Still supporting Gayle-less Tallawahs

I’m a Chelsea fan.

Now that is not a popular thing to be in my native Jamaica but I’ve been one since 1995, some 25 years ago.

I was not a fan of what used to be English football and at the time, the only team in the Premier League with any international flavour was Chelsea.

Chelsea boasted a squad with one English starter in Dennis Wise and were the only team in England that played with the type of flair I had grown up seeing from my father’s team of choice, Brazil.

Arsenal had not yet become the free-flowing team it became popular for and Manchester United, though winners, were not a target of my fancy.

But Chelsea, for all their beautiful football, were a mid-table team at best.

When they started to win, courtesy of an injection of cash from Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, they lost some of that flair.

Players like Gianfranco Zola, Ruud Gullit and Gustavo Poyet were no longer there and Jose Mourinho had turned the team into something resembling a machine that built cars to exacting specifications. Still I delighted in their success. Now they’re losing again and cannot seem to compete with the might of the Manchester Cities and Liverpools of this era. They have returned to playing with some flair but I cannot be completely happy with all the changes they have made to date.

But I will likely remain a Chelsea fan for the remainder of my time on this planet.

The same is true of the Jamaica Tallawahs. I fell in love with the Tallawahs much, in the same way, I fell in love with Chelsea.

I understood franchise cricket in much the same way I did club football and would have chosen any of the six teams in the CPL to be ‘mine’.

But just as I became a fan of the way the dread-locked Gullit would marshall his midfield and later Zola would turn a game on its head with a moment of brilliance, I could not get enough of big-hitting innings from Chris Gayle.

It was for this reason and this reason solely that I became a fan of the Tallawahs but I cannot now abandon them because, just as in club football, franchise cricket will witness changes.

And there have been a myriad of changes to the Tallawahs since the start of the Hero Caribbean Premier League, some seven years ago.

Now, there is no Chris Gayle, and the latest squad seems a far cry from the exciting days of the big left-hander smacking balls onto the roof of the North Stand at Kingston’s Sabina Park.

Still, I will remain with the Tallawahs as any true fan of a team should.

And maybe, despite the many changes, this Tallawahs line-up has a chance.

They do have more balance than they have had in recent years.

For a while, the Tallawahs batting was their strength but they had to bat teams out of games. Whenever they failed to get more than just a competitive score, they were certain to lose. In fact, I think they have the ignominy of sporting some of the highest losing totals in the competition’s history.

This year may be different.

Fidel Edwards is an experienced fast bowler, who, along with the pace of Oshane Thomas, could pose some problems for their opposition in the league.

The Tallawahs also have something they have been missing for a few years now as well. An incisive spinner. Tabraiz Shamsi is the type of slow bowler the Tallawahs may just need. A left-arm wrist spinner, Shamsi is aggressive, with his 19.8 strike rate suggesting he will take wickets in the middle overs where the Tallawahs have been found wanting over the years.

Allrounder Carlos Brathwaite can provide both batting and bowling for the Tallawahs on the odd occasion, while Veerasammy Permaul can also do a job.

Now, I wouldn’t venture to pick the Tallawahs line-up but they have last season’s leading runscorer for them, Glenn Phillips, who should partner Chadwick Walton. The two can be explosive and put any team on the back foot. In the middle order, there is exciting Pakistani batsman, Asif Ali, as well as the power of Rovman Powell and Andre Russell. On a given day, any of those names can hurt an opposition, but there is the question of consistency.

That question has plagued the Tallawahs for years even though they have won the CPL twice.

But on those two occasions, they had Chris Gayle and even though he may not have been the man to provide the finals-winning performances, he did come up with innings of real class that helped them in getting through the season.

Last season the Tallawahs finished last and it is no surprise that Gayle had a poor run throughout.

Without him, the Tallawahs seem less dangerous, but I am still rooting for them. They’re my team and seem more balanced than ever before, even without the mighty Chris.