Saturday, April 13, 2024

Semis upsets no flukes

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Cricket’s a funny game. It was the hackneyed cliché trotted out again on Thursday and Friday nights after the semi-finals of the Regional Super50 under the lights at Kensington.
Funny as it relates to cricket is, of course, not in the sense of comical or hilarious, rather of strange, astonishing, baffling (Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, the certified favourites, would surely have found nothing amusing in their losses to the Combined Colleges and Campuses (CCC) and the Windwards, in the former case not so much as beaten as embarrassingly thrashed).
As unexpected as they might have been, the results, especially Trinidad and Tobago’s, were not flukes. They were logical reasons for them. So it is with most such sporting upsets.
Cricket’s generally centre on environment, better known as home advantage. Proper planning and execution and self-belief are other factors. CCC ticked all the boxes on Thursday.
Location tops the lot. It explains why, for instance, India lose all four Tests in Australia one season and similarly sweep the Aussies at home the next, why Bangladesh can amass totals of over 500 against the West Indies and 600 against Sri Lanka in their neck of the woods yet crumble to 134 and 147 and defeat by 335 runs in last week’s Test in Zimbabwe who were so completely out of their depth in the Caribbean last month. And why the West Indies have tied an One-Day International (ODI) series against Australia and won two over New Zealand and Zimbabwe at home in the last year and have won just one overseas (Bangladesh) in the past five.
And why away goals in football count for double.
The principle was the same on Thursday night.
In contrast to the other venues, Kensington provided pace and bounce for the bowlers. It unnerved the Trinidadians.
Decidedly sharp and direct, Kesrick Williams, a previously unknown Vincentian who won’t be unknown for much longer, dispatched Lendl Simmons and Adrian Barath (both Test players) and the left-handed Justin Guillen so that the Red Force, who had won all six qualifying round matches, weren’t so forceful at 19 for three.
That they were responding to 223 for seven is a reason in itself; it came as a jolt for, in the earlier round, at the Queen’s Park Oval, they had routed the same opponents for 97.
With their top three gone for 16 between them, a sure sign that panic had set in – manager Omar Khan later characterized it as “choking” – was the run out of Yannick Ottley that made it 29 for four in the 14th over.
The contest was all but over at 40 for six after the impressive left-arm seamer Raymon Reifer, one of the cricketing clan, dispatched captain Denesh Ramdin and Jason Mohammed (whose partnership of 170 had pulled them out of the hole of five for three to a winning total against Barbados in the deciding round).
Two more run outs followed. The margin of defeat was 140 runs, as overwhelming as they come in 50-overs cricket.
CCC’s triumph was not based on the venue alone.
Chadwick Walton’s blitz against Shannon Gabriel gave CCC the start that Williams didn’t allow the Trinidadians; Gabriel, whose 90 mph speed, lift and tight off-stump line had so unsettled the Zimbabweans, could find no rhythm, eventually debarred after the second ball of his eighth over for three waist-high deliveries.
Once Walton had gone to Ottley in the seventh over (spin was introduced that early), the levelheaded adherence of the other opener, Anthony Alleyne, to his appointed role of batting through the innings ensured CCC’s testing total.
He might have achieved both his goals – the single to reach his hundred and seeing it though to the end – but for an umpiring error on an lbw in 48th over.
At 19, the left-handed Alleyne is CCC’s youngest player. He has progressed steadily through the ranks – Barbados under-15 and under-19, West Indies under-19 at January’s Youth World Cup. A scholarship from his school, Queen’s College, carried him two years ago to gain experience in England at Dulwich College.
He and others like Williams and others from this season’s four-day and Super50 tournaments should benefit from a tour with a West Indies “A” team, preferably a stiff assignment, such as Australia or South Africa; none has yet been announced.
Trinidad and Tobago’s loss comes with an obvious caveat. Their six leading men (Samuel Badree, Dwayne Bravo, Kevon Cooper, Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard and Ravi Rampaul) were on the other side of the planet turning out for the Knight Riders, the Super Kings and other teams in the Indian Premier League (IPL); another, Darren Bravo, was missing, awaiting an eye examination.
Not that it made any difference to Trinidadian fans who understandably expected their team to brush aside CCC as they had done at Queen’s Park and then add the Super50 title to the Twenty20 secured in January.
None was more indignant than Manohar Ramsaran, a former Sports Minister, even if it left him somewhat hysterical.
“I just can’t understand what’s going on with our cricket,” he bemoaned to the Press. “I’m very, very confused.
“We have the CCC beating Trinidad like that . . . . I believe the entire selection committee and the management of the team should offer their resignations.”
There is likely to be a more measured reaction in Jamaica, even though they were the defending champions. The loss of Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels and Andre Russell to the IPL would be barely mentioned.
Their advance to the final four was not as comprehensive as Trinidad and Tobago’s. It would not have mattered to their qualification but they escaped losing to Guyana by the skin of their teeth (Nikita Miller’s last ball six to be precise). They lost to the Trinis at Sabina Park, albeit by three wickets with two balls remaining.
They were a couple of obvious causes of their demise, quite apart from the Windwards’ spirit.
They failed to build on a second-wicket stand of 170 between Brenton Parchment and Nkumah Bonner; influenced by the success of their spinners at Kensington in earlier four-day and Super50 matches, they omitted Sheldon Cottrell, their quickest bowler with left-arm variations to boot, on an entirely different surface.
For their part, the Windwards’ innings followed a similar path to CCC’s the night before. Devon Smith took the role of Walton with his 44-ball 59; Andre Fletcher and Keddy Lesporis repeated the steadying influence of the Alleyne-Nekoli Parris partnership in a stand of 91. Significantly, the Windwards’ confidence was reflected in their sharpness in the field and in their body language.
So, two unforeseen finalists at Kensington tonight. Who will win? Ah, cricket’s a funny game.
• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.

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