Sir Frank Worrell Development Centre opened in Trinidad
June 21, 2002
It's a good place to start, though it should have been initiated 20 years ago, while the West Indies were champions of world cricket. We didn't learn then that we had to find our strengths and build on them, had to examine our weaknesses and eliminate them. We didn't learn to think about cricket.
The Sir Frank Worrell Development Centre, which was formally opened exactly two weeks ago, is a good place to finally start. Mainly because it is conceptualised as an institute of learning, and the goal is to develop thinking cricketers.
The Centre emerged from a long and arduous gestation inside the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board of Control (TTCBC), but has scored many firsts already. It is the only one of its kind to have been established by a regional cricket board. It is the first truly indigenous one in the Caribbean. It will not support any vestiges of gender discrimination. It will design courses, workshops, camps, and other training modules for cricket all through the year. And some day, hopefully, it could be an alternative site for Test cricket in this country.
At the opening of the Centre, TTCBC president Alloy Lequay, leader of the project, said that while the idea had been around for 20 years, it took form in the '90s, when in 1995, the TTCBC bought the 17.5 acres of land at Balmain, Couva from Caroni (1975) Ltd, and started construction of a National Cricket Centre in 1997.
Five years later, the site has been converted into a visible manifestation of an ongoing dream of development.
The visitor entering the building which properly houses the Development Centre (the other building on the site is the administrative hub) walks into a large open reception area whose walls are adorned by cricket photographs, many featuring Sir Frank Worrell.
Directly ahead are the indoor nets, to be fenced in by20-ft high netting. These indoor nets, sponsored by Angostura Ltd, will feature synthetic strips already ordered from Notts Sports in England. Showers, toilets, a massage room, a gym, a first-aid room, a leisure room, and a few administrative offices occupy the rest of the lower floor.
Upstairs, a mezzanine allows overhead viewing of practice sessions in the nets, while a large dining area and kitchen, and dormitories for 24 people, make up the rest.
Outside, there are more nets, sponsored by Carib. The two buildings will form part of an arc, which will be filled in by two pavilions, overlooking the circular cricket ground already marked out. All of this is separated from the nearby Ato Boldon Stadium by just a river bed, and Lequay hopes that some day, a walkway can be constructed to join the two facilities. The Centre, as well constructed and designed as it seems to be for taking care of physical training needs and housing for cricket and cricketers, has another integral component, and former West Indies wicketkeeper and vice-captain Deryck Murray presides over that aspect.
As the Director of Cricket Development, Murray, whose services are being shared by the TTCBC and Guardian Life (another corporate sponsor of local cricket), is in charge of what he calls developing youngsters, not just as cricketers, but as thinking individuals.
At the core of their programme this inaugural year will be 18 young men, the first inductees into their camp in August - Amit Jaggernauth, Kenton Thompson, Zaheer Ali, Rodney Sooklal, Theodore Modeste, Dwayne Bravo, Ravi Rampaul, Lendl Simmons, Samuel Badree, Denzil James, Sherwin Ganga, Navin Chan, Gibran Mohammed, Imran and Asif Jan, Gregory Mahabir, Aneil Kanhai and Dave Mohammed.
Their programme will be designed around techniques of the game, nutrition and fitness, planning team strategies, conversational skills and mental development. For help to design the programmes, Murray has been enlisting the help of individuals in the field of education like Anna Mahase, Allan Sammy, and the national Under-15 coach, Bachan Boochoon.
Murray remarked on the continuing success of the Under-15 team, even internationally, and observed that something was happening in the space between that age group and the senior team.
"We are not developing the potential they have in their natural ability, not developing it into world champions," he said, measuring how other international teams were continuing training right through to senior level, and thus were producing more consistent performers.
"My vision is for cricket to regain its position as the number one sport in Trinidad and Tobago and in the West Indies. I see that happening from the primary school level. I want to see cricket played in primary and secondary schools as it was when I was growing up," he said.
I point out that the increased proportion of female to male schoolteachers has been named as a factor in the decline of sport in schools. Murray is aware, but not deterred by that.
"Times have changed, I know, but I would like to see that every school has at least one person, preferably more, responsible for cricket. It would most likely be a woman," he said, "but my vision is that the Board (TTCBC) will work with them to teach them to understand and enjoy the game so they can transmit that to students."
His idea is to encourage interest in the game via competitions, and by encouraging the Ministries of Sport and Education, and the University of the West Indies (UWI), to participate in curriculum development that integrates cricket into the classrooms.
That is one of the long-term goals of Murray's vision, but there are other, pressing matters and, budgetary constraints notwithstanding, he knows that there has to be an immediate focus on developing the current players, mentally and physically.
From the current state of West Indies cricket, it seems the rebuilding process initiated by the West Indies Cricket Board had been primarily concerned with restoring some semblance of batting and bowling capacities. The recent unsuccessful shuffles with wicketkeepers, Ridley Jacobs and Junior Murray, has highlighted the neglect in that area.
Recognising this, Murray said the Centre initiated a wicketkeeping clinic two months ago in five zones.
Using coaches like David Williams, Randall Lyon, Remy Manbodh, Mahadeo Rajcoomar, Lennox Pamphille and himself, they have been trying to "broaden the net, to encourage people to be serious about wicketkeeping," he said. This net includes players at every level, selected by the zonal coordinators.
As one of the West Indies' most successful wicketkeepers, what does he see as the elements of a good keeper?
Most important and basic, he said, "is the way you catch the ball; being able to take the ball 99 per cent of the time. Footwork is very important to this, as well as balance and concentration."
Naturally, he said that "the wicketkeeper is the pivot of the fielding effort. He's the first to recognise a batsman's faults and inclinations. He is also first to detect changes, lack of movement, or deviation in the bowler's run-up. From his position he can see gaps in the field, and can alert the bowler.
"If he is struggling with the basics [like catching the ball], then he cannot see the other aspects. You lose the other part of what he is doing, and you lose the thinking part of the wicketkeeper's function."
Murray said that when he played, spin bowling was his favourite.
"It's much more of a challenge standing up to the wicket and watching the balls coming in," he said. In his time, the Trinidad and Tobago team comprised only spinners, so he had two experiences-pace on the West Indies team, and spin at home. Each game demanded its own skill.
Of Ridley Jacobs, current West Indies wicketkeeper, he said: "When I first saw him as a youngster, he'd had great potential. But in terms of his own development, his selection came too late. He's a good team man, and has given a lot of service, both behind the wicket and with the bat." But Murray finds it worrying that there doesn't appear to be a "natural successor" to Jacobs in sight.
He concedes that there are "occasional glimpses of something happening" in West Indies cricket, the most important to him being the "recognition that we have a problem after years of denial."
"I'm a little disappointed that there is no plan, though," he said, adding that the tendency is still to blame other factors for losses.
"I'm not seeing that. There is no coordinating, identifying people who can help. I'm hoping that we (the Development Centre) can be a template for the region. Next month we will run the same type of clinic for spin bowlers, then fast bowlers, then specialist batsmen. We recognise that everybody needs to be able to at least have the rudiments of the game.
"The West Indies Cricket Board needs to recognise that while the public, and the WICB, want us to be successful tomorrow, I am talking about maybe seven years down the road. People have been seeing the problem for only four or five years now, but the problem is 20 years old, when we were winning, and thinking excellent cricketers would always be available. We made no effort to find out what we were doing right and develop it, and to identify our weaknesses and strengthen them," he said.
The problem was that nobody was sparing enough effort for thinking about the game and developing it in a rational, methodological manner, and now the Sir Frank Worrell Development Centre hopes to repair the damage and restore some credentials to West Indies cricket.
The University of the West Indies has already pledged its support for the Centre's vision; how that will materialise, remains to be seen. There have been several vociferous declarations of support coming from the private sector and the government. Not all have yielded tangible contributions.
When Lequay spoke at the official launch, he mentioned the six-month delay in receiving the million-dollar, interest-free loan approved by the Sports and Culture Fund, despite assurances of full support from the Sport Minister, Roger Boynes, who arrived too late to hear Lequay's complaint.
While Lequay has insisted that the TTCBC be self-reliant, he also noted that the Development Centre would do as much for cricket as the stadiums built for last year's FIFA Under-17 World Championship could do for football, and deserved assistance.
Last Monday, Minister Boynes said he had been diligently pursuing the matter of the $1 million loan, and the balance of $133, 807.13 of a grant which is still due to the TTCBC.
Saying that he was going to the Attorney General's office to speak to Christophe Grant "today to expedite the matter", Boynes declared his Ministry's endorsement of the Centre and their willingness to assist. However, he said, the funds fall under the control of the Sport and Culture Fund Board of Management, and there is no sitting board now, so there is no one to sign cheques.
Boynes made it clear that the Board was not part of his Ministry, as it fell into the Prime Minister's portfolio, but said he would be seeking an early discussion with the Prime Minister to find out what problems there might be with the Board.
"We may have to reconvene the Board to deal with outstanding matters," he said, referring to both the million-dollar loan and the balance of the grant.
The TTCBC also wrote to the Minister on April 15, informing them that they were still $1.8 million short of funds to complete the facilities (except for spectator accommodation), and asked for assistance.
Although he had not yet responded to the TTCBC, the Minister said: "We are presently discussing that matter and trying to see how we can assist them with that by way of a grant. The whole purpose of that fund is to support development. I am proud of what they have done and will do everything I can to support them."
It would be a shame if the Centre, which has come so far on mainly the TTCBC's steam, should flounder without attaining its own tremendous potential.
Hopefully, support for sport will not be hijacked by political impasses, because even if Lequay and his team have been herculean in their efforts to finally get the Centre off the ground, it is a task of titanic proportions and needs national support. (Reprinted from Trinidad Express)