The price attached to accountability
Now that the dust has settled on events in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles and reality has hit home that Bermuda is a bona fide Division Four nation from a world cricket perspective, eyes turn instinctively to where to next for our national sport.
As football is going through a purple patch that has reaped a sequence of rewards — from the under-17 team getting through the first phase of Caribbean qualifying before coming unstuck to their seniors at under-20 level reaching the Concacaf Championship to be held in Costa Rica in February — cricket has either marked time or regressed.
That despite still rolling out a production line of individual talent that has been a hallmark of this island since we entered the international arena. Bermuda has never had a problem unveiling individuals; the issue has been getting them to perform together as a group on a consistent basis.
Therein lies the rub for the just concluded tour that left Bermuda closer to unthinkable relegation to Division Five than getting in the mix with hosts United States, newcomers Oman and a revived Denmark.
The prize of promotion to Division Three and belated competition next year in Uganda, a country so cruelly stripped of the 2014 event because of an unrealised terrorist threat and a comical, geographical ignorance that the ebola outbreak in West Africa had any relevance to East Africa, went to the US and Oman, while an unlucky Jersey and much improved Italy went to Division Five.
By the time Division Four resumes as part of the pathway to the 2023 World Cup, Bermuda may very well come into competition against those very same teams — and the questions to pose will be: have we learnt anything and have we moved on?
That is why we stated early doors that Clay Smith should not be judged on the evidence of this tournament — unless we were so dreadfully poor in Los Angeles that relegation made his position untenable.
Similarly, we also said that promotion, were it to happen, should not be treated as though we have scaled Mount Everest because Division Four should not be the domain of a country that stood shoulder to shoulder with the game's elite as recently as 2007.
Rather, this was a case of “we've made our bed, now we must lie in it”.
A return of two wins, one of which was tainted by an unforgivable act of Mankading, from six matches is not enough to suggest a corner has been turned from the disaster of Malaysia 2014, which hastened our decline into the cricketing wilderness.
However, there were enough green shoots for Smith to work with, provided he is given the time.
And it is time, indeed, that he needs. Not only that, but the Bermuda Cricket Board must find a way to prise the part-time head coach from the Department of Education so that he can commit to the role in a full-time capacity. For it is only through full and thorough backing that full accountability can be demanded.
This may seem a bit of a stretch after Bermuda were just used as a doormat for the likes of Oman, whose progression in international cricket while we have gone in the other direction draws parallels with those of Uganda, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, Nepal, Namibia, Malaysia and Singapore. But the high points in California were promising enough to provide hope.
Otherwise, drawing reference to countries Bermuda might have treated as minions during the days of old is not a case of harping on the negative, but a true representation of the bare facts and the state of our cricket.
So while we sermonise about the “quality” of Cup Match and Eastern Counties — a comparative burying of heads in sand, if you will — the reality is that we are being left behind, playing a brand of cricket that is neither in touch with the worldview nor even the view of the most astute of local cricket lovers.
Clay Smith has the passion and stamina to turn that around, but it cannot be done in fits and starts, and it cannot be done effectively by him splitting time between Point Finger Road, Paget, and Middle Road, Smith's, where he teaches at Whitney Institute Middle School.
Like Neil Speight, the chief executive whose remit it is to make the BCB viable as a business model, Smith is charged with joining the dots between the internationally renowned work at youth level and the troubled senior programme.
To that end he has had to have the waste cast aside, through direct or indirect means, and proceed with the best available resources. For some, that has meant a weakened Bermuda team that bears little reflection to the finest we have on offer.
But better to have that than to be constantly looking over your shoulder, dodging the man in the white coat with a sample container to hand.
Recreational sportsmen using recreational drugs are a coach's worst nightmare, especially at national level. And by proportion, it appears we are worse off than most — and, furthermore, that it is acceptable in our decaying society.
That leaves the few who are serious enough about leading a healthy lifestyle while also being accomplished enough and committed enough to get into a Bermuda team.
Clay Smith, Kyle Lightbourne — whoever the coach, whatever the sport — is then left to make do the best he can with what he has got. And those who stand back in judgment, even the more learned observers in this parish, must then accept that it is nigh-on impossible to make honey out of rhubarb.
So going forward, we say thank you and goodbye to Janeiro Tucker and Dean Minors, who bailed the country out at the eleventh hour for the tournament in Los Angeles, and lean heavily on the likes of Delray Rawlins, Kamau Leverock and Cejay Outerbridge.
All three had good tournaments but Leverock was a revelation at the top of the order, a decision taken more through necessity than design — and a pointer for how the Bermuda batting line-up might team look in future if we can get our kids off drugs so that the BCB may cast the net as wide as possible.
The left-hander, who travelled to the US as a bowling all-rounder and left as an opening batsman who bowls a bit, smashed the highest individual score of the tournament and scored at a rate to suggest that he could comfortably hold his own at the higher levels of Division Three and Division Two.
With Rawlins's career trending upward, Outerbridge thirsty to build on a successful introduction to senior international cricket and a core group including Dion Stovell and Jordan DeSilva with more than a few years left in the tank, a foundation is in place for Smith and his coaching staff to not only improve the squad, but also to hold serve until the next bright things come along.
All without caving in to those who would hold the national programme to ransom through their selfish desires to prioritise self-medication over the selflessness that is required to make any team greater than the sum of its parts.