Champions League Twenty20 October 22, 2009

A vibrant design

Fearless, colourful, and exciting, T&T are a well-oiled unit harnessed by a strong structure and visionary leadership

Colin Borde sits with his legs across the arms of the sofa chair in his room. He is lounging with his back to the early afternoon sunlight, which enters through the tinted windows. A couple of hotel stewards are leaving the room, having put fresh linen on the bed, and Borde asks them to leave the door open.

"My door is open all the time so that the players can walk in and communicate with me, use my computer and never feel deprived of anything," he says. It hasn't been half an hour since Borde, the Trinidad & Tobago team manager, woke up after celebrations following his side's resounding victory over the Eagles to ensure passage into the semi-finals of the Champions League Twenty20.

Adrian Barath, Match of the Match in his debut Twenty20 game the previous evening, walks in to ask Borde about plans for the afternoon. Borde tells T&T's youngest player to get ready in 30 minutes as they make plans to go shopping. Borde believes it is this open-door policy, prevalent through the T&T management and structure, that has paved the way for the team's success in recent years. They are the only side to have reached the semi-finals undefeated.

T&T have long been a powerhouse of West Indies domestic cricket. In the last three years they have lifted two regional titles: the four-day competition in 2007 and the Stanford 20/20 in 2008. They play their game with the openness, flair and fearlessness normally associated with Caribbean teams.

Those qualities were vibrant in their tournament opener, against Somerset, where Dave Mohammed, who so famously used his shoe-phone celebration routine during the Stanford 20/20, led the pumped-up celebrations. Merely running around after taking a wicket just wouldn't do for him. It had to be something special, crazier. In the first game, when he took the wicket of Peter Trego, he did a somersault and thumped his thighs, then hit his chest like Tarzan as he lay on the ground, waiting to be mobbed by his team-mates.

Later in the week Dwayne Bravo kept his nerve while bowling an exemplary death over, against Deccan Chargers, which was followed by Kieron Pollard's blitz that flattened a formidable New South Wales. In their last game, the diminutive 19-year-old Barath, wearing braces, scored a dominant half-century against the Eagles.

T&T's run has earned them admirers outside the Caribbean. Former Australia batsman Justin Langer, Somerset's captain, is a keen observer of people and he singled out Daren Ganga's influence as a catalyst in T&T's performance. "I love the T&T spirit and I really enjoy the way Daren Ganga speaks in the press conference, where he talks about unity within the squad," Langer said. "The most successful cricket teams have unity and T&T have that unity." Daryl Harper, the Australian umpire, notes how in game after game the team throws up surprises.

To the outside world, more striking than T&T's on-field success has been their mature outlook, the way players have displayed a sense of purpose, and their clarity of thought - traits largely absent in West Indies sides of the last decade or so. Brian Lara could be the greatest batsman born in Trinidad but his friend and former West Indian team-mate Ganga may well be the island's best leader this generation.

Neither Ganga nor Borde is surprised by T&T's consistency in the tournament. They credit the structure put in place by the Trinidad & Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) in consultation with the players. "Our culture of cricket in Trinidad is a bit different to that of other territorial teams, and by extension the West Indies teams, because I've been in both set-ups," Ganga says.

Before he was appointed captain, Ganga was not happy with a lot of T&T players who were also in the West Indies side, because when they came back to the first-class set-up they took things for granted. "They never really placed the amount of value that should have been placed on playing for your country. That is one of the areas I recognised when I got into the captaincy role."

"You've got to find a happy medium if you want young people to learn. You've got to try and speak their language. It is not about them understanding you. You've got to try to understand them."
T&T manager Colin Borde

That culture needed to change. And it had to happen at the T&T executive level as well as with the selectors and others who made important decisions with regard to the country's cricket. "It was a consensus on the part of everyone for us to approach our cricket in a certain way in terms of zero tolerance in [matters of] discipline, the respect of people and cricket being the most important thing, and that all sacrifices should be made towards ensuring the quality of our cricket is improved," says Ganga.

Therein lies the main difference between the successful and strong TTCB and the rocky and insular West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). In the last few years the TTCB has sat down and had a look at the reasons behind a fractious WICB, in particular the distrust between players and administration. "You've got to find a happy medium if you want young people to learn. You've got to try and speak their language," says Borde. "It is not about them understanding you. You've got to try and understand them."

Borde is 45 and looks every bit the real-estate agent that he is back home in Trinidad. But it isn't difficult to see why the entire squad respects him. He played for Queen's Park Cricket Club as a wicketkeeper-batsman and is now part of its management. The club has been a conveyor belt for West Indian teams - it has produced, among others, Brian Lara, Brian Davies, Charlie Davies, Mervyn Dillon, the Bravo brothers, Dwayne and Darren, and Kieron Pollard.

Borde and Ganga agree with the popular opinion that cricket is the unifying force that can bring all the Caribbean islands together. "The only real thing that combines us closely is cricket, and apart from the division between each island, which is water, there is a division even greater than that, between administrators and players," Borde says.

"This team is dealt with like family. The atmosphere is conducive to learning, so the players have the opportunity to express themselves. They are taught self-governance. I have always impressed upon them that it is really important as a young person to understand that if you happen to play cricket and you happen to get paid to get as a professional cricketer, it is something that is special for many reasons."

Ganga believes that there can't be enough emphasis on the importance of delivering cutting-edge performances. The management has also stressed physical and mental fitness, as well as gelling as a unit. T&T have a base in central Trinidad that features an indoor facility with dedicated coaches and support staff. Ganga singles out the names of Ronald Rogers (physio), Clinton Jeremiah (assistant trainer) and Gerald Garcia, a former member of the support staff, as having dedicated their time toward pushing players to their limits.

Discipline has traditionally not been regarded as a Caribbean trait, but Ganga has placed a premium on it from the start of his tenure as captain. "I'm not talking about just cricketing issues, I'm talking about respect for people off the field, the way you carry yourself, your mannerisms - all these things reflect on your game as well. If you are not punctual, something is not clear in your mind."

Ganga's exacting nature is reflected in his habit of picking on players who don't tuck their shirts in. "When you start making sure these things are in order, then you realise that you have guys who are willing to sacrifice their comfort level for common good, and that is your team," he says. That is how you develop camaraderie and team spirit." Borde presents another example: of a player who walked in 35 seconds late for a meeting and was chastised by the entire team as the manager let him have it.

It is also about splitting leadership. Apart from Ganga, who remains at the top of the leadership tree, the team management decided to appoint a batting director (Pollard), bowling director (Ravi Rampaul), fielding director (Denesh Ramdin), spin bowling directors (Sherwin Ganga and Samuel Badree) and two auxiliary directors (Ryan Emrit and Navin Stewart) who will look after any concerns off the field, including the size of the beds.

Ganga believes in the advantage of deputising. "The directors are privy to most things that are done collectively as a team so that there is a certain amount of ownership and filtering down of information."

It is clear Ganga is the guiding light of this team. What is also clear is that the youngsters are receptive to his leadership. One example was during the vital game against Deccan in the group stage, where T&T were chasing a win for two vital points to be carried into the league stage. Deccan began the 18th over needing 20 to win. Ganga gave the ball to Rampaul, usually accustomed to bowling the final or penultimate overs.

"I said to him, 'You are the guy to do the job for us. You just need to bowl one brilliant over.'" That was exactly what Rampaul did, allowing seven runs and taking a wicket, to set things up for Lendl Simmons and Dwayne Bravo to finish the game off. It is a move that gives Ganga much satisfaction.

A similar scenario played out with William Perkins, who top-scored with 38 in the same game. Ganga walked up to the opener and said, "William, something about today tells me that you are going to be the guy that's going to make us win." As if on cue, Perkins ignited T&T's innings. Ganga believes in creating an environment where every player believes in his ability.

There is a sense of purpose in the team. T&T have gone about doing their work like a well-oiled machine. The idea is to emulate the best teams in the world.

Ganga has been instrumental in inviting the likes of Lara, footballer Dwight Yorke, and sprinter Ato Boldon - all homegrown global stars - to address his team. Ganga also names TTCB president Deryck Murray and Joey Carew, the former West Indies chief selector, as major support systems for the team on the administrative front. He says that Lara has been in constant communication with him in India to discuss tactics and strategies for individual matches.

Continuity is another important factor that Ganga says T&T have been able to handle better, unlike with the WICB, which has been known for its chopping and changing. Under the T&T umbrella, if a player loses form, he is rehabilitated with proper attention and care. Barath, a year-and-half after playing in the Under-19 domestic tournament, ran into a lean phase, but he was picked for the U-23 team and then the 50-over regional competition, which gave him a platform to step up to the first-class level and score three hundreds.

Irrespective of what happens in Thursday's semi-final in Hyderabad, Ganga believes T&T's success could prove to be a harbinger of a new and refreshed outlook for West Indian cricket. "It has already brought a lot more positives," he says. "Now a lot more administrators are going to focus on the quality of cricket."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments