The champions of the last Stanford 20/20 cricket competition amongst teams from the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago, were invited to participate in the T20 Champions League in India, an event that only just concluded and in which the Trinidadians emerged second-placed finishers to the powerful New South Wales team from Australia.
Many cricket enthusiasts in the Caribbean the Trinidadians were followed as thought they were the West Indies. Many told of their eagerness to know the fortunes of the team at every turn.
The performance of the Trinidad and Tobago team at the Champions League has many lessons for us in the Caribbean and this Column seeks to address some of them. The list is by no means an exhaustive one.
Over the past few years Trinidad and Tobago has engaged in a new arrangement for the development of sport. Where some countries have established National Sport Councils Trinidad Tobago has established The Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago – SPORTT. This institution began essentially as a financing arm of the government for the development of sport.
It is from the SPORTT that the several national sports associations submit their annual budgets which are in turn assessed and funding provided based on merit. In more recent times the SPRTT has been involved in infrastructural development. This was the case with much of the preparatory work for the ill-fated Inaugural Caribbean Games. For the latter event it was also the case that the SPORTT was responsible for the acquisition of the necessary equipment for the respective competitions
Cricket itself has been involved in serious developmental work in the twin-island Republic. There has been the establishment of a Cricket Academy based at Balmain, in Central Trinidad, complete with Indoor and Outdoor Nets, a competition Cricket Ground and a hostel.
Over the past several years what we have witnessed is a systematic approach to the development of the game in Trinidad and Tobago. Several clubs have attracted players from around the Caribbean to play in the local league. Some clubs have established their own Cricket Academies, seeking out talented children and honing their skills over time armed with a progressive programme. There is regular competition of different types that attract youngsters to play frequently. There are also camps for the senior players with great frequency.
The majority of the players on the Trinidad and Tobago team that went to India recently have been playing together for some time. Many of them were involved in the regional four-day series for the past few years as well as the KFC One Day competition. They are the same players who were involved in the two editions of the Stanford 20/20 competition.
Playing together allows the players to know each other very well. They get to know each other’s cricketing strengths and weaknesses but perhaps more importantly they get an insight into each other’s personality, so important in team sports.
All active participants in sports would readily admit to the importance of knowing one’s team members to the attainment of success. Many would suggest that this is the quintessential component of teamwork.
The Trinidad and Tobago team has been able to fight one battle after another knowing that there are players in their midst who are capable of understanding the challenges facing any player at any given time and step forward to save the day. During the Champions League we saw this happening time and again. Dwayne Bravo, for example, failed with the bat until the team’s penultimate game in the competition.
Adrian Bharat was not in the final squad at the beginning but when he was eventually given the opportunity to play he showed his class with a masterful half century. The same can be said of Keiron Pollard. So much was expected of this young man yet he failed tod eliver with the bat time and again. He contained the opponents rather surprisingly with his bowling. When it looked like the team was in trouble with the batting he hammered his way out of trouble and led the team to victory. He may well have earned himself a place in the lucrative Indian Premier League.
For some time there have been voices in different parts of the Caribbean extolling the virtues of Darren Ganga as a leader on the field of play. Of course the critics have responded by pointing to his relatively poor performance with the bat once selected to the West Indies team.
There is no denying that Ganga is easily the most successful captain in the regional competitions. This feat ought to count for something.
During the Trinidad and Tobago team’s participation in the Champions League recently there were many objective cricket analysts who lauded Ganga’s captaincy.
He was commended for his motivational skills. Others commented favourably on his vision. The list of accolades during the tournament seemed endless.
It is unfortunate that in other fields of endeavour we are prepared to insist that leaders are not born, at least that is not the norm. We often advocate that leaders emerge. They are people who work diligently to hone their skills as much as anyone else.
We must therefore consider why this thinking is not readily applied to West Indies Cricket. Certainly given our current ranking in world cricket we cannot do much worse. It seems appropriate at this juncture to give Ganga a try at the West Indies captaincy and see what he makes of it. As it now stands he is not the only one in the region who has not always performed well with the bat when selected.
It may well be that if he is as good a captain as some think he is then we may not necessarily need to rely on him to save us with his batting. He may just as well get the others on the team to do so.
Ganga’s leadership of the Trinidad and Tobago team over the years has facilitated the emergence of a strong sense of commitment from the players. To the last man on the team there is a sense that they are all playing for the collective and not each player for himself. This feature has been evident in the interviews of players of the team. Whatever the occasion and whoever the player the response was always the same. It was about the team.
On reflection, it is clear that one of the features lacking for some time in West Indies Cricket is commitment. This was clear when Gayle was quoted by the BBC as having indicated that he did not see the reason for a curfew for the team on the English Tour. This occurred when Michael Findlay was the manager following the CWC2007 in which the West Indies team did so poorly. He has perhaps done and said more things to highlight a seeming lack of understanding of the importance of the team to the peoples of the region and given cause for many to question his commitment. But Gayle may well be a reflection of others on the team.
There is much that can and must be learnt from Ganga’s team while playing in India. It was this commitment that we have been seeing for some time and which must have contributed in no small measure to their successes.
It has often been said that success breeds success. That is certainly true of the Trinidad and Tobago team under Darren Ganga. Over the past few years we have watched them snatch victory from near-impossible situations. We here in St Vincent and the Grenadines may recall the KFC semi finals and finals in 2007. In the semi finals we all thought that Barbados has the game all sewn up. Suddenly Ganga was able to work his magic and an inspired Trinidad and Tobago team snatched victory from the Bajans who may well still be wondering what happened.
Then there was the final against the Windwards at Arnos Vale. Many Vincentians left the arena, with only a few over’s in the match, so enthused with the performance of the Windwards team that they left the were celebrating all the way home. Unfortunately however by the time they got home it was a different story. They were told rather shockingly that Trinidad and Tobago had won. Some had to wait on the next day’s news to hear the final outcome for themselves before they would accept what they had been told.
The Windwards versus Trinidad and Tobago game was much closer than the encounter between Barbados and the Trinis. The difference on both occasions was the well-oiled machine that was the Trinidad and Tobago team. Her was a team that was determined to win the KFC competition. The attitude of the team was the same with regard to their success in the Carib four-day competition. They felt that it was time for them to win and they did just that.
This attitude carried then through to eventual victory in the 2nd Stanford 20/20 competition in Antigua and Barbuda. They had lost in the final of the first competition to Guyana and committed to not having this feat repeated next time around. They trounced Jamaica in the 2nd competition.
It is this attitude towards the game that the Trinidad and Tobago team took with them to India and it worked in their favour. Starting and the underdogs in the competition what they had going for them was their great togetherness, their commitment, their happy blend of youth with experience and the leadership of Darren Ganga.
West Indies Cricket must learn from the experience of Trinidad and Tobago and what they did for the Caribbean and the sport in the region by their outstanding performance in the Champions T20 League in India.
We must be able to put differences aside and appreciate that there are examples around us from which we can learn many an important lesson.
The ball is now in the court of the WICB. Let us see what they will make of it.