KFC finals underline a bigger problem February 18, 2007

On slippery slope

Tony Cozier

As a preview to the World Cup, the two KFC Cup semi-finals on Thursday and Friday made for worrisome watching.

Contested on pitches described as "tricky" [Daren Ganga] and "sub-standard" [Haydn Gill] and before a smattering of spectators in stands at Arnos Vale still behind in construction, they simply substantiated the concern over the standard of regional cricket widely shared by those who follow it closely, more recently by convenor of selectors Gordon Greenidge and head coach Bennett King.

The totals themselves provided the stark evidence. Guyana all out for 114 from 38 overs, Trinidad and Tobago 64 for 5 before being eased over their Duckworth/Lewis target of 109 by Sherwin Ganga and Reyad Emrit. Barbados all out for 155 from 47.2 overs, the Windwards seven down before they clinched victory in the 45th over.

With the notable exception of Devon Smith, the batting was abysmal. His plucky, well constructed unbeaten 75 for the Windwards was the kind of application so often missing in West Indies' efforts, and immediate justification for his inclusion in the World Cup 15. The contrast between his approach and a few others also chosen in the squad was absolute.

In the first semi-final, Lendl Simmons and Kieron Pollard went after deliveries so wide the umpire was already extending his arms in the call when they somehow managed to make contact. Simmons got a touch to the keeper, Pollard, after batting with necessary restraint for 26, then launched a skier to extra-cover. These are the continuing indisciplines that drive coaches to drink - or, at least, to hair-restoring clinics. These are early days for both young Trinidadians; time enough for such impetuosity to be eradicated.

No one has been more irritating in this regard than Dwayne Smith who has been around appreciably longer. He was at it again on Friday. Placed at No. 3 for Barbados, he drove his fourth ball, a full-length, medium-pace inswinger from Deighton Butler, tamely to mid-off. It was a familiar method of dismissal. He has been a repeat offender more times than any errant ZR driver, yet the selectors retain him in the hope that he will, somehow, fulfil the potential first shown in his dazzling hundred on Test debut three years ago, but only spasmodically since then.

The opinions over Smith have been as sharply divided as those over any West Indies player since Carl Hooper. It extended to the selectors when Greenidge and King finally brought themselves around to announce the World Cup squad on Thursday.

"Personally, I'm not convinced, I'm partly convinced," Greenidge said. "I would like to see him develop more into a total player, an all-round player." Yet King rated Smith capable of winning matches with "the way he bats".

"If he comes off in two games and there are two important matches in the World Cup, you are going to win two matches on his own bat," the coach conjectured. "He is the sort of player who can win a match in the twinkling of an eye."

Had Greenidge, King and the others been picking the Cup after Friday's match, Smith would have been even more fortunate to supplant the consistent Darren Sammy than he was in the first place. What seemingly tilts the balance in Smith's favour is his fielding. There are few better in world cricket. He is as fast as an Olympic sprinter with a swift pickup and laser-like throw that has accounted for seven direct hit run-outs. Clive Lloyd reckons his presence lifts the overall fielding 20 per cent. He and Dwayne Bravo on either side in the semi-circle are a brilliant combination.

Fielding is one aspect of the limited-overs game that is as critical as batting and bowling. Viv Richards' hat-trick of run-outs in the first World Cup final were as crucial as Lloyd's thunderous hundred. Jonty Rhodes was a more than useful batsman, but his fame was made in the field.

"When you're playing one-day cricket, you can't have weak links in too many facets of your play, whether it's fielding, batting, or bowling," King said. "It's very hard to push a person who does only one thing." So someone must have pushed very hard to include both Ian Bradshaw and Corey Collymore in the World Cup 15.

Both, even Bradshaw of late, now only "do one thing" and that is bowl. They do it admirably, but what they gain with the ball can be cancelled out through weak throws and methodical moving in the field in contests that are likely to be decided by margins of between 15 and 20 runs.

It might have been that the discerning cricket public of St Vincent stayed away from the matches in their thousands because they were aware of what would be presented. However, a more likely explanation was the lack of promotion. Stanley Hinds, the former Windwards' off-spinner, told us during the radio commentary that very few people were even aware of the presence in St Vincent of the semis and final of the West Indies' premier one-day tournament, and one that involved the Windwards to boot. With the availability of the many KFC outlets throughout the region for it to be publicised, it was an astonishing revelation.

Given the rich man/poor man distinction between its American billionaire originator and the impoverished West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), it might be unfair to make comparison with the remarkable response to the Stanford 20/20 tournament in Antigua last July and August. The more pertinent link would be to the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA) that continues to upstage the WICB on every front.

Whatever might be said about Dinanath Ramnarine's assertive, often disruptive, methods and the pejorative language of so many of his public pronouncements, the WIPA's chief executive has negotiated contracts that have made millonaires of his elite members and attracted a host of sponsors. He has influenced most television stations in the region to carry live the WIPA's annual awards ceremony, the fourth of which was held at the Sherbourne Conference Centre last week.

As well organised and almost as glitzy as the Oscars, it honoured players in every category and gave the many sponsors, all out of Trinidad, it is true, value for their involvement. What was supposedly the grand finale of one of the WICB's premier tournaments in St Vincent paled to insignificance in comparison. The WICB's chief executive is a post that remains open. Perhaps they could persuade Ramnarine to cross the floor.

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