COZIER ON CRICKET: Guyana’s turn to represent
NOT quite a year ago something remarkable happened in the far-off cricket stadiums of India.
A Trinidad and Tobago team with half the players unknown outside of the Caribbean – and some even within – restored the tattered reputation of West Indies cricket with a succession of stirring performances that carried them into the final of the inaugural international Champions Trophy T20 tournament.
With anonymous names like Badree, Barath, Perkins, Pollard and Stewart on their scoresheet, they defied and defeated supposedly formidable opponents, filled with international stars, one by one.
First, English county Somerset, led by the Australian opener Justin Langer, were brushed aside. Deccan Chargers, under the intimidating Australian Adam Gilchrist and including V.V.S. Laxman, Andrew Symonds, Scott Styris and Fidel Edwards in their ranks, were next.
New South Wales of Australia and Diamond Eagles and Cape Cobras of South Africa all followed before Brett Lee’s virtual one-man demolition (48 runs off 31 balls and two for ten at the top) in the rerun against New South Wales crushed their hopes in the final.
“The exuberant and talented bunch from the Caribbean have constantly reminded fans why it’s so important for the game that West Indies is a vibrant side,” Ian Chappell, the former Australian captain, now commentator, wrote at the time.
Like most others, he enthused over Daren Ganga’s captaincy, stating that his team played “with a smile on their faces and fun in their hearts, while capturing the public imagination”.
Peter Roebuck, a one-time captain of Somerset now internationally syndicated columnist, wrote that “to watch Trinidad and Tobago was to observe their pride”.
“Combining African and Indian, honouring the flag of their nation, respecting their history, accepting their responsibilities, representing with distinction, the team played with passion and advanced beyond any reasonable expectation,” he added.
There was optimism that such an example would inspire the same sense of pride and unity for so long lacking in West Indies cricket. The almost inevitable reality was that it was soon overtaken by the familiar problems that have brought it to its knees.
Now it is Guyana’s turn to carry the flag as the West Indies’ representatives in the second Champions Trophy that began on Friday, this time in South Africa.
Their background is uncannily similar to Trinidad and Tobago’s last year. They combine African and Indian – and, uniquely, Chinese – and will, first and foremost, honour the flag of their nation, the Golden Arrowhead.
They are short of readily recognisable stars, instead filled mainly with nonentities. Like Daren Ganga, their captain, Ramnaresh Sarwan, is a West Indies reject.
Like Ganga, he briefly captained the Test team before he was replaced by Chris Gayle and, on the eve of his departure for South Africa, lost his retainer contract with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
A couple of Guyana Cricket Board (GCB) officials have proffered the view that this “could psychologically affect Sarwan” in the tournament.
They might just have been pandering to what they perceive to be popular local sentiment but it was a seriously damning estimation of a cricketer who has repeatedly overcome adversity during his long career.
The role of his leadership in guiding Guyana to the regional T20 title was noted even by those who questioned his continuing dedication to the game. Quite apart from being psychologically affected, he can now, like Ganga, use such a global stage to embarrass those who shunted him out of the West Indies captaincy.
There is similar incentive for Narsingh Deonarine and Travis Dowlin, two others scratched from the WICB’s contracts list.
As much as anything, it will be a test of character for them. For all their experience, Guyana’s hopes rest, just as Trinidad and Tobago’s did, as much with their unknowns.
Barnwell, Bishoo, Christian, the Crandon brothers and, not least, Foo, equate to Badree, Barath, Perkins, Pollard and Stewart of last October. They were the ones who clinched the Champions Trophy spot with their heart-stopping, last-over victories in the regional T20 in July.
Even in the most desperate situation, especially in the final against Barbados, they refused to say die. It is the spirit needed over the coming month, more so at Centurion today when their opponents include a host of contemporary giants – Raul Dravid, Jacques Kallis, Anil Kumble, Dale Steyn and Ross Taylor.
While the collective responsibility of representing Guyana overrides everything else, there is also a potent individual inducement.
The matches are a show window for the Indian Premier League (IPL), with its six-figure contracts, and for the other T20 tournaments springing up everywhere.
This time last year, Keiron Pollard was known only in the Caribbean as a muscular six-footer with exceptional hand-eye coordination that rendered the boundaries of any cricket ground redundant.
By the end of the tournament, his hitting had earned him lucrative contracts with the IPL’s Mumbai Indians, the Redbacks of Australia and Somerset in England, making him the West Indies’ wealthiest cricketer in less than a year.
If Guyana have a Pollard in their ranks in South Africa it is likely to be Jonathan Foo, star of their Caribbean T20 campaign and, on several counts, potentially one of the most marketable players in world cricket at present.
His late-overs striking, his brilliance in the field and, above all, his infectious enthusiasm were crucial to getting Guyana to South Africa. And, not to put too fine a point on it, he is the only Chinese in the game’s multi-ethnic world.
He still has to prove his worth against powerhouse teams on his first venture outside of the Caribbean. But his combination of talent is one on which Bollywood movies – and millions – are based.
Three seasons ago, Sarwan directed strong criticism at the administration of Guyana cricket, stating that the 2007 Carib Cup was “the worst I saw us play as a team”.
It has been 12 years since Guyana won the regional first-class championship, sharing it with the Leeward Islands in 1998. The regional T20 triumph has given them renewed confidence.
If the sheer strength of the opposition is heavily against them, so it was for Trinidad and Tobago last year. That is what made their fairytale so fantastic.
It isn’t too much to expect a repeat, is it?
• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.