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T&T first-class cricket success can boost Windies

Two characteristics noticeable in the legendary cricket teams of the post-World War II era were depth and the predominance of one territory in each nation, which usually became the core of their first XI.

The first great West Indies team from 1963-68 had a strong Barbadian influence and was captained by legendary batsmen Sir Frank Worrell and Sir Garfield Sobers and included the fast bowling duo of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith and key squad players like Conrad Hunte, Seymour Nurse and all-rounder David Holford. Not bad for a little island of 166 square miles.

The giants from the 1976-95 period alternated between a Barbadian and Antiguan backbone. The quartet of Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner represented Barbados while Sir Vivian Richards, Curtly Ambrose, Richie Richardson and Andy Roberts came from the latter territory.

Can a Trinidad and Tobago resurgence in the longer version of the game have a similar impact on West Indies’ cricket fortunes?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago's Rayad Emrit (second from right) celebrates a wicket during a first-class contest. (Courtesy WICB Media)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Rayad Emrit (second from right) celebrates a wicket during a first-class contest.
(Courtesy WICB Media)

The talent within the T&T line-up in recent four-day clashes was unmistakable. The starting XI against Guyana read: Adrian Barath, Lendl Simmons, Darren Bravo, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Denesh Ramdin, Imran Khan, Rayad Emrit, Sunil Narine, Amit Jaggernauth and Shanon Gabriel while Ravi Rampaul was absent through injury.

Emrit, Khan and Jaggernauth apart, the other eight players are current West Indies members and could conceivably be the heartbeat of the regional team for the foreseeable future.

After Trinidad and Tobago ended a 21-year drought with back-to-back four-day titles in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, many predicted the start of a golden era for the dual-island republic in regional cricket.

But T&T’s focus seemed to shift towards the domestic one-day and Twenty20 competitions and their cricketers have won three of the last six 50 overs tournaments and four of the six T20 tournaments since then.

It’s no coincidence that eight of 15-member 2012 West Indies T20 World Cup winning squad hailed from Trinidad.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago all-rounder Keiron Pollard is one of the world's most feared T20 players.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago all-rounder Keiron Pollard is one of the world’s most feared T20 players.

Regardless of that global triumph, true respect in the game still comes from the state of your Test team and it is this arena that West Indies must triumph if it wants to be the best test team in the world again.

Doctor Carla Rauseo, writing for the Trinidad Guardian recently, suggested an interesting synopsis on why Trinidad and Tobago and, by extent, the West Indies team now excels in T20 cricket:

“The West Indies, and more specifically, T&T, are powerhouses in T20 cricket for one very large and embarrassing reason. Simply, we excel in T20 cricket because the characteristics of the game reflect the qualities of our society.”

Ouch.

Jamaica is the big dog in the first-class competition now and copped the last five consecutive titles. It is six years since Trinidad and Tobago has won a four-day game against the boys from the “Land of Wood and Water.”

And, curiously, Jamaica has achieved all this with minimal input from its most high profile players, Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels.

But why has this island’s dominance failed to noticeably benefit the West Indies?

In the last two decades of Caribbean cricket, a decline in the standard of the domestic first-class scene has coincided in the regional team’s declining fortunes.

Jamaica, in my view, has been best at exploiting the mediocrity of its opponents in the four-day game rather than being a great team in its own right. The performances of two of its key players, captain Tamar Lambert and spinner Nikita Miller, suggest as much.

Photo: Nikita Miller appeals for a wicket while wearing West Indies' colours. (Courtesy ESPN)
Photo: Nikita Miller appeals for a wicket while wearing West Indies’ colours.
(Courtesy ESPN)

Lambert is regularly praised as the best captain in regional cricket but barely averages 30 with the bat in his first-class career and was not seriously considered when Gayle was controversially lost the West Indies captaincy in 2010. It is not a batting record that would recommend anyone for the international stage and he has never played for the West Indies.

Miller, on the other, might have the best domestic average for a spinner in any domestic first-class competition worldwide with a staggering 15.44 runs conceded for his 244 victims. On stats alone, Miller looks like Alf Valentine reincarnated.

Yet, when given the chance for the West Indies, Miller struggled.

Caribbean batsmen are appalling at playing spin and Miller thrived through little more than nagging accuracy. But, at international level, the top batsmen are not be troubled by a spinner who does not turn the ball significantly and, as such, Narine and Shane Shillingford have proved to be better picks for West Indies.

Photo: West Indies and Trinidad and Tobago spinner Sunil Narine. (Courtesy WICB/Ashley Allen)
Photo: West Indies and Trinidad and Tobago spinner Sunil Narine.
(Courtesy WICB/Ashley Allen)

Jamaica is a steady outfit. But it is the ability to improvise and innovate that gives present Trinidad and Tobago players the edge at the higher level and we already know what they can do against international opponents due to their adventures in the condensed format of the game.

A big performance in this Easter weekend’s clash in Jamaica could be a fitting start as Trinidad and Tobago sets its sights on regional first-class supremacy. Perhaps West Indies cricket would be better off for it.

AboutColin Benjamin

Colin Benjamin is a former freelance writer for the Trinidad Newsday newspaper and Guyana Stabroek News.

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