Sunday, April 21, 2024

FAZEER MOHAMMED: Finding the right balance

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THERE WAS a time when the quality of cricketers sprouting from this tiny island determined the strength of the West Indian game. It may be happening again with an abundance of representatives on all Caribbean teams, except in a different context.

Barbados cricket is certainly comparatively strong, as evidenced by the well-deserved triumph in the regional Super50. But with the notable exception of the T20 format, West Indies are weaklings in men’s competition on the world stage, anchored near the foot of the international rankings – save for the odd short-lived spurt in form – in both Tests and One-Day Internationals for more than a decade.

It cannot be enough to be satisfied with the number of compatriots donning the burgundy cap. Sir Frank Worrell would have expected so much more than the short-sighted gloating over how many picks were achieved by so-and-so territory, as if that impressive level of representation could in any way compensate for mediocre performances.

As with the selection of any West Indies squad, there is the usual insular toing and froing over who should or shouldn’t be in the side for the three One-Day Internationals against England, beginning on Friday in Antigua. As is often the case, there is merit on both sides although impartiality is often crowded out by a one-eyed fanaticism.

Why Jonathan Carter and not Sunil Ambris for a middle-order place, assuming that performances in the Super50 carry any weight? Didn’t Sulieman Benn do more than enough with his miserly and effective left-arm spinners over the past month in Barbados and then Antigua to claim a specialist slow bowler’s spot? And if Shai Hope was so outstanding in front and behind the stumps in the Pride’s successful run to the title, doesn’t that make Shane Dowrich redundant, especially as he struggled for runs throughout the inter-territorial competition?

At the end of the day it is the performances in those three matches which will see Courtney Browne and his fellow selectors either vindicated or further pilloried. But that’s what they all signed up for, so getting cussed from Port Royal to the Rupununi Savannah is all part of the package in any official position in West Indies cricket.

Finding the right balance in any squad is a completely subjective process. One man’s unbiased observer is another’s blind loyalist. It was that way in the years of dominance, so don’t expect anything resembling generally mature assessment anywhere along this chain of territories, not when there is a fellow national’s interest to be championed.

Take the situation in Trinidad and Tobago over the latest duo to run afoul of the West Indies Cricket Board. For those not absorbed with the Carnival festivities, Darren Bravo and Nicholas Pooran are being portrayed as joining the list of victims of an anti-T&T campaign run, not just by the WICB, but by every other country presumably conspiring against the players from the southernmost twin-island state.

If only it were that clear-cut.

Bravo’s Twitter outburst against Dave Cameron last November was always going to land him in trouble, while Pooran couldn’t possibly have expected to just walk away from a contractual obligation with the Leewards Hurricanes
in preference for a stint at the Bangladesh Premier League and escape unscathed.

Notwithstanding being lambasted at almost every turn for entirely justifiable reasons, the WICB has been admirably willing in approving No Objection Certificates (NOC’s) over the years for players seeking to ply their trade in T20 franchises worldwide, even when that more lucrative opportunity was prioritised over West Indian or territorial representation.

Now that both players, who are not allowed to play WICB-sanctioned cricket pending the resolution of their matters, have earned Indian Premier League contracts, what is the board to do?

To deny them the NOC’s will be perceived as vindictive by some, while others will worry about the floodgates being swung open to many more seeking those financially attractive opportunities – to the detriment of regional competition – should Bravo and Pooran simply be allowed to jet off to India early next month.

As with most dilemmas of this type, compromise is required on both sides, a willingness to take a balanced perspective and appreciate that there are merits to the arguments either way. But compromise or conciliation is only possible when there is respect and trust, and there is little to suggest in all the many confrontations between players and administrators, especially in the past decade, that there is much of that in the West Indian environment.

Bajans may be happy with the number of their own in the West Indies squad while Trinis will be pouring scorn on what they perceive to be a vindictive governing body. Yet both miss the point, a point that holds the best interests of West Indies cricket as blind to territorial loyalties.

 

Fazeer Mohammed is a regional cricket journalist and broadcaster who has been covering the game at all levels since 1987.

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