Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Too much to undo

 For a change, I spent part of my Friday afternoon at football. Having missed the Pro League campaign that had such an interesting conclusion in W Connection’s favour, I decided to make some time to catch the start of the Pro Bowl competition at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.

It had been a busy news day, with the appointment of Denesh Ramdin as captain of the West Indies Test side, so the game between Police and San Juan Jabloteh promised to provide a pleasant change of pace. But then the phone rang with news that Darren Sammy had decided to end his Test career having been relieved of the Test captaincy. It was an unexpected turn of events, not that Sammy’s remaining as a Test regular was something I expected. But I didn’t think, being the loyal servant he has been to West Indies cricket, that he would decide to withdraw his services in the longer version altogether. 

Anyway, satisfied that the story would be in the next day’s paper, I settled back to see whether Jabloteh could dig themselves out of the big hole into which they had fallen in the first half. 

The Policemen were 3-0 up and seemingly already into the semi-finals. But in the second half, Jabloteh hit back hard. This is their first year in the league since financial hard times forced them to drop out for a while. They were late additions, so this season was about finding their feet again. At least they had a captain in Kerry Baptiste who could really provide direction. 

There was a time, not so long ago when he was the Pro League hot-shot, banging in the goals for Joe Public when they were still part of the  setup. That was the best part of his career as a goalscorer, for he notched 69 goal in 92 appearances for the “Eastern Lions.” 

At age 32, however, he still has some decent football left in him, even though he may no longer be on the national team. And Friday night, the Jabloteh captain surely led from the front. 

Baptiste converted both penalties his team won to bring them back to 2-3, scoring both to the right and left of the Police keeper early in the second half.

Jabloteh have some pace about them, and a few touches also. The second penalty was the direct result of the last Police defender, being forced to foul after being out-paced by the Jabloteh attacker following a punt downfield by the goalkeeper. For the first spot kick, Brent Sam had won the chance after a sharp turn in the penalty box forced Police to foul. The touches came mostly from Baptiste, but also on one memorable occasion from Akim Andrews whose excellent footwork carved out for him space on the left side of the 18-metre box. His cross was low and sharp too, but no green-shirted player could get the vital touch.

Jabloteh were just pouring forward now, and they eventually paid for their lack of defence when Jameel Parris got by their keeper to complete his hat-trick and make it 4-2.

Eventful as the game was—Police won despite going down to ten men—the latest twists in West Indies cricket were still very much in mind. In fact, what I had just watched with Jabloteh at Hasely Crawford Stadium reminded me of the Windies team: flashes of promise; brilliant bursts that promise better to come, only for the moment to pass. Quickly.

That is the kind of team Ramdin is taking over, sporadically outstanding, but often a failure. 

“The West Indies have not had the success that we anticipated. It is true that we moved to fifth not long ago but we have gone back down again. Every time there seems to be light at the end of the  tunnel, it closes up again. The same thing is happening again.”

That was how Michael Findlay put it in our chat on Saturday. Could not disagree with the former West Indies selector. From first-hand experience, he knows the difficulties and frustrations of investing in players over a period of time, only for that patience not to pay off.

“We have brought some very talented young players on board but they have (not developed as) we expected, so we are back to square one,” he said of the present scenario.

“What the selectors are looking for is some movement. Ramdin alone cannot do it. He needs the team to perform.” 

As often as we speak, Mike Findlay reminds me about how the WI team has been going nowhere fast, and that the light at the end of the tunnel always seems to be distant, as if the journey has just begun,

Ramdin has been handed a poisoned chalice, the same one that has killed off Brian Lara, Jimmy Adams, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Carl Hooper and Chris Gayle. Those men, outstanding performers in their own right, all ended with poor, losing records as skipper. 

In that respect, Sammy, the latest to fall on his bat, did not disgrace himself in his 30 matches at the helm. The least regarded as a cricketer compared with his predecessors, he nevertheless won 26 per cent of his games, which was comfortably better than the next best man, Lara (21 per cent). Statistics do not tell the whole story of course. But what those numbers just emphasise is that a captain cannot succeed without a good team. And over the last 19 years or so, West Indies have not produced a good enough number of cricketers to win for any significant period of time. 

On current form anyway, the players Ramdin is likely to have at his disposal do not seem ready to get him off to a flying start against New Zealand next month.

The situation is like that game Friday. Despite Jabloteh’s second half revival, encouraging as it was, there was just too much damage to undo.

Sometimes, most times, I think West Indies cricket is in the same predicament. 

The damage is too much to undo.