By Bryan Davis
Former West Indies Test cricketer
The first-class game of cricket, which is played over four consecutive days, is the benchmark on which a cricketer’s prowess is measured. And why is this? It rests on the nature of the game.
It requires the bowler to lure the batsman into making a false stroke, by deceiving him in the air or off the pitch, with his fieldsmen set in such a manner to complete the batsman’s removal.
The batsman, on the other hand, has to combat the stealth of the bowler by defending his wicket, not to be tempted into a false stroke, yet has to seek out scoring opportunities to ensure his team can accumulate enough runs to get the better of his opponent.
The pitch, in having to be prepared for a four-day game, has to be given a generous volume of moisture, with enough grass and a controlled amount of rolling for it to last four days, for after the toss is taken, no further preparation is allowed except the seven-minute rolling permitted between the teams’ innings, and before the start of play on each day, at the discretion of the batting captain.
This is why fast bowlers, with a brand-new ball plus a hard seam and sheen on both sides, would usually start the bowling, as they are likely to generate swing and bounce from the hard ball.
Opening batsmen thus need a special technique to combat this type of bowling on this surface especially on the first day. The spinner comes into his own when the ball wears as it gets older; because it is easier for him to grip the ball as it is rough.
The preparation moisture gives some help to the opening bowler. On a normal sunshine day with much heat the wetness in the pitch soon dries out. After the lunch interval, almost three hours from the commencement, the pitch becomes easier for stroke play, hence a team has their aggressive stroke makers in the middle order.
This is all the background of the four-day game. The intricacies involved require a lot of thinking of the strategies and tactics involved, to get the better of the other team, whether batting or fielding.
When a cricketer is successful at this level of cricket, he should be able to adjust to the other formats of the game as the genre applies.
In the limited-over games of 50-over and T20, the theme is defensive, and instead of trying to remove batsmen with attacking field-placing in addition to aggressive bowling, the plan is usually to contain, therefore, starve the batsmen from scoring. A bowler is only allowed to bowl a certain number of overs like 10 in the 50-over or 4 in the T20, regardless of how good he’s bowling. In the first-class game, in order to win, one has to dismiss the batting team twice; so, it’s a different approach.
With this in mind it is worrying that Trinidad and Tobago’s first-class team, playing in the regional competition every season, is doing so badly. They have placed last and second to last consistently in the last few years and when fourth is praised, one realises that there are just six teams and that is third to last. To do well one must place in the first three and not at too much distance from the first.
Regional league competition as we know it, started for the first time in 1966. Before that, teams played against each other by invitation only, after which the West Indies Cricket Board of Control held a few quadrangular series with the four main bodies that formed the Board: Barbados, British Guiana, Trinidad & Tobago, and Jamaica.
Other important first-class games on which players were judged were against the visiting International teams.
My final appearance in first-class cricket was for T&T way back in 1971 when we won the competition, for the second consecutive year, both times under the captaincy of Joey Carew.
Then in 1976, under Prince Bartholomew, T&T were declared joint champions with Barbados. We were fortunate as, for their final fixture, the Barbados team were not allowed entry to Guyana because one of their players had played in apartheid South Africa thus the Barbadians played one game short but closed with the same number of points as the T&T side.
In 1985 under Rangy Nanan and afterwards in 2006 under Daren Ganga, T&T were regional champions.
In 52 years (there was no competition in 1968) of four-day league competition among Caribbean territories, T&T has been champions four times and joint once! Since the birth of the T&T Cricket Board in 1980 we have won twice. In 39 years! Something to think about!