National team manager Goolam Rajah and physiotherapist Craig ‘Fizz’ Smith have been performing an important task over the last ten days or so – a reconnaissance task.
The two men have been travelling around the Caribbean in search of as much ‘advance information’ as they can lay their hands on before they return with the national side on March 1 for the start of the five-test, seven one-dayer, 10-week tour of the islands.
In some ways it’s difficult to imagine what they can do – surely a couple of simple telephone calls would suffice? Why all the hassle (not to mention cost) of travelling to the West Indies to see for themselves?
The answer is ‘eye-contact’. It’s like Allan Donald trying to intimidate Brian Lara over the telephone and then hoping to dismiss him cheaply. You just have to be ‘there’.
On many occasions in the mid to late 90s I saw Goolam in animated, desperate conversations with hotel managers and grounds curators, pleading with them to remember the conversations they had had over the telephone and the faxes that they had exchanged.
“But you guaranteed us at least two nets to practise,” Goolam would say. A shake of the head or a shrug of the shoulders was the normal response. “You assured me that we would have a team room as well as 15 bedrooms,” an exasperated Rajah would be saying on arrival in a new city.
Since he began these advance missions three years ago, however, the major logistical problems that hamper every tour have fewer and fewer.
Goolam has a naughty sense of humour (frequently asking unsuspecting security guards to remove journalists from the dressing room before bursting into laughter just as we are being frog-marched away by machine-gun toting army lieutenant) but basically he is a serious and conscientious man for whom ‘honour’ is a way of life, not a word.
So when he looks a hotel manager or a groundsman in the eye, shakes him by the hand and says: “So I have your word on that – one conference room, with a fridge, television and video, and two practise nets for two days before the Test,” they all tend to comply.
Despite Goolam being a devout Muslim and non-drinker, the rumours that Smith’s main task on the ‘reccy’ has been to explore the myths about the potency of Jamaican rum are nothing but irresponsible, scurrilous trouble-making. Although he has had a couple in the evening, just to make sure…
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