Wed | Aug 16, 2017

What's ideal team preparation?

Published:Saturday | February 27, 2016 | 2:00 AM

In the aftermath of the West Indies win in the ICC Under-19 tournament, Ian Bishop made the following statement, "That's not the ideal preparation ... ." In the heady excitement of victory, there have been those that have had a problem with Bishop's statement. I'm not sure why.

The West Indies team had only three practice games as a unit leading into the tournament, all of them against Bangladesh, and all of them we lost badly. That cannot be considered ideal. No team wants to go into a tournament losing its three warm-up games, and then losing its first game in the tournament to boot.

That Mankad-ing incident against Zimbabwe where we won at the death means that we were on the cusp of being eliminated from the tournament. No preparation that sees a team so close to being knocked out can be considered ideal. Reasoning any other way would be silly. None of that means the preparation wasn't adequate, however. What is adequate and what is ideal are entirely two different things.

The WICB had made a decision a few seasons ago to play more 50-over cricket in the regional Under-19 tournament, as opposed to three-day games. That met with stiff resistance at the time, as many of us felt that the best way to develop future Test cricketers would be to have them playing more of the longer version. That may well be true, but what we had were a set of youngsters who were more exposed to limited-over cricket than other Under-19 teams of the past.

WICB President Dave Cameron may well be having the last laugh on this. The nucleus of this team also played in the NAGICO Super 50 last season (something that doesn't always happen in regional cricket), and that would have also played some part in exposing the youngsters to the nuances of the limited-over game. That also must have been a step in the right direction, and the WICB can again take a bow. Maybe half a dozen of these youngsters would have also played or been in their senior squads in both 50-over or CPL cricket in recent times. That rubbing of shoulders with senior players would also have worked to their benefit.

So, yes, there were good signs, but ideal preparation? No. The Indian team, we are told, played more than 20 practice games as a unit. Sure, they didn't win, but the Indians would have gone to four of the last six Under-19 finals, winning two of them. It's clear that their method of preparing Under-19 teams would be a better template to follow than what we have been doing.

One of my media colleagues has been adamant that we must have had the best preparation, because we won. That is simplistic. That statement doesn't take talent into account, for example. We may just have turned out a more talented bunch than our competitors this time around. In other words, this bunch may have learned the art of cricket well before they were part of the Under-19 camps.

To suggest that it was the Under-19 camps, or anything that happened over the last year, or so, that gave them all the skill sets and temperament to make them win a world title is to argue without an understanding of how sports work.

This team was motivated; that was obvious. That team was adept at playing in Bangladesh conditions better than all the teams; that was obvious. But all this may have been because of circumstances that preceded the events of the last year or two.

None of this takes away from the coaching staff, or what the WICB did. Those can't be discounted. The team that wins a tournament usually has excellent backroom support. The truth, though, is that you simply don't prepare a team for winning.

The best preparation is one where you give the team the best chance of winning, and quite often those are not the same things. So, adequate preparations? Yes. But ideal preparations must mean a blueprint that can be repeated, and three practice games as a team can never be considered ideal. No ideal preparation would see a team losing three games on the eve of a tournament, and then also losing the first game in the tournament. That could have been disastrous for the team's confidence.

So let us be happy with the win, but in addition to what was done, we must accept that more games, as a unit, would have helped us perform better from start and not come to the brink of elimination in the first round.

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to