September 27, 2011

'T&T could go its own way'

The side's inspirational captain looks at the possibility of a potential breakaway from the West Indies

Daren Ganga's 48 Tests for West Indies have been spread over nine years, but since his last international appearance in 2008 he has built an impressive reputation as Trinidad & Tobago's captain. Ganga spoke to ESPNcricinfo in Hyderabad about T&T wanting to break away from the West Indies set-up, the problems within the administration and how he developed as a leader.

Do you think the WICB has over-reached itself in its handling of player issues?
Given the state of our cricket, there needs to be a certain amount of checks and balances, in terms of the governance of the game in the Caribbean. Whether that balance is carried out or not in the right spirit is another issue. But if you look at all the successful countries, you'll realise their players' body and their administrative body work very closely together. They have established a very cordial and respectful manner in which they go about doing things. You look at the Australian Cricketers' Association and how they operate with Cricket Australia. We're still stuck somewhere in between, and the faster we can get around that and move forward, the more positively it will impact on cricket.

Do you think there has been too much player power [in West Indian cricket]?
I think the board does need to have a certain amount of control. They are the governing body for the game so they need to ensure that it is well protected and guided in the right direction. Globally Twenty20 is influencing the game. Our governing bodies need to be strong enough to ensure there is balance in terms of Test and 50-over cricket. And there needs to be a certain amount of authority for doing those things. You must have people who have that sort of influence, but if the head is not in the right place, that is an issue.

Sometimes, they have got to recognise themselves as providing a service to the game rather than the cricket being all about them.

Has that attitude been lacking? How flexible do you think the board needs to be?
There needs to be a certain amount of flexibility. What is complicated in the WICB is that it comprises members of each individual territory. It's a very cumbersome structure that does not allow efficiency and easy decision-making. There is always an insular thought or an insular comment. What is left to be seen is whether we can be mature enough to get past that and see the light at the end of the tunnel, which is that the best decisions are made in the interests of our cricket. That is where all the Caribbean nations need to come together and make sure that the game and its quality in the West Indies are protected.

During the 2009 Champions League you said that if things didn't improve, there would be a day when the individual [national] boards would want to go their separate ways. Has the situation deteriorated or improved since then?
I think it's closer in that direction [deterioration]. That is what you hear from the people who support you. The common man on the ground… you read sometimes in the editorials and you listen to comments. It's not always about the people who make the decision. There is a certain amount of influence by the masses. If a certain player is not selected and doing well, public pressure will ask the selectors to get that player in the set-up.

I speak from the T&T perspective. There is a lot of discussion about the positives of going in that direction and about certain players who are not being given the opportunity. At the moment, I can't really say what the other territories are saying. You see the controversies with Chris Gayle not being in the set-up. You are seeing a heavy influence from the Windward Islands in terms of players being selected because of the people who are in power now. Historically, it's been like that. Whether that changes, we do not know.

With the advent of all these third-party competitions [like the Champions League], where individual countries are getting an opportunity, it may fragment the West Indies federation and the West Indies cricket team, which is the only sporting body that allows all the territories to play as one.

"When you play for your country, the country that you were born in and brought up in, and you sing your national anthem, it brings a different individual spirit to you. Saying that you are West Indian, yes, there is a certain amount of patriotism, but there is no West Indian anthem, there is not that sort of closeness"

How long can nebulous concepts like the West Indies legacy - which is now decades old - sustain this unity?
You hear pros and cons for the West Indies federation. How with the advent of global trade and technology, individual countries can sustain. We are seeing in different sports that countries are playing as individual nations. We had the T&T football team that qualified for the World Cup [2006]. We have Jamaica, who are doing very well in athletics. We have a lot of athletes who compete in the Olympics as citizens of individual countries. The more that happens and the more global exposure that each country gets, the more that is going to impact negatively on our collective West Indian effort.

Can you foresee a time frame before public opinion in T&T turns irrefutably in favour of going solo?
I definitely think the performance of our team will push that discussion in either direction. If we go on to do well on a global stage such as the Champions League, you are going to have public pressure being applied, where they think that a T&T team can fend on its own and has the opportunity to qualify on its own in the 50-over or the 20-over World Cup. When you do well in a global competition, there is talk that T&T should go on their own. "It will allow so many opportunities for young players. We have the financial backing. Why don't we do that in terms of positive benefits for the country? The amount of money that we spend on conventions and heads-of-government summits, we could channel that into sport."

Leaving aside the legacy and emotion, do you think it is practically feasible to do that, given that larger countries have struggled?
I think there is an opportunity to head in that direction. The ICC allows a country to apply and go through the process of getting in that member set-up. Whether anyone has the confidence and bravery to go in that direction and to run the risk of breaking that legacy is to be seen. But we all know that it is possible in today's world.

Do you think T&T will take the lead some day? You have always loved that flag, haven't you?
If you speak to any West Indies player, you will hear them talking about this special affiliation to their country. When you play for your country, the country that you were born in and brought up in, and you sing your national anthem, it brings a different individual spirit to you. Saying that you are West Indian, yes, there is a certain amount of patriotism, but there is no West Indian anthem, there is not that sort of closeness. Yes, historically we have achieved great things and when you travel across the world, you hear people talking about our legacy. But to be close to it, feel it and interact directly with it on a daily basis, no, it is not present. In the Caribbean we are talking about the CSME [CARICOM Single Market and Economy], which is establishing a common economic market, and still we have had a lot of challenges in getting it on stream. So that in itself is sending a strong message in terms of us collectively as a Caribbean federation.

So will it ultimately come down to a pull between the legacy of the past and, say, the love of the T&T flag?
Not really. I think they both go hand in hand. T&T cricket is a subset of West Indies cricket. If you want to effect a change in West Indies cricket, it must come from the subsets, which are the individual territories. We are still not grasping that concept. We are still looking at things from the top and not realising that the change needs to come from our subsets. If I could change that, then it would help and contribute positively to West Indies cricket.

Coming to leadership, Darren Sammy said that it is overrated. What do you have to say on that?
I don't think so. There is a lot that a captain can do. But a captain must have the full support of the administration. That confidence has not been there in the West Indies. Even someone like Brian Lara was placed on probation. While all of us want results, but you cannot put a gun to a guy's head. A lot more freedom could have been given in terms of selections and choice of support staff. If you ask me, I would have taken it up only if such things were put in place.

I'll bring Sammy again into this. Your batting record has gone against you in the past. Do you think standards have not been applied consistently when it comes to deciding on the captaincy? I don't like to comment too much on guys who are given the opportunity to lead, because I don't know the premise of the board in terms of decision-making and what their intentions are. We can see there is a seeking out of younger players and building a young team. That is what you gather from the decisions of the selectors.

But could those same standards have been applied earlier?
It is baffling to me that there was a guy like Ramnaresh Sarwan who was always playing second fiddle as vice-captain and yet he was never given a fair chance to lead West Indies. I can recall him playing under Carl Hooper and Brian Lara and being vice-captain for years. He hasn't been given that opportunity to lead even in two or three consecutive series. There is no structured manner and clear philosophy and guideline in terms of selecting a captain and players.

Players having one good first-class season are thrust into the international arena, while there are players who dominate the first-class scene day in and day out and don't even get that opportunity. For the last four years I haven't played for West Indies. This year I am not far behind Marlon Samuels in terms of runs, and I am not involved in any West Indian representative team. Yet I am doing so well for T&T. Marlon was out of cricket for two years. He had one good season and he is playing all versions of the game.

Forty-eight Tests spread over almost a decade. You think you were handed a raw deal?
Probably. I am not too sure. There are selectors and powers-that-be who make those decisions. As a player I can only control my performance. For T&T, for the past four-five years, I have been enjoying a great time as a captain and as a batsman. I started playing this game because I love it and not because I want to play for West Indies. It is a great honour to play for West Indies and represent the collective Caribbean. But at the same time, I get my fulfillment from playing the game in the best manner that I can. And as a captain it is not just about winning matches. There is a certain fulfillment you get from being influential in terms of selecting and helping young players and seeing them move on to play and do well in international cricket.

How much of a motivation is leadership, and how much of a role does having a solid grounding in education play in leadership?
A lot of leadership has to do with communication and having a certain amount of openness and integrity in terms of your decision-making. Those are the things I stand very close to when leading cricket teams - and anything in life, as a matter of fact. In this T&T set-up all the young players know that they can come and speak to me about anything. They know when they are left out that they can come to me and get a reason. There are always cricketing reasons behind it. The minute you step away from cricketing reasons, you find yourself in hot water.

All the players are aware that not everyone can be selected. We try not to take any shortcuts as players, as we know that there is a certain effort and preparation that goes into getting results. We have built that attitude that you have got to work to get the results. That has brought us success as a team.

"This year I am not far behind Marlon Samuels in terms of runs, and I am not involved in any West Indian representative team. Yet I am doing so well for T&T. Marlon was out of cricket for two years. He had one good season and he is playing all versions of the game"

It is probably a touch early to ask you this, but any regrets so far, as a batsman and as a leader?
As a batsman, I think if I had the experience of playing a certain amount of cricket before I got the opportunity to play international cricket, I would have been a lot more mature. I would have been better prepared to think of my responsibilities. My entry to international cricket was very premature. I had just played three of four first-class matches and I was on my first tour with West Indies to South Africa in 1998. Initially I was told by Brian [Lara] and the selectors that it was a learning tour for me and I would be playing most of the practice matches to help my development. I ended up playing in three of the five Tests on that dreaded tour.

The experience made me stronger. It built my character as a cricketer. But as a batsman it scarred me very early in my career. I have had to learn my game at the international level, which has been without a lot of success. I always wanted to hone my skills at the first-class level, where you can try and make mistakes and get away with it. In international cricket you make one mistake and you are out. That is my one major regret as a batsman. On the flip side, having had that experience and going through those things has shaped me as a person and built a certain resolve.

Do you think that is required as a leader?
Of course. They say that in order for you to enjoy success as a leader and probably as a person, you have to go through great periods of failure and misery. I have gone through mine. That is why I think, over the years, I have enjoyed success. I can also allude to Steve Waugh, if you look at his career and how things went for him. It makes it great in the end because you can see all the trials and tribulations that you have gone through.

You would have wanted to do better as a batsman but would you have taken all this to be the leader that you are today?
Yeah, I would. As I said, I have no regrets [on that front]. I am still playing, I can still make that difference, I still believe in my ability. A lot of people in the West Indies do have that belief in me as well. They want to see a change in West Indies cricket. If I could make my difference to a certain period of West Indies cricket, then I would have played my part.

We don't know where it will head. The cricketing landscape globally is changing and we don't know how it will be in the next 10 years. I just want to play my part as a cricketer and as a leader, and hopefully look back on a fulfilling career.

Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo