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The ‘Passing-through’ League

Trinidad Express / It only took his second match in charge for Kyle Hope to come to grips with the realities of life down at the bottom of the Professional Cricket League. League leaders and defending champions Guyana Jaguars put his team under pressure from the very first day and never really lost their grip on a match which ended within the first hour of the final day. Hope’s Trinidad and Tobago Red Force dug a deep pit for themselves by only scoring 202 in their first innings. For the record, all of the first seven Red Force batsmen reached double figures and all but one of those got 20 or more, yet none got further than Isaiah Rajah’s 41. In assessing that performance, the skipper said: “A lot of us got starts and we did not carry on but I guess that is where the inexperience showed a little bit. It was a difficult day, batting-wise. It was difficult to score quickly and we did try to apply ourselves. We were 60-odd for one going into lunch; that showed we did fight but we did not carry on,” In the second innings, the pattern was the same, more or less. Rajah got into the 40s for the second time, Yannic Cariah got into the 30s again, West Indies opener Evin Lewis reached the 20s once more and all-rounder Imran Khan got 28 to go with his 36 from the first knock. I hear the skipper venturing “inexperience” as a factor for the first innings failure. Maybe he needed to check his figures. Of the top seven in the order, only Rajah could really be classified as a newcomer to first-class cricket with five games behind him. But the Jaguars match was Hope’s 29th at this level; Lewis was playing in his 22nd game; Mohammed in his 62nd; Cariah his 39th; Khan his 79th and Katwaroo his 34th. Collectively, that’s 270 games, many of them played at the Queen’s Park Oval, the scene of the latest loss. No, what failed the Red Force was not inexperience, but attitude. They failed the eye test. Loose and reckless could be the only way to describe how Lewis and Mohammed went after the deliveries that cost them their wickets in the first innings. “Whip-whap” cricket it was. By now they must know that in the four-day game, there is not a limited time to score runs, especially on the first day when the conditions, according to Hope, were not the easiest for stroke-making. Far more important was spending time at the crease. But the Red Force batsmen as a whole did not respect those basic rules of batting. They simply did not apply themselves adequately, so that the Oval performances mirrored those in previous matches and in others in recent seasons that have made the T&T franchise non-contenders in this re-fashioned regional tournament. The sight of the latest débâcle must have put a serious frown on the face of Red Force coach Gus Logie. His job, after all, is to get results and in the four-day format, his teams haven’t been getting them. He can cite with a little justification the fact that some of the better T&T players have not made themselves available for four-day cricket in recent years. For instance, while the Red Force were stumbling along at the Oval, letting the last three wickets of the Jaguars first innings compile 129 runs, Sunil Narine was playing in Penal for Queen’s Park, bowling them to victory in fact, in the Sunday League. His last first-class match was over three years ago — a Test match in New Zealand. Super50 captain Denesh Ramdin declared himself unavailable for the Regional Four-Day, Lendl Simmons also seems to be uninterested in playing first-class cricket and Kieron Pollard has taken an “indefinite break” from the format. But Logie has also identified another problem. Commenting on the contribution of senior players to the side, he said this: “What I want to see is performance even from the experienced players. Having experienced players is one thing; if the experienced players are not really willing to perform to the best of their ability, it really would not make much sense because you are not going to win games, so what we want, with the young players showing that hunger, showing that willingness to fight, all we want to see is the senior players coming in and really and truly bolstering and making it better.” Last weekend, the senior players did not make things better for the Red Force. And one gets the impression that playing four-dayers is not much of an attraction for men who have broken into international cricket and have begun to make a name for themselves there. This is a major problem for regional franchises that goes beyond coaching. The Professional League was introduced by the West Indies Cricket Board, not only to provide a worthwhile livelihood for regional players, but also to raise playing standards by allowing the players to focus full-time on their cricket. Three seasons into the new venture, the quality of play is no better; and neither is the overall approach to the game. It isn’t helpful either that not enough of the better Caribbean players are present to raise the standard, and so the PCL is in danger of becoming merely a passageway rather than a proving ground for WI cricketers. Call it the “Passing-through League”. Somehow, therefore, the WICB directors, new CEO Johnny Grave and Director of Cricket Jimmy Adams must find a way to make playing Test cricket a more attractive goal for players, and that means better remuneration for five-day work. It is perhaps only then that the four-day participants will see staying at the crease as a cause for digging deep. [email protected]

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