Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Tony Becca | Selectors’ impact on talent

Published:Sunday | May 29, 2016 | 5:00 AM
Nikita Miller

Cricket is a funny old game, and I say so although it is my favourite game.

Were I to return to this world following my demise, I probably would not play cricket, not if I wanted to go places, not as long as there is a sport like track and field and not if I felt that I had the talent to go where I wanted to go.

It is as simple as that and it is because of the selectors.

The selectors brook no argument. Their word is final. In matters of selection, they are even more important than any president, or, in the early days when he was an important man, any treasurer.

They are supposed to pick the best, but sometimes their idea of who is the best is baffling to the spectators, to the people who sometimes see more cricket than they do, know cricket more than they do, and can "select" cricketers better than they can.

They are supposed to select players based mostly on their performance, but sometimes performance gets pushed aside and it gets pushed aside in favour of, for instance, a selector's perception of a batsman's weakness against fast bowling, or leg-spin bowling, or off-spin bowling, or his play on the front-foot against his play on the back-foot, or his defence if tested on a poorly prepared pitch.

Their assessment is gospel. No one questions it, or should even attempt to question it.

Today, I wonder what would some of the players who were ignored in the past have done had they been given the chance, just one chance, which they deserved, to represent their country?

What would players like batsman Lionel Webb or right-arm leg-spinner Vincent Doctor of Trelawny, a batsman like Stephen Hinds of St Mary, a batsman like Len Muthra of Westmoreland, or one like Joseph Kirkpatrick of Trelawny have done had they been given a chance to represent Jamaica?

What would a wicketkeeper-batsman like Fitz Nangle of Kensington, an off-spinner like Colin Hinds, and a medium-pacer like John Earle of St Catherine, a fast bowler like Junior Hall, and a batsman like Carlton 'Baje' Carter of Melbourne, and a fast bowler like Michael 'Guru' Mitchell of Boys' Town do had they been given the opportunity to wear the national cap?

 

Stylish batsmen

 

Even if we do not go there, what havoc would a fast bowler like John 'Jomo Kenyatta' Hamilton, a leg-spinner like Lloyd Williams of Westmoreland, a hard hitting batsman like Trevor Henry of St Ann have created had they been given more than one or two chances. And what would a stylish batsman like Gerald Wollaston of Melbourne have achieved had he been given more than two chances - nine years apart?

I remember sitting beside Tom Graveney - the England batsman, who, apart from playing for England, visited the island on two occasions with club sides - at a dinner party in a Leeds restaurant one night in 1984, and he asked me what had become of Henry.

"That boy could bat. He was a lovely striker of the ball," he said.

Some of them never got a chance because of considered better players on the team at the time and some of them, like Hamilton and Colin Hinds, never got a chance because they were known as "throwers".

The majority of them, however, could bat. They could hit the ball hard, some of them could bowl fast and some of them could really spin the ball.

In those days, however, particularly, in the days immediately following the arrival of Lawrence Rowe, no one looked at you as a batsman except you looked like Rowe, as a batsman.

That is why a batsman, one named Richard Staple, got so many chances to make the team. I once saw him bat three times in the final trial match of one season at Melbourne Oval.

Like Staple and Wollaston, those players probably would never have made it, probably none of the players rejected would have made it and probably the selectors knew that they would never have made it regardless of their figures in the local competition.

Their figures were good, with Colin Hinds topping the Senior Cup many a time and Mitchell, among many fine efforts, claiming two hat-tricks and taking 10 wickets in one innings against the Cup champions, Melbourne, in 1969.

There were others, some of whom never got a chance on the West Indies team. Batsmen like Neville Bonitto and Sam Morgan of Jamaica, Ralston Otto, Jim Allen, and Luther Kelly of the Leeward Islands never got a chance at West Indies glory.

There were also few bowlers who never got a chance, including Robert Haynes of Jamaica and Harold Joseph, 'Harry Jo' they called him, and Ganesh Mahabir of Trinidad and Tobago.

Nikita Miller, the left-arm spinner out of Melbourne, who has been selected for one Test match, way back in 2009, despite being around West Indies cricket for years and playing the odd ODI and T20 tournament, boasts figures which stagger the imagination, especially in the regional first-class competition.

 

Regional competition

 

Test cricket, up to now, is that by which cricketers are judged, and Miller is still to make it.

Every Saturday and every Sunday in the Senior Cup, and every year in the regional competition, he terrorises and baffles batsmen to finish top or next to the top in the most wickets or average columns and yet, but for once when the West Indies team was not at full strength, he never got a chance.

Miller's first-class record to date is 80 matches, 403 wickets, with a best return of eight for 41, an average of 16.87 and an economy rate of 1.96.

That is top-class bowling in any company and worthy of a try, a real try.

Miller, it is said, does not spin the ball enough, and that is true.

He does enough to get batsmen out on good pitches, however, and he is a difficult proposition on a helpful pitch.

At age 34, it maybe is too late, but years from now, the selectors, who went through almost everyone who bowled spin in the region for the last 10 years without giving Miller a chance, a real chance, may yet say to themselves: "What if, what if we had given Nikita a chance in Test cricket?"