Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Trinidad unity is a lesson for Caribbean - Ganga

Daren Ganga, the captain of the Trinidad & Tobago side that has remained unbeaten throughout an impressive Champions League campaign, believes that the unity and team spirit shown by his island nation must serve as a warning to the warring factions within West Indies cricket. Unless the players and administrators can resolve their differences, Ganga believes it is "inevitable" that the region's individual countries will seek to go it alone in the future.

Ganga, who stood in as West Indies captain on their tour of England in 2007 only to be dumped from the squad before the end of the summer, has encountered at first-hand the politics and factionalism that mar the region's cricket at international level. But such concerns could not be further from the thoughts of the band of brothers who have progressed to the semi-finals of the Champions League with a succession of never-say-die performances.

"The passion and the efforts that the guys have shown on the field of play have got us through to the semi-finals," Ganga told Cricinfo's Switch Hit podcast. "A lot of people never really expected us to go so far in the competition, but if you look at the framework of our cricket and of our club, and of all the other teams that have competed, one thing going for us is our national pride and patriotism.

"That is a hallmark of this team, being able to separate themselves, and realise they are not just representing the 11 players on the field or the 20 guys that are travelling, but all the rest of the people back in Trinidad, and by extension the wider Caribbean."

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when Trinidadian cricket was synonymous with one Brian Charles Lara, arguably the greatest batsman of all time, but a man to whom a team ethos did not come naturally. In recent years, however, Trinidad have swept the board domestically, across three formats, and they also trounced Middlesex in last year's Stanford Super Series in Antigua. With a pool of talented players such as Kieron Pollard, Denesh Ramdin, the Bravo brothers and Ravi Rampaul, the days of relying on a single star performer are long gone.

"In the years gone by, we've created an environment where competition is healthy," said Ganga. "We have guys on the side who want to be part of the action, and when they get their opportunity they come to the fore and deliver. That is the best position to be in, and as captain of the team I am very happy with the way things have gone. We have not had a smooth run [through this competition], there have been challenges along the way, but you have to make the right decisions."

Making the right decisions is a knack that the administrators of West Indies cricket seem to have mislaid long ago, but Ganga believes that, at a time when the regional side has been crippled by pay disputes and strike action, there are valuable lessons to be learnt in the cohesion shown by his Trinidad squad.

"There are a whole lot of different philosophies and schools of thought about our team compared to the current West Indies team," he said. "But ask any champion team, and they'll say that having the right chemistry - a togetherness and a team spirit - is essential for any sort of success. If you have a situation where everything is surrounding one or two individuals, you never get the sort of output that you want as a team, and that is one of the things we inculcate as a team.

"No one individual is bigger than the team, and to be successful it's not going to take the efforts of two or three individuals, it's going to take the efforts of all 15 guys here, plus our technical staff," he added. "That's been ingrained, and all the guys understand that this is the approach that will bring us success."

From Dwayne Bravo's nerveless final over against Deccan Chargers, to Pollard's sensational 18-ball fifty against New South Wales, Trinidad's players have come up with performances that would have graced any international fixture. Which begs the question, would the island be able to hold its own as a bona fide full-member country? Ganga has no wish to incite a revolution, but he is nevertheless realistic about the state of the game within the region.

"West Indies cricket has a great legacy," he said, "and there's a great amount of pride and respect for it, because of what our great teams have accomplished in decades gone by. I am not one to jump on a bandwagon and say Trinidad & Tobago should go on its own, but there has to be some involvement on the part of all stakeholders to protect West Indies cricket. It has to be invested in, in the right manner, and some firm decisions need to be taken about moving our cricket forward.

"And those are issues that need to be addressed now," he added, "because I tell you, if that doesn't happen, it is inevitable that countries may go separately. That is a fact because West Indies cricket cannot continue to have the turmoil that it is in right now. I think it's very important for that to be seen. Looking down the road, if decisions are not made sooner than later, that may be the only direction that territorial boards have left to take."

Ganga, however, was careful not to get carried away by a version of the game that has not won the approval of all cricket-lovers. "A lot of people don't have a lot of respect for Twenty20 cricket and they are right in their approach to some extent," he said. "If you are looking at a nation competing, it's not just about assessing the performance from a Twenty20 perspective. A lot of countries in the world have a bigger population than the Caribbean, and more finances, and still they struggle at Test cricket. I'm not one to advocate going on your own. It's important to set things in perspective, to look exactly at where our cricket is at this time, and what needs to be done to start turning things around."

It is a measure of the incompetence of the various Caribbean boards that Ganga believes that the involvement of disgraced billionaire, Sir Allen Stanford, is still the best thing to happen to cricket in the region for years. Trinidad have certainly benefited from his largesse. They won his US$1million jackpot in 2008 after finishing as runners-up to Guyana in the original Stanford 20/20 in 2006, and went on to supplement that windfall with a further US$280,000 in last year's one-off victory against Middlesex. Regardless of the subsequent revelations about the man, Ganga still believes he and his ilk owe Stanford a debt of gratitude.

"We must thank Sir Allen for his introduction of Twenty20 cricket in the Caribbean, it has caught on and I'm sure it will continue to inspire a new generation of West Indian cricketers," said Ganga. "There's a whole lot of positives that he brought to the region, but then now when you reflect on the situation, you see all the different negatives that his actions have cost. We are not the ones to judge, but what I can say from a cricketing point of view is that we the players have benefited a lot, and I can surely say the WICB and all the territorial boards have benefited a lot in terms of infrastructure and facilities.

"He made a huge investment in WI cricket for years, and the dividends of that are showing now, and will continue for a couple more years. It's important for someone in the Caribbean to identify the huge and positive investment he made in West Indies cricket, and it is important for someone now to take up that slack now."

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