January 26, 2008

Stanford's win-win situation

The second edition of the Caribbean Twenty20 tournament has been a success. More important, it marks the success of a rigorous approach to developing top-drawer cricketers



Stanford's success may just set West Indies cricket on the road to redemption © Stanford 20/20

The emphatic win by Trinidad and Tobago over Jamaica in the final match of the Stanford 20/20 tournament on Sunday night helps underscore the validity of a particular approach towards cricket development.

The entire match lasted 26 overs, with Jamaica succumbing in 16.4 for 91 runs, and Trinidad and Tobago wrapping it up in 9.2 with only one wicket gone.

We are fond of saying that cricket is a game of uncertainty, and more so that Twenty20 is not a real gauge of a team's strength, but there have been patterns enough to see.

On the surface the Jamaica team had the most formidable line-up in the tournament. Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Wavell Hinds, Carlton Baugh, Xavier Marshall, Jerome Taylor and Darren Powell have all played for West Indies, and are quite capable of tearing any team apart. So what made them fall so appallingly in the final?

The night before, after Jamaica had beaten the defending champions, Guyana, Gayle had curiously said that his team was a hard one to captain. He didn't elaborate on the nature of the difficulty, but it wouldn't take much to surmise that team spirit was weak. In striking contrast, Daren Ganga, TT's captain, has said consistently that his team was full of camaraderie, discipline and enthusiasm for the sport. It has been a formula for the successes they have had over the past three or four years in regional cricket.

Ganga's team is not star-studded, but good players adorn it, and they have invested heavily in physical and mental preparation as part of their ongoing programme of training. It's about discipline and composure, said the team manager, Omar Khan, after their victory.

This approach to developing players has become culturally embedded in the TT team - not surprisingly, as captain, Ganga is the firmest supporter of the concept of building thinking cricketers possessed of discipline and a strong work ethic.

It is what underlies Allen Stanford's ProTeam enterprise, which is currently four teams strong, but is projected to have 20 teams within a short time to form a regional professional league. Fully funded by Stanford, the league will feature players who have been contracted and paid to play and train under coaches on a daily basis whether or not a match is looming ahead. It exposes players for the first time to the rigours of daily training with fines for breaches of their code, or for missing targets.

One of the differences in this year's Stanford 20/20 tournament, as compared to the inaugural one in 2006, is improved fielding. Although the early matches were often one-sided affairs, it was possible to discern which of the teams had been out on the field regularly and which had just booted up for the tournament.

 
 
Just three years since he tossed his ten-gallon hat onto the cricket pitch, Stanford has accomplished several feats that have eluded the West Indies Cricket Board - and he has magnified that organisation's dinosaur demeanour in the process
 

Stanford spoke at the closing ceremony about his strategic plan to lift the standard and excitement of West Indies cricket over a period of three or so years. He pointed out that one of the major benefits of the tournament's growing spectator figures was increased interest in the game from youngsters. It is true that the level of hype skilfully created for the tournament was so masterfully done that cricket, albeit Twenty20, has once again become a sexy Caribbean sport.

Just three years since he tossed his ten-gallon hat onto the cricket pitch, Stanford has accomplished several feats that have eluded the West Indies Cricket Board - and he has magnified that organisation's dinosaur demeanour in the process. He has made cricket attractive, lucrative and entertaining as a whole. And by constantly reminding everyone that all cricket decisions are being made by his board of legends, he has also fetched himself credibility, and shown that he is prepared to move with the times but without losing touch with the elements at the heart of the game.

Many still argue that Twenty20 is not cricket and will ruin the traditional form. It is not Test cricket, in the way that champagne is not beer, and everyone has their preferences. What is important is that the millions of dollars that Stanford has been injecting into the "grassroots," as he likes to call it, have been targeted at development programmes that teach cricketing skills in a modern environment.

As Curtly Ambrose pointed out, "When you're in a professional set-up, it simply means you're playing cricket all year, and you will become better cricketers. Twenty20 shouldn't change your ability to play any form of cricket." Ganga's team demonstrated that when you absorb the fundamentals of the game and practise it with intelligence and commitment, victory can be yours at any level. If Stanford succeeds in getting a professional league going within this culture, it won't be long before all West Indians can enjoy champagne again.

Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad

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