Taking care of business
Argentina is best known for Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and rugby union. Bahamas is best known as an overachiever in world athletics. Panama is best known for amazingly getting to a football World Cup in 2018 — as well as for a canal and a hat whose origins actually lie in Ecuador. And Cayman Islands is best known for pretty much nothing as a sporting entity, but rather its international status as a tax-neutral jurisdiction.
So when Bermuda encountered these countries whose landmass and population are well in excess of our 21 square miles and 64,000 — give or take, more recently take — but in our national sport, a sport in which we have qualified for one World Cup and were a hair’s breadth from two others, a sport in which generational superstars who would not look out of place on the greatest stage have been produced since the First World War, there was only ever going to be one winner.
When first Surinam and then Belize withdrew from the 2024 ICC T20 World Cup Sub-Regional Qualifier in Argentina, Bermuda’s chances of finishing in the top three to advance to the regional final here in September and October did not improve one bit.
What those absentees — one for reasons unexplained and the other because of visa issues — did was make the expectation placed on our cricketers even greater.
For the purists, Bermuda were always in a no-win position. Whether or not our three gun players were available, nothing but victory was expected in every single match — and by a distance.
And that is what we got.
But, remarkably and quite admirably, they won not only on the pitch but off it as well.
Sure, Kamau Leverock, Delray Rawlins and Tre Manders were the star performers, but the assessments the Bermuda contingent received from the umpires and, critically, from the world governing body International Cricket Council, for how they carried themselves and represented the country when the cameras were not watching were refreshingly unprecedented.
National cricket teams of recent iterations have not covered themselves in glory, the most recent example being the group for the last such qualifier in Antigua in 2021, when a brawl almost broke out on the field in a match against the United States, resulting in four of our players being found guilty of Level 1 offences — with two docked 30 per cent of their match fees.
Such conduct should never be displayed on the cricket pitch or any playing field, domestically or internationally, but if truth were told, it was no more than a manifestation of the antisocial behaviour prevalent on our streets that national security minister Michael Weeks is desperate to come to grips with.
For the Bermuda cricket team to turn around in such quick order the perception of them as a talented but ill-disciplined group with chips on their shoulders was no mean feat.
Credit for that goes to the Bermuda Cricket Board for taking the initial steps to move away from a culture of entitlement that informs so much of our club cricket.
Clubs should serve at the pleasure of the national board. Bizarrely, that does not always happen here, but hopefully we have arrived at a turning point in the relationship.
Meanwhile, the appointment of the credentialled Niraj Odedra as head coach through the prompting of former director of cricket Elliot Wilson is looking better by the day. So, too, the persistence with the underappreciated Cal Waldron as his assistant.
Credit also for the appointment of Rawlins as captain, but not first before a nod of appreciation to Leverock, his predecessor.
The tours to Uganda and Jersey last summer for the Cricket World Cup Challenge League with a new-look squad under his charge were difficult in the extreme. The BCB made the right decision in blooding a host of new players then, but in the end heavy defeat after heavy defeat took their toll on the captain.
That Leverock has come out the other side of that chastening experience, accepted being returned to the ranks and then fronted up to achieve what he did in Argentina with an historic first T20 international century for Bermuda in sweltering conditions after a near-miss days earlier is of tremendous credit to him — and a shining example of what commitment to the national cause should look like.
Rawlins has just signed a contract extension that keeps him at Sussex in the English County Championship for at least another year. The 25-year-old plays under a young captain at Hove and has gained enough experience from his six years as a first XI regular to put his stamp on this Bermuda team, fully ten years after making his international debut.
No doubt there will be more for him to learn, and hopefully import into his role with Bermuda, when acting Australia Test captain Steve Smith joins for a short stint as an overseas player ahead of the Ashes series with England to supplement the contributions of India star Cheteshwar Pujara, who made himself a big favourite with the 1st Central County Ground regulars for his heavy run-making last season.
Bigger tests lie ahead for Bermuda than what was experienced in Buenos Aires, and there will be temptations to tinker with a group that performed so well, albeit that the spoils were shared around only a handful — especially in the batting department, where Tre Manders earns the right to be viewed as our third gun player after Rawlins and Leverock.
The BCB should approach such an endeavour with caution, for all the belief that players the quality of thirtysomethings Allan Douglas Jr and Dion Stovell must be considered if Bermuda are successfully to challenge favourites Canada on home soil.
As well as arranging a domestic schedule that allows the players to peak in T20 cricket at the time of the arrivals of Canada, Cayman Islands and Panama, the board should look seriously into the prospect of an international tour as a tune-up because domestic prep on its own just won’t cut it.
Arnold Manders, the president, and his executive would be kidding themselves if they thought we could just pitch up against the dominant team in the region for the past ten or more years — Canada, that is — on the back of fixtures among locally based clubs who historically shut it down after Cup Match.
If we are serious about making history, and getting to a second World Cup 17 years after that famous jaunt in the Caribbean, we seriously need to give this team every opportunity, thereby removing any and all excuses.
It is an absolute must!
The obvious destination should be the United States; yes, that very same opponent with whom we have such bad blood. But for comparable skill sets, there is no one else in the region for our players to properly measure their progress — unless a tour to the Caribbean can be arranged to face regional national teams.
It needs to be said here that the Americans were no shrinking violets during the contretemps in Antigua two years ago, and in fact were the instigators with our guys immaturely taking the bait. But USA Cricket, which had two players guilty of four charges for that incident, has cleaned house and got rid of the bad seeds.
With barely a few hundred senior cricketers on this island to choose from, we do not have that same luxury of effecting a thorough “fit and proper person” test for entry into the national programme — but the BCB should by now know when the team dynamic is in danger of being adversely affected and then be brave enough to leave well enough alone.
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