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Wed, Sep

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How do you make sense of rankings?

Easy. You don’t. Just take the numbers with a generous pinch of salt, allow them to marinate in a broader contextual appreciation before you savour the flavour, and wash it all down with a mixture of realism and optimism that facilitates proper digestion of the data.

Since Stephen Hart replaced Jamaal Shabazz and Hutson Charles as head of coach of the senior men’s national football team, the squad has made definite improvements. In reaching the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the United States in July, in rallying from three goals down before losing on penalties to the United Arab Emirates and then defeating hosts Saudi Arabia 3-1 at the OSN Cup in Riyadh last week, the team displayed a sense of purpose, drive and determination not seen for some time.

Yes, there’s still a long way to go. Any fool knows that. But even if the manner in which the locally-based coaches were swept aside to accommodate the Trini-born Canadian is typical of a colonial mentality that values foreign over indigenous as a matter of course, we should be mature enough to acknowledge the obvious, as former national players Clayton Morris and Brian Williams did in these pages when their opinions were sought in the immediate aftermath of the campaign in the Saudi capital.

At the moment, Trinidad and Tobago are 85th in the FIFA rankings, sandwiched between Caribbean Cup holders Cuba and Northern Ireland. You might think that’s not too bad given the depths to which the team plummeted over the past couple of years especially, failing to reach the Gold Cup on two occasions and losing to Bermuda and Guyana on the way to being eliminated in the second round of qualification for next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil.

In fact, if we’re at 85 now, then we had to be close to or beyond 100 earlier in the year. Well, you would be wrong in thinking that way because, believe it or not, our ranking stood at 69 – a whole 16 places better – in March. It doesn’t seem to add up, does it? Which is why a ranking is really only a snapshot, and often not a particularly good one either, so it is really incumbent on the coach to put it all in a clearer focus by determining whether or not the team is improving and if that improvement is happening at a satisfactory pace.

On the other side of the rankings conundrum is the West Indies men’s cricket team, who haven’t so much moved up to number five in the Test standings but are the beneficiaries of teams just ahead of them slipping up, while the Caribbean side have remained idle since the end of the two-Test series against Zimbabwe at home last March.

How ironic is it then that Zimbabwe, who were thrashed inside three days in both matches in Barbados and Dominica, have gifted the West Indies the fifth spot behind South Africa, England, India and Australia after pulling off a shock 24-run win over Pakistan in Harare on Saturday to square the two-match series at 1-1. With that loss, the Pakistanis dropped to 97 points, two below the West Indies, who have won six Test matches in a row but now face the first real assessment of their credentials against more formidable opposition than they have encountered for some time.

That they are now set to travel to India for two Tests in November before going to New Zealand for three more scheduled five-day matches at the end of the year has everything to do with the richest, most powerful and most influential administration in the game once again making a mockery of the sport and finding a willing participant in the West Indies Cricket Board for a stage-managed historic landmark, and possible farewell, for Sachin Tendulkar.

India’s beloved cricketing icon of the past 24 years is just two matches away from being the first to play 200 Tests, a staggering tally when you contemplate that someone like Sir Garfield Sobers played for 20 years for the West Indies yet still fell short of completing a century of Tests (he played 93 from 1954 to 1974). In what appears to have been timed to give Tendulkar the chance to play the historic 200th Test in his home city of Mumbai, never mind the disruption to the scheduled Indian tour of South Africa, Darren Sammy’s side will finally be coming up against a team ranked above them for the first time since they were beaten 2-0 in the three-Test series in England last year.

Notwithstanding that winning streak of six matches, the West Indies will obviously be underdogs for that series, although it will be a much better measurement of where the regional side is at Test level. From a selfish ranking-preservation point of view though, it probably would be best to not have accepted the Indian invitation at all, for it is obvious that inactivity, while the teams immediately above them are losing, helps the West Indies cause.

Fourth-ranked Australia are only two points ahead of the Caribbean side, and with Michael Clarke’s team again expected to lose comfortably in the return Ashes series at home to England at the end of the year, West Indies could have been up to number four by the start of 2014!

Benefiting by doing nothing. Now that’s a ranking system that only a nonsensical game like cricket can come up with.