Sport

Heaven's vision

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South Central Bureau

Sunday, May 11, 2014    

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — He is very pleased with Jamaica's capture of the Headley/Weekes Trophy following a disappointing campaign for the regional league title.

But also, president of the Jamaica Cricket Association Wilford 'Billy'Heaven is expressing delight at the performance of new and emerging players in the just-ended regional cricket season.

"My focus is not only to win but to prepare individual players to go to another level, so in that respect this was a good season for Jamaica, what we need to do is carry on," said Heaven, who also heads the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund.

CHASE allocates 'taxes foregone' contributions from the lucrative gaming and lotteries industry to eligible agencies, organisations and institutions in culture, health, arts, sports and education.

The JCA president noted that while Jamaica have now won six regional first-class titles in seven seasons, including five league competitions on the trot, the northern Caribbean nation's "contribution to the West Indies team should be at a more consistent level...".

After placing a disappointing fourth in the 2014 league competition won by Barbados, Jamaica turned the tables in the subsequent Headley/Weekes competition involving the top four teams in the league.

The Tamar Lambert-led Jamaica first beat Barbados by one wicket in a tense semi-final of the final-four competition before outplaying Windward Islands in the drawn final. Jamaica took the title on the strength of batting and bowling points.

Jamaica had lost to both Barbados and Windward Islands on home soil at Sabina Park in the league phase of the first-class season.

The performance of young and new players was pivotal to Jamaica's triumph. The exciting 22-year old right-hand batsman Jermaine Blackwood, who had repeatedly flattered only to deceive since his first-class debut in 2012, finally came through with good scores, including a 94 and a century (118) in the final.

Blackwood ended up as the four-day competition's leading scorer with 611 runs for an average of 40.73. Other upcoming Jamaica batsmen 25-year-old Nkrumah Bonner, John Campbell, 20, and Andre McCarthy, 26, also made contributions at vital times without being consistent.

For cricket watchers, an eye opener was the 29-year-old leg-break/googly exponent, Damion Jacobs of the famous Melbourne CC in uptown Kingston. Making his first-class debut at long last, as a result of season-long injury to the outstanding Odean Brown, Jacobs took 18 wickets in four games, including a first inning 8-47 in the final.

Young Jamaicans also performed well for the Combined Campuses and Colleges (CCC). The powerful, 25-year-old former West Indies Under-19 right-hander Shacaya Thomas, who is yet to play first-class cricket for Jamaica, had a breakthrough season. He scored 548 runs with two centuries for an average of 45.66.

Thomas and Blackwood were the only regional batsmen with over 500 runs this season.

The tall 22-year-old wrist spinner Akeem Dewar snared 20 wickets for the students' team.

Heaven said a long-term development plan for Jamaica's cricket would embrace ways of helping young cricketers to apply "strategic thinking" to their game.

"In anything you do including playing cricket there must be strategic thinking, there must be contingency planning - what do you do as a batsman, for example, if things are not going according to plan. We need to help our young cricketers to work through issues because we know that talent alone won't work," Heaven said.

As part of that process, a revival of the clubs and parishes Senior Cup is set for the next few weeks. Despite Jamaica's success at regional level, domestic club and parish competitions have been in disarray in recent seasons and the two-day Senior Cup competition did not take place last year.

Heaven said that resource constraints notwithstanding, every effort would be made to play as many Senior Cup games in the upcoming domestic season -- including home and away.

Limited overs competitions including 50-over, Twenty20 and the increasingly popular 10-over power play would also be incorporated,

he said.

As part of the drive to build capacity in cricket, there would be a special effort by the JCA to strengthen governance and marketing within the clubs and parish associations, Heaven said.

"Among the things I have heard and seen is that the clubs and parishes really don't have the technical competence to do even a simple business plan. ...We have to provide some level of technical assistance to the clubs/parishes ... with respect to marketing as well as governance," he said.

Crucial to the success of clubs and parishes will be the identification, harnessing and development of talented young cricketers.

"How do we identify elite players? After we identify them what do we do? Those are issues that are very important which must be addressed," said Heaven.

In the immediate future, Heaven and the JCA will be taken up with hosting of the New Zealand Test match squad during the Jamaica leg of a Caribbean tour starting in late May/early June.

Unlike the last time they were here in 2012, the New Zealanders will be playing warm-up games ahead of the first Test at Sabina Park staring June 8.

A three-day, as well as a two-day game will be played against Jamaica teams at the scenic Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium at Florence Hall just outside the historic seaside town of Falmouth in Trelawny, on Jamaica's exotic north coast.

The New Zealanders specifically asked for the Trelawny venue and the JCA leapt at the opportunity to rehabilitate the stadium. It has been badly run down since it was built by the Jamaican government at a cost in excess of US$30 million to host the opening ceremony of the 2007 ICC World Cup, as well as warm-up games for that tournament.

A project to improve the field and rehabilitate structures at the stadium is costing close to $9 million with funding from the Tourism Enhancement Fund and the Sports Development Foundation. But, according to Heaven, this is just the start.

For one thing, Heaven says an independent and sustainable source of water will have to be developed to make the stadium more viable than it is now.

Heaven told the Jamaica Observer that the favoured plan -- recommended by technical experts two years ago -- is for a rainwater "storage type facility" that will cost in excess of $16 million.

"That is a large capital outlay and it will take some time, obviously... but it will have to be done," Heaven said.

Over the longer term, Heaven says lights will also have to be installed at Trelawny, not just to facilitate cricket, but to help the stadium fulfil its original mandate as a multi-purpose facility.

"We can't look to cricket alone to maintain any stadium at all ... it was intended to be a multi-purpose stadium and we want to bring back the original purpose," said Heaven.

The JCA president said much the same was true of Sabina Park, which is now being equipped with floodlights to facilitate night cricket ahead of the Caribbean Premier League.

"Cricket alone cannot justify the capital outlay," Heaven said.

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