Availability over ability? A potential leadership challenge for Guyana Harpy Eagles
By Akeem Greene
There are numerous glaring problems within West Indies cricket, many of which are the root causes of the abysmal performances over the years.
Blame usually bounces from administrators to players, and excuses are often finances and facilities, but long-term planning, at least from a public standpoint, is hardly ever evident.
It is important to start from the top since many of the aforementioned also filter into the territorial boards.
However, a strong argument can be made that it starts at the bottom and ends up at the top level.
Either way, it exemplifies the dire position.
And, just like the West Indies and their issues regarding long-term leadership options, the Guyana Harpy Eagles could fall into the same dilemma.
At present, life is swell- there is the stability, competitiveness and experience of Leon Johnson, the captain.
A bold and forward-thinking move was made to appoint Keemo Paul as Vice-captain of the Four-Day team last season.
But there lies a predicament, one which will bound to arise soon.
The issue of availability
Paul and Shimron Hetmyer, whether it be for potential West Indies duties or International T20 leagues, are likely to be limited in their availability for the Harpy Eagles, especially for a full season in the red-ball format.
The Indian Premier League is expected to start in March and run until June, and Hetmyer, who is not contracted by Cricket West Indies nor the Harpy Eagles, is a key man for Rajasthan Royals.
Since his first match for the then Guyana Jaguars, in the 2017-18 season, Hetmyer, has only featured in 17 matches, missing a host of games for varying reasons, mainly international duties.
Apart from the last two seasons, first-choice players could play up to 10 matches in a Four-Day season, and the most Hetmyer has played in one season is eight in 2016-17.
Likewise, Paul, since his ascension to West Indies colours, the demands of T20 leagues and injury, has only once played a full 10 rounds (2017-18) and last season, the full five.
It was in the 2022 Caribbean Premier League that Hetmyer had his first opportunity at senior captaincy via the Guyana Amazon Warriors after being championed for the role due to his success with the West Indies team at the 2016 Youth World Cup.
Given the packed schedule, it could become more about availability than ability when it comes to leadership for the Harpy Eagles.
At 35, Johnson has shepherd the side to five consecutive titles; however, some may argue age is not on his side.
In the last two Four-Day seasons, Johnson has scored 635 runs from 22 innings at an average of 31.75 with a best 189* and to go along with four half-centuries.
At this stage, in this situation, Johnson is certainly the man, at least in the Four-Day format going forward.
Though by his high standards, the runs are not up to par, many of the incumbents have either performed at the same level or below, but Johnson still meets the required 40 on the Yo-Yo test, a feat much younger players than him have struggled to consistently achieve.
The leadership options
In the current set-up, Tagenarine Chanderpaul, Tevin Imlach and Akshaya Persaud can be seen as potential long-term candidates.
There are interim options that have been used in the past, such as Veerasammy Permaul, Vishaul Singh and Anthony Bramble.
Chanderpaul’s promising start to his Test career could mean lesser appearances for the Harpy Eagles, given the packed schedule.
For example, this season starts on February 1, and West Indies have two Tests in Zimbabwe. Given Chanderpaul’s impressive start to his Test career in Australia, averaging 40, he is sure to make the squad for those two matches.
He was recently named Vice-captain of Demerara in the domestic 50-over tournament.
Persaud, 25, with just five First-Class and nine List A matches to his name, has not grabbed the opportunities to shine with the bat.
He averages 7.42 after seven First-Class innings, but it is widely known, given his numerous years among the senior set-up, he would be a potential candidate.
Last season, Imlach’s stability at three, his maturity, his output with the bat, and his way above-par fitness, made him a certainty in both formats.
Doubling as a wicketkeeper, the right-hander scored 215 runs from four innings at an average of 53.75 last season.
There are left-field options like Antony Adams, who has enjoyed tremendous success for Essequibo at the domestic level, and young Kevin Sinclair, who had relative success with the Guyana Under-19s, but both would be stepping into the deep end of a tough job, just like the other potential candidates.
Like Persaud, these two would have to first cement a spot in the playing XI.
As mentioned, the leadership situation at present is not a major worry, but to cultivate long-term success, planning is a key factor.
Strategically, there is now the restart of the Senior Inter-county, and it should be there those who the administrators believe warrant the label of future leaders, be exposed.
It shouldn’t be solely on winning at the domestic level, but rather on grooming talents to sustain success at the regional level.
The off-field activities in the academy would be vital also, as the sport has evolved from just pure skill to one of tactics and execution.