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A World Cup we should not forget!

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I have cricket on my mind. I write with a heavy heart, but news of England’s defeat by New Zealand has lightened it somewhat. It pains me that our boys, once kings of T20 cricket have been humbled and the region disgraced. We won a single game by 3 runs, a scramble, against Bangladesh. Once the team for the World Cup was announced there was strong criticism resulting in a verbal spar between Ambrose and Gayle, the ‘Universe Boss’ as he describes himself.  Ambrose stated simply that he was not an automatic choice based on recent performances. Gayle reacted strongly saying that he had no respect for Ambrose. Vivian Richards came to Ambrose’s defence, indicating that he had earned the right to speak. The reaction that was really appalling came from Brian Lara who suggested that West Indies should not drop him despite his poor performances. He was of the view that it was necessary to give someone of his stature a proper send off and argued that his experience and what he can pass on could make an impression on the younger players even if he does not score. I have never heard such bulls! I guess a proper send off meant playing him in the World Cup. So, it was about Gayle and not about the West Indies.

I am reminded of an article in Cricinfo by Osman Samiuddin. “How Chris Gayle Went from good batter to Universe Boss and Beyond”. He said that, In the latter half of the last decade “Gayle ceased to be a cricketer. He became an event and nothing other than the main event.” Maybe that is what Lara had in mind. All of the talk must have had an impact on Gayle and on the team, of course. It is unfortunate that there was all this focus on Gayle. I have always been a fan of Gayle. I remind friends that Gayle is not just a big hitter. Gayle as a test player has two triple centuries on the books. Sachin Tendulkar who some claim to be the best of his time does not have a single triple century. His highest score was 248 against Bangladesh.  In test cricket Gayle scored 15 centuries at an average of 42.18. He has two centuries in T20. In ODI his highest score is 215. Gayle really doesn’t have anything to prove again! He is admired as a cricketer all over the World.

I refuse to believe that the selectors on their own made that decision. But what was it all about? The ‘Universe Boss’ is 42. He had not been performing well recently. So, what were they expecting, ‘Miracles’? T20 is a fast game that calls for athleticism at its best. Gayle is not an orthodox batsman by any chance. In his day he was capable of hitting away the best of balls! But come on, his eyesight is certainly not as good as it used to be. His reflexes would be slower, and his timing certainly would be affected. So, I am yet to understand what they set out to prove. His scores were 13 (top score for the West Indies!), 12, 4, 1, 15. Is that the proper send off Lara wanted? Why not organise a special match for him in Jamaica (which I gather they are doing) to give him that send off. While the focus has been on Gayle, what of Rampaul? What was he there to do? Russell is prone to injuries, but he puts everything into the game when he is on the field. He bowled a critical over against Bangladesh that perhaps saved us from further humiliation. Bravo was also way past his best but was still capable of mesmerising batsmen with his change of pace.

One can argue that the youngsters too did not perform although we had a couple, too rare, outstanding performances by Hetymer and Pooran. But our approach to the World Cup left a lot to be desired. Rather than concentrate on having the young players getting as much exposure as possible, it is as if they were there marking time while those who had better days were waiting to fill the team with their experiences. But the T20 game has gone on.  The other teams have been following the science (as they say with the Covid virus) where the game is concerned. We still think that it is all about brute force! Will we learn!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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