Trinidad and Tobago cricket caught in a dilemma

In this Feb 16, 2020 file photo, Central Zone’s Imran Khan (C) celebrates taking a wicket in a TTCB match against Preysal, at Inshan Ali Park, Preysal. Domestic cricket still awaits its return a year after restrictions were implemented by the Government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  Photo by Marvin Hamilton
In this Feb 16, 2020 file photo, Central Zone’s Imran Khan (C) celebrates taking a wicket in a TTCB match against Preysal, at Inshan Ali Park, Preysal. Domestic cricket still awaits its return a year after restrictions were implemented by the Government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Photo by Marvin Hamilton

CLUBS, players, officials and the usual handful of spectators are yet to return to the pitch since local competition was put on hold one year ago (March 15).

This came after the TT Government implemented stay at home orders upon confirmation of the nation’s first cases of covid19.

Two months later, the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) cancelled the remainder of the cricket season following discussions with National League, zonal affiliates and club representatives, in light of the government’s extension of covid19 restrictions on team activities, contact sports and public gatherings.

The cancellation climaxed an incomplete 2020 season which resulted in no champions being crowned at all TTCB-sanctioned tournaments. To date, not a ball has been bowled on the domestic circuit.

On November 8, the Prime Minister announced that teams preparing for national and international competitions could resume training at sporting facilities but must adhere to strict health regulations.

This allowed cricketers, who made the pool of potential TT Red Force selections for the CG Insurance Super50 Cup (February 2021) and upcoming West Indies Championships (regional four-day), to return to training at the National Cricket Centre in Couva.

In early December, TTCB president Azim Bassarath wrote Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh seeking Government approval for the nation’s top men’s cricketers to return to action domestically.

The cricket board also outlined its “Return to Cricket Regulations”, which detailed the health protocols that would be observed if given the all-clear, and its 2021 competitive schedule. But the TTCB request was not approved by the health ministry.

While potential national cricketers continued to train, thousands of minor and major league players were still restricted to home and limited gym training.

On February 20, however, the Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe announced that outdoor sporting activity (22 people or less) will resume after 11 months of dormancy. Cricket clubs seized the opportunity to return to training.

In early March, Bassarath again wrote to Deyalsingh appealing for a resumption of, at least, the National League and Zonal competitions on April 10.

His request was denied once more with the minister quoting the Public Health Regulations (No. 5) 2021 and citing that, “due consideration may be given to your request in the future”.

On April 1, 2021, however, the health minister again clamped down on recreational team sports "until further notice" owing to another surge in covid19 cases. This means that clubs are now forbidden to hold training sessions.

TTCB boss Azim Bassarath. Photo by Nicholas Bhajan

The one-year hiatus continues and has had a varied impact on several local cricket stakeholders. Some might say the future of domestic cricket looks grim.

TTCB operations manager Dudnath Ramkessoon understands both scenarios – the government’s pro-active approach to protect the health security of cricket’s stakeholders against those who believe cricket is a non-contact sport and can be played safely without a breach in health protocols.

Planning, however, has been a challenge.

“As an administration, you plan. But now we’re planning and re-planning because of the uncertainty of when cricket will resume. It’s difficult to really plan as administrators not knowing what’s going to happen.

“We know the clubs would like to go out and play because they think they have been cooped up, not of their doing, but the restrictions. They (players) are missing the competitive aspect,” said Ramkessoon.

The veteran administrator noted that some clubs believe cricket could be played in open spaces since players would be physically distanced on the field. Avoiding public gatherings/spectators outside of these grounds is where it gets a little tricky.

While the TTCB, if given the green light to resume, can mandate no spectators, it does not make the ban on viewers legal, unless implemented by the government. Herein lies the challenge. Ramkessoon questioned if clubs would accept responsibility for gatherings in the pavilions or on the outskirts of the ground while utilising a public facility.

He hears the cries of clubs but affirmed the TTCB must be guided by the health ministry’s protocols for sport.

The downside of this, however, is that many younger players have worked hard at home over the past year but they have not been included in the current Red Force set up. They are unable to have national selectors catch a glimpse of their progress.

Ramkessoon continued, “Although you (cricketers) might have performed well in the past, there are some people who are late developers and would have improved their game over the last year and want to address the selectors.

“They will feel a bit disenfranchised to not get that opportunity to play. Given an opportunity, they might show where they have improved and worked on their game. During the lockdown, some players did a lot of individual work.”

PowerGen manager supports the continued restrictions on domestic cricket and believes health security should remain a top priority.

The Penal-based team remain reigning National League Premiership I champions, having won in 2019, but are not ready to return to action just yet.

Over the past 12 months, PowerGen used the downtime to upgrade their indoor facility to provide a platform for their players to train safely. They, however, are yet to resume full team training.

TT Cricket Board's operations manager Dudnath Ramkessoon.

Ramjitsingh, who has been managing the club’s teams for 40 years, said that even when they receive government approval to resume domestic competition, he wants a three-week window, at least, for his team to fully prepare.

Financially, the club is safe since the main sponsors PowerGen have been very supportive. Funds are also attained through parents and friends of the club.

“We have to first think about health and the Government’s restrictions. Our players’ health comes first. What we are doing as a club is putting our covid19 protocols in place.

“We haven’t started training yet but our facilities are up to mark as they were prepared earlier in the year. We have to go through our management and they have already given us permission (to train).

“But we are drafting up our protocols for the players to observe. Within a week or two, we will start with a minimum of 12 people,” said Ramjitsingh.

Meanwhile, some of the club’s top-flight players have been kept busy with the recent Sri Lanka tour. PowerGen players Jason Mohammed and Evin Lewis were integral in the West Indies’ (WI) recent 3-0 One-Day International sweep of Sri Lanka.

Another member Samuel Badree has now shifted to cricket commentary but is still fully involved at the club. Similarly, PowerGen’s Kavesh Kantasingh and Steven Katwaroo are currently within the pool of players up for selection for the upcoming WI Championship.

So even though domestic cricket is not being played, PowerGen’s elite players are being allowed to compete on the biggest stage based on their prior performances and experience.

On the other hand, some smaller clubs are calling for a resumption of cricket to merely stay afloat. The year-long stoppage has halted sponsors, demotivated players and has now become a financial burden on certain clubs.

As it stands, Premiership II team Cane Farm are uncertain if they will be able to stay afloat if the ban continues. With no prior sponsors at the inactive club, players may be swayed to switch allegiances owing to unpredictability.

Located in Trincity, club manager Kerwin Simmons said their home ground is not even being maintained by the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation and has forced players to stay away.

He said the club is unable to spend money to fix the wicket without prior knowledge of when cricket would resume.

“At our club, nothing is happening. I’m not sure if we will have a team after this covid19 situation. Seeing that it’s been so long since we haven’t played, the guys are despondent. It could mean the end of Cane Farm,” he said.

Simmons has held casual talks with players and explained to them the club’s financial shortcomings. Although Cane Farm have no major sponsor, they have still been able to produce second and third-place finishes in the Premiership II over the years.

“For me, domestic cricket has little to no spectators anyway, so cricket can resume. This cricket could have continued in the height of the pandemic. The younger players who can reach somewhere in life with cricket will be most affected.

“I did this (managed club) for the youths have an avenue (to success). That’s how Keagan (Simmons) and they achieved what they have; by coming through the ranks.

“Lendl (Simmons) came through the ranks as well and is the main contributor in terms of finance. He keeps the clubs going despite what the senior members do,” Simmons added.

This year, Lendl was a pivotal player for the TT Red Force in their Super50 title-winning performance. In his three matches played, the batsman scored two centuries (146 and 106) and a half-century (68) from his four games played.

He also generated good performances for the WI’s 2-1 T20I series win over Sri Lanka in Antigua, two weeks ago. However, while Simmons has been extremely active competing at the highest level, his local club is struggling to stay afloat.

Like the TTCB administrator, Central Sports owner Richard Ramkissoon continues to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of a return to cricket. He thinks Premier I clubs should be allowed to compete and their experience used as a gauge to hopefully reintroduce other leagues or keep them at bay.

According to him, if all goes well with this limited lift on restrictions for Premier I clubs, the health ministry can look at the possibilities of other tournaments bowling off. Allowing the TTCB’s full crop of players to resume play is unsafe, Ramkissoon said.

“If they reopen cricket on a whole, several minor leagues will also come out to play. This will increase the risk of covid19 as protocols may not always be adhered to or properly controlled,” he said.

Ramkissoon believes venues such as the Brian Lara Cricket Academy (Tarouba), Queen’s Park Oval (Port of Spain) and the National Cricket Centre can guarantee restricted access to the public and be used as a bio-secure bubble for players and officials.

“If we can ask the minister (Deyalsingh) to make small steps. The majority of Premiership I players are national players. This plan would ensure our top flight players are playing. This is what we want.

“These are the players you want playing. All the fringe players who were not selected for national trials, those are the ones you want playing cricket just in case they need to get them on (to play for the national team),” he said.

While it may sound feasible, the risk of letting play resume remains too high for the government and even the TTCB.

In the end, the board’s operations manager believes the government has made the right decision to halt the domestic leagues.

With the majority of public activity restored, most with limitations, Ramkessoon called on stakeholders to bear with the health ministry and the TTCB as they chart a way forward for the gentleman’s game.

“The government is concerned with the virus spread especially with limited vaccines available locally. Some of these local matches don’t really attract big crowds and I’m unsure if they’re (government) aware of that.

“We have been communicating with clubs throughout the year via Zoom. Every time a directive came from the Ministry of Sport and/or Ministry of Health, we relay the messages to the clubs.

“Once they give us the ok we’ll put things together. At this point in time, I think clubs can practice and stay within the limited numbers. We have to follow the ministry’s guidelines. Covid19 is a serious thing,” he concluded.


"Trinidad and Tobago cricket caught in a dilemma"

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