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COZIER ON CRICKET – Hard ball for Guyana

Tony Cozier

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GUYANA have a hard act to follow.Trinidad and Tobago’s inspiring performance in the inaugural Champions League in India last year set standards and created expectations that the new West Indies T20 champions will find difficult to match in the second tournament in South Africa next month.Complete outsiders at the start, the Trinidadians advanced to the final with one victory after another over powerful opponents from England, Australia, South Africa and the Indian Premier League, most bumped up by foreign imports. Only Brett Lee’s all-round brilliance for New South Wales stopped them in the final.They caught international cricket’s attention and restored some of the West Indies’ fading image.Daren Ganga’s leadership was universally lauded, encouraging a strong, but unsuccessful lobby for him to be elevated to the West Indies captaincy. And in Kieron Pollard they had the personality of the tournament.This is the benchmark that confronts Guyana. Already, the naysayers are predicting the worst. Dwayne Bravo has publicly asserted that, regardless of the outcome of the WICB’s first T20 championship, Trinidad and Tobago remains the best short-game team in the region.And there has been the especially dismissive judgement of Andre Baptiste, a regular columnist in the Trinidad Guardian, that the Guyana team “is just not up to international standard and will be a poor representative for this region”.The Guyanese can disregard such pessimism. Much the same was felt about the Trinidadians a year ago, if not as strongly put. Their team paid no heed and simply went about the business of proving the doubters wrong.The internal strife within the Guyana board and the predictable wrangle over how the payout from the League should be portioned out seem like distractions. So it was for Trinidad and Tobago.A contracts dispute between the players and their board last year wasn’t settled until days before they flew out for their date with destiny in India.The opportunity of participating in the first significant competition of its kind, televised live internationally, eliminated any distractions then. So it should now.Quite apart from the pride qualification has already brought to the substantial global Guyanese diaspora, a few strong motivating factors, collectively and individually, override all dire forecasts.There is overall prize money of US$11 million to be shared around and, after Kieron Pollard’s brazen six-hitting for Trinidad and Tobago last year made him one of the most sought after, highly paid cricketers on earth, all are aware that a pot of gold could be waiting for them at the end as well.Captain Ramnaresh Sarwan has stressed that the most critical element in their campaign is preparation.While the same doesn’t appear to apply to West Indies teams, Sarwan would be keenly aware of the benefits of the six-week Stanford camp prior to the Super Series against England in 2008.Trinidad and Tobago realised it and committed themselves with real intensity for five weeks last year. The effects were obvious on the field.Time is shorter for Guyana, but at least two areas are already covered.Throughout the regional T20, Sarwan said his was “an easy team to lead since I have a great relationship with all the players”. He described team spirit as “the best I’ve seen in any Guyana team I’ve been in”, and he’s been in Guyana teams since he was 15.It tied in with his tactical direction that was widely praised in media coverage by former players, usually grudging in such praise. His leadership can have the same impact as Ganga’s for Trinidad and Tobago.  Where attention is urgently needed – and this applies to West Indies teams at every level – is to fitness, fielding and simple cricket sense.A glance at the physiques of the majority of West Indies players and a count of the number of injuries emphasise the first point.The overall sluggishness, the proliferation of missed catches, of fluffed run-outs and of fumbles in the field cover the second.These are areas the Guyana coaching staff need to concentrate most on – even above batting and bowling – in the brief period available to them.The evidence, especially in this helter-skelter version of the game, is clear.The major difference between England and Australia, the finalists in May’s World T20 in the Caribbean, and the also rans was fitness and fielding.Trinidad and Tobago might now be getting ready to return to the Champions League but for the five catches and palpable run-outs they missed in their semi-final loss to Guyana. It was in direct contrast to “the sure-handed and, at times, brilliant fielding” Ian Chappell praised last year.Barbados certainly would be the West Indies’ representative in South Africa had the boundary catch off Jonathan Foo to clinch victory in the final not been parried over the ropes for six. And so on and so forth.      Guyana are understandably keen for a few late preparation matches against Trinidad and Tobago at the National Stadium before their excited and expectant public.By then, they should have an inkling as to whether they have got everything in order for the challenge ahead. They carry the hopes of the Caribbean with them.******* SIR Hilary Beckles asserts, in last week’s SUNDAY SUN, that the concept of his Combined Campuses and Colleges (CCC) had “its beginnings in what Sir Frank Worrell had envisioned decades ago”.Surely Sir Frank’s vision – and that of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) in embracing it – was of a team of valid student cricketers truly representative of all the campuses and colleges in the region, not one so utterly and consistently dominated by players from one island, Barbados, and one campus, Cave Hill, of which Sir Hilary is principal, which also hosts all CCC’s “home” matches to the exclusion of other available venues.Sir Frank’s proposal can, indeed, have a positive impact on West Indies cricket but not in the way it has been transformed in his name.Three years into its participation in all WICB competitions, CCC teams still comprised nine of the 12 players from Cave Hill and/or Barbados in the recent WICB T20 and ten of the 16 in the 2010 regional first-class season.Perhaps it will revert to its original purpose, even as soon as October’s limited-over series. Sir Hilary, a director of the WICB in addition to his many other roles, charges me with “an orgy of negativity” for daring to point out such selection imbalances and declares that my “written cricket commentaries for some time have fallen short of what West Indies cricket now needs”.What West Indies cricket doesn’t now need is a virtual Barbados second team parading under some other name in its major tournaments. And it can certainly do without the nepotism and self-glorification for which so many of those in prominent positions of power use the game. •Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean