If Theo Cuffy was a batsman now instead of the era of the legends, he would probably be a West Indies squad player.
An accomplished Trinidad national batsman in the Seventies, he was unfortunate to be in his prime when West Indies ruled the world.
To break into the team Cuffy needed to usurp the likes of Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Alvin Kallicharan, Clive Lloyd, Lawrence Rowe and fellow Trini Bernard Julien who dominated not just West Indies cricket, but also globally. If there was a record to be broken they would smash it and create others just for the hell of it.
Nevertheless, Cuffy, 57, has enjoyed the journey, devoting his life to his sporting passion. He grew up in Preysal, a small town only about a mile long in central Trinidad, population around 6,000. Local cricket hero was Inshan Ali, a left-hand orthodox spinner, who played in 12 Tests. Preysal has produced an inordinate amount of great players for a place so small. Local club, Clico Preysal, is run by the president Anthony Harford. Cuffy feels it is one of the best organised clubs in the country. ‘Next year they’re going to go pro and some players will get full-time playing contracts.’
He made the national youth team in 1967 as a batsman, touring Jamaica for the first time. He was in the youth set up for four years then had a lull as a senior before breaking into the national side at 26, playing eight years for them and becoming captain in his last season. It wasn’t a successful year and fed up of the politics, stopped playing altogether to become a coach. He was national youth coach from 1986 and senior coach and manager from 1988 until leaving Trinidad for Cayman in 1995. Cuffy was first aware of Brian Lara’s talent as a seven-year-old and can take pride in nurturing the brilliant left-hander in his formative years.
Very happy coaching in Trinidad, he admits not knowing anything about the Cayman Islands although he’d been to Jamaica and knew it was close. ‘I met Andy Myles, who is still my assistant coach and Bernie Bush (Ministry of Sports official) at a seminar in Trinidad. They asked me if I would like to come over here. I took the interview and was successful. It has been a fantastic ride. I’ve really enjoyed my time here and think it’ll go on for a few more years.’
Cuffy has overseen all aspects of cricket development in Cayman and is now preparing the national side for the Stanford 20/20 tournament in Antigua in January. Cayman play St Lucia in the first game and if they win then face the mighty Trinis. Billionaire Texan Allen Stanford is sponsoring West Indies cricket to the tune of hundreds of millions. Cuffy sees him as a visionary.
‘The thing about Allen Stanford, his development plan is fantastic. His idea about a pro team? Great. However, I have some reservations and I hope that he will look at it that way. I can’t have a pro team in the Cayman Islands because we don’t have places to play. I need more infrastructure. So for a pro team to develop in the atmosphere that will be correct as we’re saying of the West Indies team, we need to have proper facilities. The Cayman Islands Government is doing a magnificent job. ‘Governments before and the present administration have continued the trend. They are trying to do their best and produce all playing facilities. But the Government cannot do it on their own. So if we can have some of the seed funds from Stanford towards our development into the pro team with a vision for the future for all my youngsters coming up, I think we’re moving in the right direction.’
Cuffy and Myles have produced some exceptionally gifted youngsters. ‘Right now Ramon Sealy is the most outstanding, there’s no doubt. Darren Cato, Zachary McLaughlin, Earl Hart, Kervin Ebanks, Vincent Ebanks… I have a good group right now. And I have some who are a little bit older, like Ricardo Roach, Omar Willis, Marlon Bryan and Omar Bryan. I believe we will be much better than we are right now within the next two years. We’re going to have fellas who better understand the game to the point where they can interpret different situations much easier.’
Cuffy’s son, Tyrell, 18 is a world class sprinter studying in the US. He too showed potential as a cricketer. ‘Tyrell captained Cayman Under-15 in the regional tournament and he played for the U-19s for one year but he had always been in track. The track opportunity was the direction he wanted to go. We suffer in cricket because we don’t have the scholarships, especially at close proximity. If you want to get a scholarship, the possibility is only really England and that is not really ideal.
‘The chances of a Caymanian youngster making it in England is going to be really rough because of the competition. Until that passes, what is happening now, which I’m very happy about, is that most of our youngsters are getting academic scholarships. So I’m losing them on the one hand because they’re not here to play cricket – like Paul Chin and Ronald Ebanks in England – but I’m happy to know that cricket is the foundation and they’re using it.’
There are a series of club 20/20 matches every weekend to prepare players for the faster tempo and intensity. The weather has blighted recent schedules. ‘For Stanford, we’re doing physicals and will get out to the middle soon. We’re planning to have 10 weeks of middle training. They are playing right now in their local tournaments then we’re going to have the Cayman 20/20 international on 23-25 November with Bahamas. That is part of our trials, with three local teams selected. When that is completed we’re going to select our team for the match against St Lucia.’