Orville Higgins | Don't blame the captain!
Beyond A Boundary is one of my favourite books of all time.
That C.L.R. James classic is arguably the greatest book ever written on sports. Maybe the most classic line is "what do they know of cricket that only cricket knows?" The line was a spin-off from Rudyard Kipling's quote from the poem 'English Flag', which said "And what should they know of England who only England know?"
We need not get into the real interpretation of what C.L.R. meant, but I find myself going back to the quote when I heard people blaming AndrÈ Russell for the Tallawahs' loss to Barbados Tridents last weekend.
To blame Russell for not promoting himself in the batting order in that run chase is simply nonsense. Mind you, there could be a case for batting Russell higher in the batting order, generally. Although he has made a name for himself as a big hitter in the lower order, the Tallawahs could benefit from him coming earlier, especially when batting first and setting a total. The more balls he faces, the bigger the Tallawahs total will be. Asking him to bat higher under all conditions is one argument. Blaming him or team management for not pushing him higher up the batting order against the Tridents is another thing altogether.
The Tallawahs were chasing 156. In the context of Twenty20 cricket, that is a moderate total. Johnson Charles and Glenn Phillips blitzed 80 from 9.1 overs before the first wicket fell. At that stage, it should have been a cakewalk. Almost eleven overs to get 70-odd runs with nine wickets in hand. Those who said Kennar Lewis shouldn't bat at three are not speaking cricket logic. Lewis is by nature an opening batsman who has the reputation of being able to blast the bowling, especially hitting over the infield. When he scored a man of the match 49 at Sabina Park in the second game, he did it from the opening position. Like most natural openers, he is better to pace than spin. If he was not going to open, batting him at three, therefore, was the right thing to do.
The second wicket fell at 82 off 9.5 overs. At that point, the Tallawahs needed 74 from 61 balls. Again, that should have been a stroll. In came Ross Taylor. Ross Taylor is a veteran. He averages high 40s in both Tests and one-dayers. He has been playing international cricket for eons. In international T20s, he averages in the 20s with a strike rate in the 120s. He was selected for occasions exactly like - to be the stabilising force in that middle order when everybody is blasting away. With 74 needed from 61 balls and eight wickets in the hutch, Taylor should have been ideal for this situation. This is a tick over a run-a-ball scoring.
In a Twenty20 team, you won't have all blasters. You need one batsman at least with a calm head and a steady disposition who will score at a strike rate in the 120s. Taylor should have been able to do this based on his record and ability or be experienced enough to "hit out or get out." If Ross Taylor cannot come in at number four at 80 for two in the ninth over chasing 156, then when is he going to come?
Nobody could blame anybody for David Miller coming at five. He averages in the 30s in international cricket, with a strike rate in the 130s. He would have played over 250 games. This is your most experienced batsman. You pick David Miller for exactly this: to guide us home at a little over a run a ball. We must also remember that he scored over 70 runs off 34 balls in the previous game at a strike rate well well over 200. So there could be no reason not to send him in the top five.
Ross Taylor and Miller came together when the score was 100 for 3 from 12.5 overs, with 57 now needed from 43 balls. No need to panic. At that stage, nobody could believe that these two would be there at the close without taking the Tallawahs home. These are your two most experienced cricketers. If anybody should have the cricketing savvy to know what to do, it would be these two. To blame Russell or anyone else to ask two hardened professionals to do what should be routine is unfair. Captains are asked to do many things. Being Nostradamus is not one of them. There is no way Russell could have known that his two most experienced batsmen would bat over seven overs, ended not out, and couldn't get 50-odd runs between them. To blame Russell for not coming earlier is to have asked him to be able to predict the future and to play God!
If the Tallawahs are going to win the CPL, then people must play their roles. Each team member should be expected to perform a particular function. The captain should not be expected to hide people from what their job is. Russell may be "Superman", but he won't win this by himself. He will need the help of his teammates.
I hear some people saying that Russell should have sent messages out to Russell and Taylor when the asking rate kept going up. These are no rookies. The captain has to trust his senior pros. Russell should not have to tell Miller and Taylor what the requirements are. You can't manage senior players like that. Don't blame the captain. It is Miller and Taylor who "dash weh" the game.