Lies, damned lies and incompetence
When the Bermuda cricket team slipped back into the country from Malaysia last month with tails between their legs, ill-gotten confidence shot and with a new-found but deserved status as a backwater division five outfit that was so entirely predictable that you didn’t need Nostradamus to peer into the looking glass, it was understandable that the knives would be out.
Because that’s the norm, isn’t it?
Team performs badly and there should be hell to pay.
The coach must go.
Sometimes, team performs OK and even wins something — but, still, the coach must go.
At some stage over the next few days, it will be announced that Italian football coach Antonio Conte will be leaving Chelsea in the English Premier League after two seasons as manager with one year left on his contract. All he has done in his brief time in West London is win the league in his debut season and then follow that up by landing the hallowed FA Cup.
But for context and local edification, winning the FA Cup in a filthy rich era when sitting at the top table of European football conquers all is tantamount to capturing the World T20 ICC Americas Southern Sub-Regional — a piddling competition when set alongside the World Cricket League Division Four tournament.
Which itself is a piddling competition when set alongside the more palatable WCL Division Three — what should be the least of Bermuda’s ambitions, no matter the domestic game’s quite obvious decline.
If government hangers-on have a conscience given the song and dance that was made of the “incredible performance” of squeaking past two of the weakest imaginable teams in world cricket — Cayman Islands and hosts Argentina — in February and March, they should be handed a lesson in context over false praise, and then feel ashamed of themselves.
That is as far as we shall mix politics with sport in this missive, for there are decisions to be made as the Bermuda Cricket Board goes into a belated Malaysia post-mortem mode.
In a normal world, despite saying that he would have to be pushed before he would walk, head coach Clay Smith would be a dead man walking, much like Conte the moment Chelsea failed to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
He has had more than four years in the job and has overseen not progress but a slide into the nether regions of international cricket. In a results-driven business, it is obvious he would have to go.
But while Roman Abramovich can scour Europe to find a suitable replacement for Conte, what chance the comparatively cashless BCB?
We have done the overseas thing with mixed results, and in this age of “putting Bermudians first”, any foreign appointment would be frowned upon.
So if not Clay Smith, then who? And therein lies the conundrum — there is no one.
The greatest criticism you could make of Smith that will stick is in his complicity in the failure to secure Delray Rawlins, our best cricketer, for WCL Division Four.
“Delray was asked, but due to his current position, he didn’t want to risk losing out on an opportunity of a lifetime,” Smith said during the tournament of a player who has aspirations of playing for another country, albeit at the highest level — Test cricket.
But this repeated line about the 20-year-old pursuing his dream, supported by BCB chief executive Neil Speight, is utter nonsense, shows a recruitment strategy devoid of backbone and has been proven so.
While we wish Rawlins well in his pursuits, he has played but one first-class cricket game this season, the relatively meaningless preseason Champion County Match that was held in Barbados at the end of April.
Other than a lone appearance in the Royal London One-Day Cup on May 19 against Hampshire, he has not played first-team cricket for Sussex — hardly the “opportunity of a lifetime” that Smith blindly spoke of.
Instead, the one player who could have made the difference not only in keeping Bermuda in Division Four but also in giving them a good shot at promotion, considering the inconsistencies that were on display from other teams in Malaysia, has spent that time and since in the Sussex second XI and pottering around the club cricket scene.
His availability for run-outs with club side Eastbourne on the day before Bermuda began the tournament with a crushing defeat by Denmark and then on the day before the loss to Malaysia that confirmed relegation is undeniable evidence of such, with no first-team or “England” engagements in between.
For context, club cricket in England is grassroots cricket, the heartbeat of the game in England. At its highest levels, it is the stepping stone to the county game, but in no way a direct pathway to the England senior team.
So the truth of what has transpired confirms there was nothing that a ten-day absence to be in Malaysia would have done to push the former England Under-19 player farther down the pecking order than he already is.
We have to conclude that unlike several other county second XI regulars, including a Sussex team-mate in Jonty Jenner of Jersey, he simply didn’t fancy it — making his comments around Christmastime when it was confirmed he would not represent the country of his birth and upbringing that “any chance you get to play for your country is quite special” appear disingenuous at best.
So if you want to sack Clay Smith — and Neil Speight, too, for that matter — for incompetence in dealing with the Delray Rawlins issue, then sack them. It would make sense, for we are now a laughing stock in cricket, made worse under their watch.
But sack them only if we can find better alternatives on the ground. And we can’t. They are virtually non-existent. Nowhere in the cupboard can you find men or groups who believe by way of their actions that “team” is not spelt with an “i”.
The incidents of recent weeks in our domestic game exacerbate this point and show us to be bereft of ethics, morals, principle and leadership. And if this is to be seen from the leading two clubs — St David’s and Southampton Rangers — what chance is there of unearthing those who can pick up and lead from where Smith and, possibly, Speight have left off?
Chris Douglas, he already of questionable temperament and a Bermuda player who oddly was among many who were not available to Smith for selection, was just named captain of St David’s. They are off to a flyer this season, which is not surprising.
But the new captain set the most shocking of examples straight out of the traps last weekend by reacting to a debatable leg-before decision against him by taking a circuitous route off the pitch — in the opposite direction to the St David’s pavilion — instead of the timed-honoured “bat under the armpit, cap and gloves in hand” departure that this noble game is so revered for.
When Jason Anderson did something similar in the 2001 Cup Match, jaws dropped. It was cringeworthy. There was no accountability coming out of the St George’s camp then and there is none now coming out of St David’s.
Stunning. All in a day’s work.
But Douglas’s conduct barely registers when compared to what happened at the same venue a week earlier, and which has gone by with little to no consequence — for which even we in this parish must accept culpability.
Enter Malachi Jones. Another top player, like Douglas a Somerset Cup Match regular and, like Douglas, another who was oddly not available to Smith for Bermuda selection.
Given out first ball of the match on May 20, he packed his bags and left the ground, not to return. We kid you not.
Unlike the proverbial kid taking his bat and ball and going home in a fit of pique so that the game cannot go on, this match continued and Rangers fielded with ten men, short of their most lauded bowler.
Remember? The same one who, aged 17, was so full of emotion that he could be seen choked up going back to his mark after “that catch” by Dwayne Leverock to remove Robin Uthappa off his bowling at the 2007 World Cup.
Someone probably should have advised him then that, only seven balls into the match, he and Bermuda hadn’t done anything yet, because India went on to amass in excess of 400 and win by a gargantuan 257 runs.
So we have form for allowing emotion to overcome common sense, and Jones has shown 11 years down the road that he remains prone to extremes of agitation.
Southampton went on to lose narrowly, the defeat harder to take because it was against St David’s, their greatest rivals for the limited-overs title.
Surely, there would be some form of punishment from the club. The player had to be made accountable and an example made of him. Even if proceedings were kept in-house.
But, no, nothing. No outcry. No statement. No interrogation.
In a distinctly abject acceptance of behaviour that is staggering on so many levels, the lack of consequence was seen when Jones was allowed to suit up for the very next match as if nothing ever happened.
And in one fell swoop, a club that can boast Bermuda vice-captain Dion Stovell, former Bermuda captain and Cup Match legend Janeiro Tucker, and respected coach Ricky Brangman lost all credibility for producing leaders of men, effectively ruling itself out of any conversation to cash in on any prospective Clay Smith/Neil Speight Sweepstakes.
Not quite fools running the asylum — that would be entirely harsh on Smith and Speight — but you catch the drift.
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