Nortel Offers Hope
FOR the past three weeks cricket fans have had the chance to take a close look at the future of West Indies cricket. The Nortel Networks West Indies Under-19 cricket tournament has been a showcase of the young talent which is expected to take the regional side into the next millennium.
Spectators have been impressed by the standard of play and general approach and maturity of the players. The Under-19 competition has long been seen as the nursery for West Indies cricket with all but one member of the present team having played at junior level. Most of the players presently in the regional sides and even some who represent Bermuda and Canada have passed through this system and sponsors Nortel Networks must be commended for their long-standing support.
The main emphasis of the competition is to nurture and develop the young talent of the region for the benefit of West Indies cricket. In such a competition, players can begin to understand the competitive nature of the game as they strive to do well for themselves and their country.
The competition has progressed smoothly with players demonstrating a high level of ability in conditions which were ideally suited for top-class cricket. The players and management have also expressed satisfaction with the accommodation and other activities which have helped to make their stay comfortable and enjoyable.
Before this year's competition there were a few players earmarked as the ones expected to be the star performers, and they did not disappoint.
Barbados captain Ryan Hinds, who earlier this year represented his country in the Busta Cup and also played for West Indies 'A' against Australia, showcased his tremendous batting ability. In every game he was called upon to pull his side out of a tight spot and he did. His experience and mature approach was one of the major reasons why the host country won the three-day title for the first time since 1991. He emerged as the leading batsman with 487 runs, including two centuries.
Barbados played like true champions throughout showing great fight and tenacity whenever they faced adversity. This spoke volumes for the mental strength of the team and they topped off their effort by taking first innings lead in the drawn final against Trinidad and Tobago at Kensington Oval.
Jamaican Marlon Samuels, like Hinds a senior representative, proved to be the most explosive batsman with the ability to destroy any attack. He had two centuries and both were scored at nearly a run-a-ball. His 389 runs in six innings brought Jamaica to the semifinals before they were ousted by Barbados.
Then there was little Guyanese Narsingh Deonarine, who at 16 years old has already developed the art of playing long innings. A carbon-copy of West Indies batting star Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Deonarine batted a marathon 7 hours for his 131 against Trinidad and Tobago, just five days after he made a tournament-high 142 against Barbados.
Spin bowling has dominated, with eight of the top ten in the averages being slow bowlers, but the region unveiled one major pace bowling find.
Germaine Lawson, a lanky 17-year-old from rural Jamaica, captured everyone's imagination with his pace and accuracy. He is of similar build to his illustrious countryman and mentor Courtney Walsh with 27 wickets in four matches he emerged as the second-highest wicket-taker.
That honour went to Rodney Sooklal, Trinidad's off-spinner, who was consistent throughout to take 31 scalps. Another off-spinner Orvin Mangru of Guyana created history by taking nine for 116 against Barbados in the semifinal. It was the best bowling performance at this level surpassing the eight for 20 by Pauliver Rogers of the Leeward Island back in 1984.
One area of concern was wicket-keeping which, this year was not of the usual high standard set in the past. However Windward Islands' captain Greg Francois showed that he is a player to watch. Playing in a team that struggled throughout the competition, he still managed 240 runs, including 102 not out in the final match against Canada. This was the first instance in five years that a 'keeper had recorded a century.
There were other highlights throughout the packed two weeks of competition which emphasised that at youth level the region still possesses players of tremendous raw talent.
The aim is to keep the players focused and implement developmental programmes geared at producing top-class players for the international stage. Herein lies the major challenge, but the talent scouts know they have talented players to work with.