Ten weeks to World Cup 2007
Final squad still to be decided on
December 31, 2006
The big year is upon us. There remains so little time to do so much. In ten weeks, the World Cup descends on the cricketing Caribbean.
Only last month, Chris Dehring, 'maximum leader' of the exercise, spelt it out in words that indicated unmistakable urgency.
"This event is about to impact all of our lives and we need every single person, from the workers in the airlines and at the airports, to taxi and bus drivers, workers in hotels, restaurants, on construction sites and in the civil service, to take personal ownership of the tournament and raise their game; much in the same way that we are asking our West Indies team to raise theirs to win the coveted trophy," he declared.
Since then, Kensington Oval in Barbados and Sabina Park in Jamaica have been taken off the rota for the season's Carib Beer and KFC Cup matches so that their extreme makeovers can be completed on time. And Barbados's Deputy Prime Minister Mia Mottley has acknowledged "we have hit a snag" over the issuing of the Caricom Special Visas in Australia.
Travel companies catering to the thousands coming out to follow the world champions have been thrown into a state of panic and confusion by the development and Trinidad and Tobago's frustrated, long-serving honorary-consul in Sydney has resigned to avoid the flotsam flying from the fan.
These are setbacks that go with the territory. Almost every major game confronts them. There was more concern over whether Athens would be ready for the last Olympics than there are now about the Caribbean and the World Cup.
The Doubting Thomases were certain India and Pakistan, two countries virtually at permanent war with each other, would make a hash of the 1987 event, the first outside England. Instead, it proved one of the best.
The political peculiarities of the Caribbean render us somewhat different but we have been assured by those who should know that the bureaucratic mess over the visas has been sorted out; that the stadiums will be spic, span and ready for the first ball; and that everything will run as smoothly as possible, given the natural limitations of the West Indies.
Not experts ourselves, we must accept such confidence, even if with crossed fingers.
It is the readiness of the team that is of more interest to West Indians who have neither the time nor the money to fly, or sail, around the Caribbean following the matches, but who dream of Brian Lara raising the Cup at Kensington Oval on April 28 as Clive Lloyd did in successive tournaments all those years ago.
Chris Gayle, as essential to such hopes as anyone, recently made a salient, if obvious, point. "It's about time we have a steady World Cup squad," he observed in one of his columns on the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) website. "There is no time to experiment now."
The West Indies contested 32 One-Day Internationals in 2006 - in New Zealand, in the Caribbean, in Malaysia, in India, in Pakistan - in which 23 players were used.
The 'A' team toured England and hosted Sri Lanka, reeling off a further 11 one-day matches in which 11 other players appeared.
Surely the selectors saw enough to be able to choose the 14 for the World Cup right now. They are the 14 that would go to India at the end of January for four ODIs, the last opportunity for fine-tuning Gayle's "steady" squad and, barring injury, the 14 that would be in Jamaica for the first round matches against Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Ireland.
Perhaps Gordon Greenidge and his panel had that in mind for the recent ODI series in Pakistan before the late-minute withdrawals of Dwayne Bravo, on compassionate leave, and Ramnaresh Sarwan, through injury, removed two certain choices.
At this final stage, the hard decisions involve picking Denesh Ramdin or Carlton Baugh as the keeper, how to fit Darren Sammy into the team, as they must following his consistent wicket-taking for the 'A' team, and whether the batting and fielding of Bravo, Sammy and Dwayne Smith support their medium-pace bowling enough to merit the inclusion of all three.
An out-and-out batsman would come into the mix if the selectors are wary of all-rounder overkill but the main contenders, (Daren Ganga, Lendl Simmons, and Devon Smith, anyone else) hardly demand inclusion.
That Ramdin is still not the first choice keeper is evidence of his failure to build on his impressive entry into the team on the 2005 tour of Sri Lanka. Now there is not much difference between him and the diminutive Baugh, except for a couple of inches in height.
There is also the matter of slow, if not spin, bowling.
Gayle and Marlon Samuels have achieved economy rates comparable with anyone, to the extent that Gayle was moved to complain in his online column that he is "not a scapegoat bowler in this team to be used only when things are difficult".
Had Ryan Hinds's form and intensity been more obvious on 'A' team duty, his steady left-arm spin, capable left-hand batting and sharp fielding, all of which played a part in the 2002 Champions Trophy triumph in England, would have strongly argued his case. As it is, an additional fast bowler, probably Daren Powell, is likely to be favoured to give the attack more of an edge.
Time is short and Bennett King and the coaching staff, along captain Lara and the senior players need to start an intensive period of preparation. The process would be helped by naming the preferred 14 now, along with a group of stand-bys.
The names might read: The 14: Brian Lara (captain), Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Runako Morton, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Darren Sammy, Denesh Ramdin, Ian Bradshaw, Jerome Taylor, Corey Collymore, Daren Powell.
The Stand-bys: Lendl Simmons, Daren Ganga, Ryan Hinds, Carlton Baugh, Fidel Edwards.