Sunday, February 25, 2018

The proving season



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On the face of it, there is nothing to link David Williams, the Technical Director/coach of the Trinidad and Tobago cricket team and Ajmal Khan, founder of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL).

Williams is West Indian through and through, a former wicketkeeper and assistant coach with the regional side, who has made an even more successful career as coach of the national team. T&T are now a "Red Force," in no small measure due to the guidance of "Willie," stretching back to 2004 when the team's current winning era began with victory in the President's Cup one-day tournament.

Khan by contrast is a businessman out of Africa, Nigeria to be exact. Of Asian roots, he has made a name for himself through the Verus International merchant bank and has now turned his attention to West Indies cricket. For the next three years in the first instance, his franchise-based CPL Twenty20 series will be the flagship tournament in regional cricket.

There is something however that both the coach and the entrepreneur have in common. They will be judged by the fullness of time.

For Khan, whose CPL is due to begin on July 29, the pressure is on to get his operation up and running on schedule.

Last week at an event at the exclusive Sandy Lane Country Club in Barbados, Khan candidly admitted that, "yes, there is a lot of time pressure on us but we're willing to put pedal to the metal to get this thing done."

It was a curious evening at Sandy Lane. West Indies cricket icons, West Indies Cricket Board big wigs and presidential candidates and even representatives of the Guyana Government were present. So was Marlon Samuels, the only one of the CPL's six franchise players who was not in Australia on West Indies duty at the time.

The 'grand' announcement before a live radio and television audience, lost some of its potential impact as a result. But that was not the only surprise. When question time began, not many answers were forthcoming.

At the time of my typing this, the public still does not know the names or even the owners of the various franchises. Where for instance will the three Trinidad and Tobago players Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine will be based, since they are among the CPL's franchise players? The date for when players will be acquired could not be given; and while T&T, Jamaica, St Lucia, Barbados, Antigua and Guyana were named as franchise territories, it was said that negotiations were still continuing and that other territories were being considered.

My colleagues in the regional media were sure why we had been assembled when so much about CPL 2013 appeared not to be finalised. This does not of course mean that Mr Khan will not be true to his word and the CPL will not make an impact in July/August.

But no one at Sandy Lane had forgotten a certain Allen Stanford now incarcerated in the United States because of a ponzi scheme; one that had funded his flashy foray into T20 cricket. In a big way he had flattered to deceive.

Stanford's tainted legacy is not lost on Khan. Like the American, he is resident in the islands, this time in Barbados. And while he says it would be misleading to say cricket is his favourite sport, he does claim to be a follower and admirer of the game in the West Indies. A genuine-sounding Khan spoke often last Tuesday about partnership with regional stakeholders as being the key to the success of his venture and the great tourism revenue-earning potential it represents.

He also seems to be putting much stock in the overseas TV interest.

"The most important thing (for the success of the venture) is viewership and media and broadcast revenue," he said. "That's only going to come when you produce a product that is unique, different and something that people are going to want to come to....But I'm highly confident that if we are focused on it and we execute according to the plan that I think we can, it is going to be something that will be sustainable."

For Khan's CPL to be a product that people in India for instance, want to tune in regularly to see though, the cricket has to be good. That in the end is the element upon which all Khan's well laid plans hinge. Will the League attract the kind of players who will play the kind of cricket that people will want to watch?

Will the judgement of the WICB directors in .handing over their T20 series to Verus prove to be sound?

The coming months alone will tell.

For Williams, his reputation as a coach is already well formed. But when he was re-hired last year to work with the senior team, he was given the title Technical Director. That suggested that Williams was not just to do coaching but to develop the talent in the national side.

Speaking to him last year about the new posting, he had identified improving the team's preparation as a target.

"We feel that we need to restructure all our training

sessions, our preparation and make sure that it is just as intense or even more

intense than the higher level," he told me back then.

At this stage, I can't say how much preparation had changed ahead of the new series of regional competitions. But it must have been a sobering experience for the coaching/management staff to watch their charges surrender so meekly in St Vincent to the Windward Islands in their first four-day fixture of the season.

It is no secret, that the Regional Four-Day title has been targeted by the T&T camp, for four-day cricket has been the weakest part of the national team's game since they last won the title in 2006.

The bare evidence in St Vincent was that nothing had changed; that the players none of whom were T&T newcomers were carrying on just where they had left off last season where they regularly batted poorly and failed to reach the final.

Just as a reminder, in their 2012 semi-final against Barbados at the Queen's Park Oval, T&T were also beaten inside three days and made 84 in their first innings. Against the Windwards on the weekend, T&T were all out for 86 in their second innings.

It is premature to pass judgement after just one game. But the signs are not good. And the question may have to be asked at some stage, whether Technical Director Williams can add any further value to the national squad. It is indeed the proving season.

But Father Time, too, will tell that story.