Don't blame it on Toco!

Mon, May 15, '17



Nah, nah, nah, all you Trini posters, don't try that. You can't blame this one on Toco. Shannon Gabriel wasn't born there and certainly he wasn't born in Mocho, Jamaica, either. These two small rural districts, Caribbean folklore tells us, are not known as the birthplaces of Rhodes Scholars.

So why then did West Indies No. 11 batsman, in the third and deciding Test against Pakistan in Dominica, do what he did? On the last ball of the penultimate over, facing the world's best legspinner (Yasir Shah), he tried to "vup" him out of the ground into a neighbouring island. He thus left century maker Roston Chase stranded at the other end, handing Pakistan their first ever series victory in the Caribbean after almost 60 years.

Look out for his defenders---and there may be still a few in the media----to offer the following excuses:

(a) he was trying to be a hero and win the match, never mind that we were 101 runs behind and one over left;
(b) with the constantly changing laws of the game, he honestly believed what he had been told  by the bus driver on the way to the ground, namely that hitting a six now counted as a nine;
(c) he thought the Man-of-the-Match award went to the batter who could hit the longest six;
(d) he had visions of replacing the ailing and fading Tiger Woods on the PGA circuit
(e) all of the above

Gabriel's "vup" reminds me so much of Tino Best's finest hours...on the field that is. A couple years back Best came in a No. 11 for Barbados in a 50 over final at Sabina Park. Scores tied. Eight overs to get the winning run. And how did Best contrive to get it ? Run out, attempting a suicidal single. But at least Best has a highest Test score of 95, something Gabriel can't even dream of. And how did Best try to proceed to his maiden century ? By trying to hit the ball from Edgebaston ground to the Bull Ring in the heart of Birmingham.

Now, your humble scribbler has strong Bajan roots on mother's side. Even learnt some good old fashioned discipline from a few canings by a proper Bajan headmaster, Basil Ward. But I must confess my Bajan geography is a bit sketchy these days. Best's bio says he was born at Richmond's Gap, St. Michaels. Isn't that in the Parish of St. Lucy? Just asking.

Despite the dumb decision to win the toss and bowl first, thus condemning us to bat last on the fifth day, it wasn't really the pitch that did us in. Sure, the odd ball misbehaved and it was slow, but it was our technical flaws that cost us a draw.

The problem with our selectors is they keep picking the "wrong", not the "right", Trinis. Why? Because for years they have got it into their collective heads that some players are just one-day but not Test players. Take Keiron Pollard. He has a first class batting average of 37.71 (four centuries, highest score 174). Never picked for a Test. Hello!? A Test match is just one day longer than these four-day games. Same two innings.

Then there's Samuel Badree. Good enough to be called by the Aussies to teach them at their academy, good enough to open the bowling with deadly effect in T20s but not in Tests. Must be the difference in the colour of the balls, eh? He can bowl the white one but not the red one, right? (Yasir Shah opened the bowling for Pakistan in Dominica.) Badree, with a wider repertoire than the one-trick (legbreak) pony Devendra Bishoo, has yet to play a Test.

None of the selectors were born in Toco or Mocho so what can explain how they could rate either Shimron Hetmeyer or Vishaul Singh over T&T's Jason Mohammed who has five first class centuries, averages 41 in ODIs and was in smashing form against Pakistan in the ODIs.

Hetmeyer, just turned 20, suffers from the quintessential Trini Syndrome. He wants to bat like Brian Lara. Highly commendable. Problem is that he has spent too much time watching "Little Lara" (Darren Bravo) and not enough watching "Big Lara" (Brian). Had he been old enough to witness firsthand, or sat in front of enough videos of the latter, he might have noticed that the holder of Test and first class highest scores took a ball or two, an over or two, a few minutes or more, to assess the pitch, adjust to the light, get in the zone, get the feet moving, get the butterflies out..... before playing the full range of shots. Such minor details concern Hetmeyer not at all. Take guard, Slam, Bam..... Out. Topscore of 25 and now averaging under 15 and batting at No 3 for West Indies. Unbelievable! He has Test match temperament in spades, but his technique is well below Test standard.
And how could the selectors be fooled by Vishaul Singh's century in a warm up game? He simply isn't ready for this level. Enough said.

Elvin Lewis has a first class average of 31(highest score 104) and hit 148 in an ODIs. They have probably decided he is only a one-dayer. Maybe he looks too much like Roy Fredericks  flaying the Aussies at Perth. They would rather a failed baseball player open the batting.

This is total nonsense. Seriously now. In the 60 years or so since limited overs has been played, how many West Indians can we honestly say were unsuited for both Tests and one-dayers ? Ultra slow poke Leonard Baichan perhaps ? Even long rejected Shiv Chanderpaul has hit a 68-ball century. The players simply adjust to each version. So the selectors just "know" these and others are not Test players, although they have never played a Test. Go figure.

Give the selectors full credit for Roston Chase. He's a high quality batsman. Plenty of time to play the ball,long reach,strong off the backfoot, composed, and above all, has a cricketing brain.The real deal.

Shai Hope looked good in Barbados until he played the bottom-hand scoop  rather than the coverdrive, 10 short of his ton. But his dismissal in Dominica was a shocker.Even the greats from Bradman to Headley to Lara to Tendulkar would be happy and breathe a sigh of relief just to block a toe-busting yorker at 135 kph with a straight bat. But Hope wasn't shy about employing a slanted bat to try flicking his yorker past the squareleg umpire, as it went crashing into his ankle, plumb lbw.

Unfortunately, the selectors are still drinking left-over Fast Bowlers Koolaid. Were I a selectors I would not be picking any fast bowler averaging  below 5 with the bat unless his name was Courtney Walsh (av 7.54). So Alzarri Joseph and Gabriel bowled out a side once, on that canefield track posing as a Test pitch at Bridgetown. Aunty Merle could have done the same, just putting the ball on the stumps and letting the pitch do the rest.That doesn't justify playing both of them. Offspinner Ashley Nurse, no mug with the bat, would have been a better bet at number 10 because you should always pick your best bowlers, whether pace or spin.

The no ball problem is a serious indictment of the coaching staff and Cricket West Indies. Where is the empirical evidence to prove that pacemen get more wickets by putting their front foot on the line ? This isn't long jump where the board gives you a bounce. On a risk-reward assessment, pushing the envelope until your front foot goes over the line is a losing proposition. Even the spinners (Chase and Bishoo) lost wickets by overstepping. Don't even mention Gabriel. Simple: put your foot behind the line ! And fines should long ago have been mandated by the Board to solve this problem.

Modern Windies selectors simply don't know our history. The best definition of the game I know is from The Greatest, Sir Garry: "Cricket is runs and runs is cricket", he said. That means, barring the quirkiness of Duckworth-Lewis, if my team makes more runs than your team, you can't beat me. The first Test against India in 1949 should be a coaching model. Allrounder Denis Atkinson joined wicketkeeper Clairmonte DePeiza to set a seventh wicket world record in 1955, Atkinson's share 219. He ended his career with a batting average over 30. He made 45 on debut in that 1949 Test. Where did he bat? At No. 10 in a first innings total of 631! Try beating that! Bottom line: if specialist bowlers can't bat to save their life then they must be able to bowl teams out from time to time. Or don't  pick them. Take a page from the Aussies. Their quicks can either bat or bowl teams out, or both.

As for me, I've made a few crazy selection gambles in my time. Once picked a 17-year-old Indian batsman with less than 5 Test innings for a Rest of the World XI versus West Indies at the Skydome in Toronto back around 1990. He didn't set the world on fire then. Critics probably used the same word to describe him as my cricket coach used to describe me (based on my net practice form I'm sure) in end-of term reports. "Promising", the reports kept on saying. Although Sachin didn't turn out too badly, this former captain of Caribbean Limers won't be gambling on picking Shannon Gabriel (or Tino Best) again any time soon. Not even for that fete match up in Toco.

ERROL TOWNSHEND, for the past 60 years, has been a sports journalist, coach, manager and selector of cricket teams. He writes from Toronto, Canada