doing what he loved: Watching his son play football and helping out his local club by running the touchline as a volunteer linesman.

On Monday, the 41-year-old father's passion for football cost him his life.

Prosecutors announced yesterday they are charging three players, two 15-year-olds and a 16-year-old, with manslaughter, assault and public violence for alleged involvement in a vicious attack on Nieuwenhuizen after a youth match between two local clubs, Buitenboys and Nieuw Sloten."

That chilling report came not from Third World Trinidad and Tobago, but the "progressive" Netherlands in Europe. The item about the assault and then the tragic death of a football linesman at the hands of teenage footballers struck a chord especially because of a local event last week.

Linesman Kevin Charles must be thankful then, that he is still alive following the well-documented attack on him by a big man at the South Zone InterCol final between Shiva Boys Hindu College and Presentation College San Fernando. As if anyone needed reminding then, this violent mindset of people is a global phenomenon; one which no institution seems to be able to eradicate.

Having observed last season the atmosphere in which some of these schoolboy matches are played, last week's attack did not come as a great shock. But it was still saddening to accept the reality; to hear the news from Manny Ramjohn Stadium and to hear myself saying: 'there is more of this to come.'

Last week as a whole was a bit of a comedown from the previous week and weekend on the playing field.

The 360-degree turnaround in the West Indies' form once the one-day series against Bangladesh started was a surprise. As you read this, the five-match rubber may be over as a contest if Darren Sammy's boys didn't start playing cricket again in the third game at Dhaka thisd morning.

Before the ODIs began, Sammy was speaking of a whitewash. I'm sure he did not expect that it would be his side that would be struggling to win games.

But I also found this comment by the West Indies captain on the first two games strange.

After the 160-run no contest of a loss in the second match, Sammy said: "Bangladesh have played some good cricket and are showing us how to play one-day cricket on these pitches. They have assessed these conditions well and have played accordingly.

"We have to take a page out of the book, if we are to win the next one and the two after that."


Were these not the same conditions the West Indies were playing in when they won back-to-back Test matches last month? Didn't Sammy and his boys not beat the same Bangladesh 2-1 in those conditions on their tour last year? Didn't Sammy, Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels and company "gangnam" their way to the World Twenty20 championship in Sri Lanka against their spinners? So what is so new and challenging?

As my old photographer friend--frustrated by losing sleep to see the Windies loseŚpeppered me on Monday for answers to this faraway situation, I could give him none that satisfied.

Here is something to consider though. Opening batsman Gayle scored 88 runs in four innings (average 29.33) in the Test series and before today, 50 runs in his two knocks in the ODIs (25.00). Off-spinner Sunil Narine took his three wickets in the Tests at an average of 114.33. Before today he had taken one wicket in the first two one-dayers and his economy rateŚcrucial in the limited overs gameŚwas 4.83. That rate was actually better than all his other teammates. But it is the ease with which the Bangladesh batsmen have been playing West Indies' chief bowling weapon in the shorter game that has proved a problem for captain Sammy in this series. Narine, looking short on confidence since the Tests, is not currently a sure ace in the hole for his skipper. As a result, there is no effective complement to Ravi Rampaul with the new ball, in the middle overs.

Similarly, the lack of runs from the game's most potent batsman in limited overs play, means that the West Indies innings is not getting the momentum or the solid foundation that Gayle had been providing since his return to the team in May. Whatever the reason, the big man has not approached his batting with the same calculation as he had been doing so effectively this year.

The World T20 triumph would have been a peak for him; the capping off of a brilliant return to the Windies side. One wonders if he is struggling to get the same focus back now after that high.

This game can be unforgiving.

When he walked off the field at Perth, eight runs to his name in his final innings, Ricky Ponting must have felt its sting.

For the bulk of his 168 Tests and 375 one-dayers "Punter" was a sure thing to make plenty runs. It is why his numbers alone rank him among the game's all-time top rankers as a batsman. But in the series against South Africa for the top spot in Test cricket; in his last series at home, Ponting, for so long Australia's man for all seasons could not put runs on the board and hope in Aussie hearts. Physically, mentally, his time in the game had passed.

Similarly, for those now establishing themselves like Kieran Powell, the time will come when natural talents will wane and it will be time to stop. But because he had buckled down to getting the most out of his abilities, Ponting was still able to walk away with heart-felt applause ringing in his ears.

A sad end, but a good story nevertheless. Hope this week will also be one with better news.