April 15, 2009

Forget the excuses

Blaming the weather for Trinidad and Tobago's unsuccessful campaign this season is not only factually inaccurate, but shies away from addressing some of the more fundamental issues affecting the team

Don't blame the weather, please.

Given the amount of rainfall they've attracted all season, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea for the senior national cricket squad to undertake a "Water the World" tour in places as diverse as Ethiopia and Australia in the hope that the moisture-laden clouds will follow them there and result in the sort of irrigation necessary for better crop yields at the next harvest.

All joke aside, though, apportioning primary responsibility for Trinidad and Tobago's disappointing 2009 regional first-class campaign to the elements would not only be factually inaccurate but, more importantly, avoids facing more fundamental issues within the team that need to be addressed if more years of frustration are not to follow.

But let's get this fallacy of being robbed by the rain out of the way first of all. Jamaica retained the title and gained first hold on the new Headley/Weekes Trophy with a final tally of 106 points. Daren Ganga's side, after crashing to defeat inside three days to the Combined Campuses and Colleges in Barbados over the weekend, concluded their 12-match campaign with 70 points. Eight of those fixtures ended in draws, almost all affected to greater and lesser degrees by the weather. But T&T would have had to be in potential winning positions in at least six of those matches for the argument to hold as much water as the covers did wherever they went.

That certainly wasn't the case, and even if it can be noted that vital momentum was lost at home to the CCC and then again when the Leewards were being pulverised, the evidence of the actual overall performances suggests that it is really stretching it to suggest that T&T would have been the new champions but for the amount of time they were kept off the field. If we want to contend that the loss of Ravi Rampaul before the start of the campaign and then Rayad Emrit on the opening day of the second round duel with Jamaica to injury were significant setbacks in the bowling department, there is clearly weight in that, especially as Rampaul showed his worth in claiming 33 wickets in the last six matches of the season.

Maybe we have the best structure, the best operational framework and more opportunities for players to develop their skills. However, the evidence of the last three-and-a-half months suggests that we may be mistakenly assuming that great quantity automatically translates into higher quality

On the other side of the coin, Jamaica set the pace and were never really close to being caught from the halfway stage onwards, despite having to do without the services - in whole or in part - of Chris Gayle, Brendan Nash, Jerome Taylor, Daren Powell and Nikita Miller, all of whom were on West Indian duty at some stage of the competition.

So the consistent contention that Trinidad and Tobago have the widest pool of available talent and the greatest strength in depth in the region also seems to have run aground. Maybe we have the best structure, the best operational framework and more opportunities for players to develop their skills. However, the evidence of the last three-and-a-half months suggests that we may be mistakenly assuming that great quantity automatically translates into higher quality.

No sir, an appreciation of where it all went wrong can only be achieved if everyone with any role in the team structure, from the newest player to the most senior administrator, honestly reviews his own contribution to the national effort.

Last year, after the fiasco of the three-day defeat to Jamaica in the regional challenge final at Sabina Park, there was talk of a thorough investigation by the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board. Whether or not it was properly conducted, the story of 2009 so far indicates that there are many unresolved matters that are impacting on the ability of the team to perform at a consistently high level.

First (and really the only issue as far as I am concerned), it must be determined whether cricketers representing us are really motivated to give their all for the country. Are too many of them in a comfort zone as a result of the money earned from their limited-over successes over the past three years, especially from Sir Allen Stanford's events? Are there lingering grouses with the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board that are just being papered over?

Whatever the issues, be they significant or trivial, it is the results that matter at the end of the day. This is not a friendship society or benevolent organisation, so players getting along should be secondary to performances, as many of those involved in the halcyon days of West Indian dominance often remind us. Are players within the team set-up contributors to the constant bickering and mauvais langue that people close to the squad always seem to indulge in? Is the management structure of the set-up - from the captain to the coach to the manager to the administrators - prepared to make decisions in the best interests of Trinidad and Tobago cricket, even if it means doing without the services of certain players?

In the midst of all this modern team-bonding, lovey-dovey tripe, it seems the fundamental purpose of sporting competition at national level is being sacrificed for the sake of keeping the lads happy. You play to win, to bring honour to your country, and if you're a significant contributor to a successful side, there will be individual benefits to come.

More than anything else, the decision-makers at all levels of T&T cricket need to determine who really wants to represent us, or hire someone to come up with excuses - other than rain - for several years to come.

Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad