So much is going on in the world of sport that the feeling of being spoiled for choice may seem borderline ridiculous. From athletics, tennis, cricket, golf and football - the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying games around the world and the Euro Championships get going tomorrow. To top it all off, at 10:00 am (Eastern Caribbean time) today, West Indies take on South Africa in the first test match at the Daren Sammy National Cricket Stadium (previously known as Beausejour Cricket Ground) in St. Lucia - one of my favourite grounds in the Caribbean. Quite literally, sport is on non-stop and so with the lockdown and curfew in T&T, sports fans must be thrilled and may not think of a better way to spend their time than watching their favourite sports.
Let’s kick off with World Cup qualifying and as someone mentioned to me, Trinidad and Tobago qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup ended before it started. T&T did not get out of the first round. One of the darkest days in the history of the sport, far less football in the country.
St Kitts & Nevis (who won the group) performed with heart, determination and exhibited their fighting qualities, something I thought T&T woefully lacked in the games they played. Even though defeating Guyana 3-0 looked good on paper, T&T did not exhibit the characteristics of a well-oiled machine but it was the only game in which the team grinded out a victory and the best teams when they are not playing well, it is their determination and fight that shines through.
Drawing with Puerto Rico after taking the lead against the run of play, one would have hoped for a similar fighting, plucky defensive performance ensuring the Puerto Ricans did not equalise and if T&T had to win ugly by 1-0, the important scenario was the three points. That was a minor setback I thought and with the Bahamas next, who conceded seven goals three days before T&T was up against them, it meant that St Kitts & Nevis match would have been the ultimate decider. The Bahamians made three changes to the team that was hit for more than half a dozen yet the T&T team, who knew full well the importance of this match, could not get the ball into their opponent’s net.
With that draw, T&T waved bye-bye until the next World Cup qualification campaign comes around in another four years. Expectedly, the blame game quickly began. The players were thrown under the bus by the coach for squandering chances, and they probably did, but the fact remains - they could not score a goal against a team that conceded seven goals three days before plus another eight in their two previous games. What a disaster of titanic proportions! Even the hollow victory in what looked like a practice match against a St Kitts and Nevis team in their final game of the round can’t remedy the disaster.
Unfortunately, the coach can say what he wants but ultimately, he is the one in charge; he is the one who makes decisions; he is the one who picks the team; he is the one who plans the tactics; he is the one who looks at the opposition and stops them from playing; he is the one who motivates the team and the buck stops with him. Ask the host of managers in the top leagues throughout the world, when results do not go their way, do the players get fired? No. But we have seen top managers part company with clubs. Coaches are hired to do a specific job and the job of T&T’s coach was to get the team into the next round of World Cup qualification and he failed. Indeed, it is a pity but now is the time to move on.
Football in this country requires a complete overhaul so what has transpired on the field is being mirrored off the field. The constant bickering and fighting among the stakeholders will never stop. There are people who are involved in football that seek their own self-interest. In other words, what can they get out of football? Few do it for the love of the beautiful game and the love of country. T&T’s young footballers are suffering. They don’t know what the next step is and where proper training and development will be coming from. Those charged with handling football in T&T should be looking at the next crop of young people to develop them for 2026 (which may be too soon) but some effort certainly has to be made.
I await the Normalisation Committee’s post mortem on T&T’s failed World Cup campaign. It should make for interesting reading but please, don’t wait with bated breath.
<South Africa vs West Indies, we ready>
On to perhaps more pleasant matters, the first test between West Indies and South Africa begins today and many cricket fans in the region are looking forward to it with eager anticipation. Fans have asked me to name my final starting eleven for the West Indies and I am leaving out Kieran Powell and Roston Chase. West Indies, once again, have to get 20 wickets in the game and to do that, the team must go into the test with five bowlers and must take into consideration that they would have a young rookie in Jayden Seales, should he be selected. I sincerely hope the selectors are brave enough to go with Seales. He is such a fine prospect and pleases, to the skeptics out there, don’t tell me he is too young. Do you remember a young man by the name of Michael Holding going to Australia as a 19-year-old having played a handful of first-class games? I would unleash Seales against the Proteas and give him 5-over spells and tell him to bowl as fast as he can as their batting lineup is not as formidable as it was a few years ago. No AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla or Faf du Plessis so their bowling appears to be their strength.
Shai Hope has forced his way into the team with good scores and the rest of the team picks itself. The big question is will the West Indies selectors be bold to go into the test with Jason Holder batting at number six against the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje etc.? To win, West Indies has no other option.
It is another huge test for skipper Kraigg Brathwaite both from his leadership qualities and getting big scores with his bat. The other rookie test batsmen - Nkrumah Bonner and Kyle Mayers - will face a different challenge from the South African bowlers as it will be pace and seam to unsettle them. But so far they have shown excellent temperament at test level.
I expect the test series to be tough but this renewed fighting spirit West Indies fans have seen in recent times from their team may very well shine through once again.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organisation of which he is a stakeholder.