Participation in World Cup qualifying tournament seen as major step
‘I’m a total dreamer,’ confessed National Cricket Coach Theo Cuffy. ‘I have visions of us lining up with the rest of the world at the World Cup in 2007. Our guys have worked very hard and they are ready. I hate to boast but I really think I have a fantastic team.’
Don’t doubt him. Since he took the helm, Cayman Islands cricket has steadily risen in quality and international respectability. Today, the national team departs for Kuala Lumpur where they will compete for a chance to advance in World Cup qualifying.
‘The team is upbeat and ready to play,’ said Cuffy. ‘There is only one option for us-we have to win the tournament. All the others are going home.
‘We have done a lot of physical work and we have played several practice games. The hurricane was a setback but we are as ready as we can be. Our focus is better now. This is a golden opportunity for our older players. They know they won’t be here for the next chance so they are taking it very seriously.’
Cuffy believes this is a crucial step up for the sport in Cayman and he says his team is not shying away from the weight of the moment.
‘The crowning glory for any team is to represent your country in the World Cup. We are two steps away from playing in the World Cup. After two years of being an associate country [ICC designation for countries progressing toward full international status], we are very proud of where we have reached. The possibility of getting to the playoffs in Ireland would be a great moment for us. If we don’t win this tournament, I would not consider it a disgrace because we have already done exceedingly well. There are 27 associate countries in the world and we are up in the top 12. There are countries that have been associate countries for 10-25 years and they are still not in the playoffs.
‘We owe a lot to our administration, to the players, to government and to Cable and Wireless for their very generous sponsorship. I did not do this by myself. Many people have contributed. Andy Myles has been my assistant, for example, and he has been tremendous. He’s been my right hand. He’s done very well with the youth programme.’
The road to Malaysia was long and hard. Cuffy recalls disappointments along the way. ‘The West Indies Board did not show us any encouragement,’ Cuffy said. ‘But that didn’t deter us. It only spurred us on. Going to the Americas Cup was the right move for us. It allowed us to show how well we could compete.’
In the past, Cuffy has gone to bat with older teams that relied heavily on players who were near or beyond 40 years-old. That is gradually changing. The national team’s average age is dropping as he is able to bring in younger players. It’s at 32 now and he believes it will be down to 28 within a couple of years.
‘Our younger players are making great progress,’ he said, ‘but I don’t want to throw anyone in there before they are ready. We have four youngsters on the team now: Ronald Ebanks, Ryan Ebanks, Troy Taylor and Omar Bryan. They are around 20-21 years of age. Joseph Kirkconnel [another young standout player] was unavailable for this trip because he is away at college right now.’
Captain Ryan Bovell will lead the team on the pitch. Named Most Outstanding Player in the Americas Cup, Bovell is an obvious talent but Cuffy says his is a capable leader as well.
‘Ryan is very dedicated to what he is doing and he’s very ambitious,’ said Cuffy. ‘I’m really pleased with his work ethic. He will lead this team well.’
‘I’m confident in this team,’ said Bovell. ‘I think Coach Cuffy did a good job in putting together a cohesive unit. Our chances are great. We have the talent and we have the determination. There is no reason we shouldn’t win this tournament. After the hurricane, Cayman’s people need their spirits lifted so that’s what we are going out there to do.’
The Cayman Islands: Ryan Bovell (captain), Ronald Ebanks, Ryan Ebanks, Troy Taylor, Steve Gordon, Philip Wight, Pierson Best, Michael Wight, Frankie Hinds, Larry Cunningham, Omar Bryan, Kanute Tulloch, Ainsley Hall, Saheed Mohamed, Alister Carter (manager), Andy Myles (asst. coach), Theo Cuffy (head coach)