Of pretence, passionate cricketers and mind-boggling statistics

 The stirring performance by the team from Cave Hill in the extraordinary regional T20 double-tie with Barbados at Kensington Oval that ran through Friday night and into the witching hour should not have come as a surprise.

If they have ended in the bottom half of the table in the three seasons since the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) elevated them into the annual first-class tournament, they have beaten Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago twice each and the Windwards once.

Nor were they that far behind Barbados in experience in the T20 contest with 339 first-class matches between their 11 against their opponents’ 400.
It is true that three of the four Test men in their team gained selection only through last year’s strike by the originally chosen players but Sulieman Benn and Kemar Roach were the only two of Barbados’ five who are current. And they each had two members on the recent West Indies ‘A’ team tours of Bangladesh, Ireland and England.

With the benefit of a permanent support staff, the superb Three Ws Oval as its venue for all home matches and the finest practice facilities in Barbados, they appear a well-prepared, committed unit, even if it is troubling to hear reports of some indiscipline, the present bane of West Indies cricket.
For all that, the initiative is not serving the purpose the WICB intended.
As its given name – the Combined Campuses and Colleges – implies, it was seen as a way of allowing qualified players at every campus and college throughout the Caribbean to combine their higher education with their cricket. Instead, it has become almost exclusively confined to the University of the West Indies (UWI) at Cave Hill Eight of the 11 on Friday night – including the player-coach Floyd Reifer – were from there. There were six Barbadians.

A week earlier, also at Kensington under lights, the same eight had turned out for UWI in the final of the Barbados T20 club championship for the Sagicor General Trophy, losing to Empire.

Nine of the 16 who appeared in the 2010 first-class tournament were Barbadians at Cave Hill. There was a similar percentage in the previous two seasons. These are revealing figures already widely noted but, given the logistics alone, it was always impractical to expect every institution of higher learning in the Caribbean to be corralled into the arrangement.

It is now time for the WICB to regularise the situation by limiting the team to the UWI, changing its name accordingly and laying down strict terms for selection.

There might be resistance but, at the moment, the tag “Combined Campuses and Colleges” is no more than a pretence.
Passionate cricketer that he is, not even a damaged groin muscle could stop Darren Sammy leading the Windward Islands in its opening match in the regional T20 tournament at Kensington Oval on Friday.

For him and his team, it was a rash decision. The all-rounder was obviously hindered by the injury that kept him out of the final Test against South Africa almost a month ago.

He is a key man for the Windwards but he could only hobble around the field and deliver slow-medium offerings from a few uncomfortable steps.
His first over cost 10. When he returned for his next, the 15th of the innings, the Windwards held the edge. It went for 16, reducing Guyana’s equation to 39 from 30 balls.

Sammy’s commitment is always to be admired but it now cost his team dearly. It could well prolong his own recovery period as well.
On this score, he might have consulted Fidel Edwards. According to the WICB, the fast bowler went against its advice to continue doing remedial work on a back injury last October, going to India instead to play for the Deccan Chargers in the Champions’ League. 
It wasn’t long after his return that he required an operation on a slipped disc.
He hasn’t played since and the last projection was that he won’t until the new year.
West Indies have been severely weakened by a rash of injuries over the past year or so. In addition to Edwards, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Jerome Taylor, Adrian Barath, Ravi Rampaul and Nelon Pascal have all fallen in action.

Sarwan, Barath and Pascal are back. Now Sammy’s enthusiasm has put him in doubt.
As mesmerising as Muttiah Muralitharan’s deceptive flight, massive off-breaks and confusing doosras were, I found the little Sri Lankan’s greatest quality to be the dignity and humour with which he responded to the endless controversy surrounding the legality of his action.

Several others in the past, under similar scrutiny, were left angry and indignant at the game’s cruellest indictment. Not Murali, who ended his long Test career in Galle last week with exactly 800 wickets in 133 matches, a statistic as mind-boggling, in its way, as Brian Lara’s 400 not out Test record score.

Through the furore of his inevitable calling by umpires Darrell Hair and Ross Emerson, the incessant shouts from the stands in Australia of “no ball” whenever he delivered, the computerised testing of his action when he was wired up like some modern Frankenstein and the never-ending carping, a smile hardly left his face.  

The abiding image is of his expressive eyes opening as wide as saucers as he sent down another mystery ball to confuse the opponent with the bat 20 yards away.

Murali would certainly not have met the criteria under the original No Ball law: “For a delivery to be fair the ball must be bowled, not thrown or jerked”. But the International Cricket Council (ICC), driven not only by political pressure but by the rational advice of its cricket committee of eminent past players, changed the law to allow spinners the latitude of a 15 degree bend in their elbow.

If not universally hailed, it diminished the dispute and took the load off Murali, others of his type and, not least, the umpires. It also allowed a game always in need of players of star quality many more years of his magic.

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