We have to commend Jamaica for getting to its first Caribbean T20 final this past weekend. Having struggled at this the shortest form of the game, Jamaica through luck and poor cricket from his opponents, found itself in the finals against perhaps the strongest T20 team in the region – Trinidad. However, having got there the players seemed out of their depth and were totally outplayed by the more skillful Trinidadians.
There are more questions than answers with regards to why Jamaica played so miserably overall in the tournament, but one does not need many answers to the questions. The answers I feel, are few but no less impacting. The single most important reason behind Jamaica’s abject failure at T20 has more to do with the mental side of the players’ game than anything else. Jamaica plays every T20 game the very same way. They play Test cricket for the first 10 or so overs and then slog. The only trouble is the game has evolved beyond that.
I find that Jamaica’s players lack the mental agility necessary to play T20 well. A T20 inning lasts approximately 120 balls. That means decisions have to be made quickly about how to score, where to score and most critically, how to adjust to adjustments made by the opposing team. As a team Jamaica seems incapable of adjusting quickly and that is why, for the most part, they struggle against even the weakest teams.
People will argue that Jamaica doesn’t play enough T20 cricket but there in the team are players who represent the West Indies and Jamaica year-round and critical thinking is required in all forms of the game. I also assume that they watch the game on television like we all do and would have seen how other teams across the world have changed their approach to the game over these past few years. These days par score in a T20 match is about 150-160. Here in the Caribbean its much lower, in Jamaica lower still.
There is a pattern about how modern players in the region play their cricket. The West Indies are pretty good coming out of breaks in play but as soon as the opposition adjusts to our adjustments, game over. They either lock shop with the bat, blocking every delivery bowled hoping for end of play to come or, if they are in the field, spread players out to the boundaries while praying for something to happen that will end the carnage. That is how Jamaica plays T20 cricket.
We all watch with great trepidation the manner in which Marlon Samuels, for example, consistently puts his team under pressure by using up sometimes as many as five overs before he gets going; if he gets going. Dot ball after dot ball usually puts the batsmen coming in after him under incredible pressure. In the game against the Combined Colleges and Campuses, he ‘rescued’ Jamaica from certain defeat with some lusty hitting at the end, but it was he who put the team under pressure in the first place. And had it not been for a dropped catch that allowed Samuels to continue batting, Jamaica would have lost that match. In the final he dropped a sitter off Pollard that cost Jamaica 35 brutal runs as Pollard destroyed Khrishmar Santokie in the final over of the Trinidadian inning. Shaun Findlay, too, also dropped a catch that at that level, should have been taken, that cost Jamaica dearly as well. Findlay, who bats like he is having a heart attack, is not suited for this form of the game at all. He seems to panic the minute he realizes it his turn to bat and his only solution is to try and blast his way to some form of success no matter what the strategy required. More often than not he fails. Santokie is one of the few players who seem capable of handling the pressure of the game but hysteria can be infectious and we all saw what happened to him after Pollard took him on in that expensive last over that yielded something like 26 runs.
All sports teams experience situations when panic takes over. It is then that leadership is required. But alas, the best person for the job was not playing. Tamar Lambert, the man whose sense of calm in the face of adversity guided Jamaica home to the Super50 title last year, was not included in the team for the Caribbean T20. Why? I can only assume that the selectors feel that because of his girth he is unable to handle the pace of the game. Lambert is one of the few batsmen Jamaica has at its disposal who can manipulate the strike and keeping turning the score over. He has a very good cricket brain but, alas, thanks to the selectors, Jamaica did not have the benefit of it during this competition. As far as I am concerned, his omission was a costly one.
Similarly Chris Gayle’s was too. Gayle, the most destructive batsman in T20 in the world, was not available for the tournament due to contractual obligations in Australia’s Big Bash. If a club pays you US$270,000 they expect you to be at their beck and call. Gayle would no doubt have made a difference to this Jamaican team as he could have single-handedly won the tournament for Jamaica. It would have been nice to have him available.
Coaching could have also been an issue but I don’t know enough yet to determine whether that was a factor in the team’s atrocious performance against Trinidad in the final and against Barbados in the qualifying rounds.
What I do know though, is that something has to change about the way Jamaica approaches the game. The administration needs to look at how it can get the players quickly analyse situations. If they can’t, players who can need to be identified and drafted into the squad. In the long run we are not only doing this for Jamaica’s success but for the West Indies as well.