Politics and the demise of talent
Jamaica starts its final game in the regional four-day cricket competition today. The team has performed dismally this season, losing five games on the trot. What has caused the previously unstoppable Jamaican cricket team to start looking so ordinary? The answer is simple. We are feeling the effects of the stupid theory that you can't change a winning team. No team wins forever, but moving from being kingpins to losing five games in a row, within two or three years never had to be.
When we were winning, the selectors, (and sometimes that might have included the captain and coach) were prepared to stick with players with mediocre performance. No matter how dismally our batsmen performed, they would be guaranteed another game. This is why there is a whole slew of Jamaican batsmen in the past 10 years with 20-odd or 30-odd games under their belts, all with an average below 30.
When we were winning, we had the most lethal spin combination in the region, Nikita Miller and Odean Brown. Andrew Richardson was always likely to nick out a few with the new or old ball, and David Bernard Junior was always a steady wicket-taker. The strength, then, was in the bowling. There were times, of course, when the batsmen came good. Wavell Hinds and Brendon Nash could be relied upon. Donavon Pagan and Tamar Lambert had their moments, and Carlton Baugh was always likely to be a problem to opposing bowlers.
Too often, though, the top order did very little and yet were still retained. As a result of this, the batsmen became complacent. They knew that their game was secure once the team was winning. They were secure in the knowledge that they would suit up irrespective of what they did. As a result, people like Xavier Marshall, Brenton Parchment, Simon Jackson, Nkrume Bonner, and Danza Hyatt all underachieved. These batsmen all had talent but they were never pushed for their place for too long, and one way of creating mediocrity in team sports is when players are convinced their games are secure, no matter what.
This business of picking these underperforming batsmen had another effect. It killed off the aspirations, and possibly the interest, of those at the rung below them. I have seen other Jamaican batsmen in those times who the selectors wouldn't look at, despite their performance at trials or in domestic competition. In fact, for many years now, trials and domestic performances have been a joke. The selectors already knew who they would play and trials became one big farce. I have seen where batsmen would come to trials and outbat those on the team and not make the squad! I know of cases at trials where these senior players became arrogant, because they knew they would play, and they treated those outside the squad with scant regard.
I have written how Manchester won the two day titles three years in a row a few years ago, with NOT ONE Manchester player representing Jamaica in any format of the game during that period. That was Jamaican cricket politics at its best. Those responsible helped put Jamaica's cricket in the malaise it's now in. Not only that, but it discouraged a lot of players during that time. Donavon Sinclair, for example, was at one time, by far, the most dominant batsman in local cricket. He would outscore those on the national team in Senior Cup but couldn't get in. He couldn't get in because those in charge were maintaining the status quo on the national team and wouldn't pick other batsmen, no matter how well they performed. The next generation of batsmen outside of the top flight for a few years were discouraged because they felt it was a waste of time.
Now, the senior players are getting older. Baugh, Lambert and Bernard Jr are past their best. Because of natural attrition, people like Pagan and Nash and Hinds have moved on. Now, we are replacing our batsmen with a set of youths who have done nothing special in 'big man' cricket. People like Cassius Burton, Brandon King and Ramaal Lewis are all talented youngsters, but they are all lucky to be playing.
Others with better credentials than these were (and are) still on the sidelines. For too long, they kept picking people who they liked, irrespective of performance, or were not willing to pick the ones performing at trials or in domestic competition, because they were unwilling to take the risks on a team that was winning. Now, the team is losing because the bowling unit is no longer as effective. Miller isn't here. Odean is still good but injuries aren't helping. Richardson is no longer playing. The cracks are now beginning to show! We are now paying dearly for those sins in selection over the years!
- Orville Higgins is a sports journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.